[Settle back, grab a cup of coffee, this one is long...]
Late in the summer we moved into a 3 bedroom house in North Miami Beach. This meant I had to share a room with my brother. In Farmingdale, I had my own room. My brother is two years older than me and not my favorite person. I'll just say we didn't get along and leave it at that for now. It didn't help that we had to share a bedroom. All five of us had to share the one bathroom. The odd thing is I don't recall much fighting over that. At least, not like the sitcoms always show.
The house was a standard one of the type they were building in south Florida in the 50s; Concrete Block and Stucco, CBS in the common real estate terminology. Concrete block is what we often called "cinder block". They stagger them like you would brick, mortar in between, to make the walls, then stucco applied to the outside. No insulation. The hollow construct of the block was supposed to be the insulation. The inside walls were stucco also. The foundation was a concrete slab where the surface was salted with colored stone/marble chips, ground down, and buffed smooth. It was called terrazzo. It's expensive now but was common then. the roof was covered in barrel tile. These were layed in interlocking rolls on the roof, all tacked together with mortar. You can bet the roof support was strong. The only thing that ever damaged those roofs was a tree falling directly onto it. I thought of it as a bunker.
Heat was from a wall heater in the living room and whatever portable electric heaters we might have. My father figured out that a large window fan, set on low, would circulate the warm air in the living room back toward the three bedrooms down the hall. I don't think it really helped but you didn't argue with my father. About anything. Ever. The heat wasn't needed very often, maybe ten or fifteen days a year in stretches of 2-3 days at a time.
We had city water and sewer. A true blessing. Of course, you had to get used to the chlorine smell and taste but it was so much better than the Ojus water. The windows were awning style, you cranked them open and closed. We had heavy wood hurricane awnings over every window except the jalousie windows of the "Florida Room." [ I could not find any pictures of these old style wooden awnings, they were unique to the decade] A Florida Room was simply a closed in screen porch. Ours was very nice, it went from the middle of the front of the house around the side and was about 12 feet deep. We practically lived out there. We had to, there was no air conditioning. We spent more time in the house during the winter but not a whole lot more. My father, who joined us about a month after we moved into the house, built a breakfast nook on the porch by the kitchen door. We had a dining room in the house but we never used it, all our meals were at that breakfast nook. The TV was on the porch for many years before we got one for the living room. There were a couple of swivel rockers and two chaise lounges with cushions in the TV area. There were only three stations in the area at the time.
At the end of the porch on the side, the carport began. No one had garages in our neighborhood. There were very few garages in south Florida as far as I could tell. A carport did the job; it kept the sun off the car and allowed you to get in and out of the car when it was raining. Or would have if anyone actually used them for that purpose. Like garages, carports collected stuff. Lots of stuff. Lawnmowers, edgers, trash cans, tool benches, tools, bicycles, and all the other flotsam and jetsam of surburban life. My father parked in the carport for about a month and then there wasn't enough room anymore. My mother parked her car in the front in a gravel covered area big enough to fit three cars end to end with room to spare.
The house sat on a large corner lot and was landscaped nicely. The walkway was lined with ixora bushes. There were several tall pine trees, a few bushes, flower boxes under the windows, and large coconut palms along each street. My father assigned us different areas of the yard for each of us to care for. A mistake. The yard went downhill fairly quickly. None of us liked yardwork and it showed. Still, there were worse yards in the area. And a number much nicer.
The neighborhood was a good one. Plenty of kids my age, some I knew from school since Ojus Elementary was the nearest and handled the Sun Ray kids as well as the ones in Ojus. The park was a block away and a great place for ten year olds to play for hours and hours. My family would go to the beach a lot that first year. The nearest public beach was Haulover Beach, about 10 miles away. The water was warm, winter and summer. Sunburns were big at my house. Statistically speaking, I should be battling with skin cancer right now. The lure of the beach ebbs over time and, soon enough, the family beach trips stopped.
There were two groups of stores, a couple of blocks west, on 19th Ave. It would become a hangout area in my teens. A drugstore, hardware store, small grocery store, hardware store, laundromat, a 7-11 store, a barber, and a dentist office. The last three were added a year or so after we moved to that house. No lunch counter, no restaurants, they were at least a couple of miles away. Not that important, I don't recall one family outing to a restaurant after moving to south Florida. We always ate at home. I did go out to lunch with my mother and grandmother (and sometimes my sister) a few times, though, but no dinners. Strange, now that I think about it. Even when we lived in Farmingdale, the few times we went out to dinner as a family, it was to one of those silver/chrome railrood car style roadside diners. Nothing special except for the rarity.
My school was still Ojus Elementary. It would be another year before a new school would be built for those of us in Sun Ray. I got a bit of a surprise in the fifth grade; my class was in a "portable." These were small wood buildings that were brought in by truck and set up on blocks. They looked like the little rural one room schoolhouses of the19th and early 20th centuries. We were the Boomer Babies and the schools were being overwhelmed with our growing number.
This was 1956 and changes were coming. My life would change in so many ways over the next few years. I see this year as the beginning of my life in many ways; my childhood innocence would be taken from me, my cynicism would be born, and I would take my first chosen steps on the path of my life. Up until now, I was a good son, a bright student, and only a moderate troublemaker. All that would change.
Some links that might be of interest...
Haulover Beach aerial shot (1962)
Greynolds Park, as it is today
Layout of North Miami Beach
The History of North Miami Beach
Footnote: it appears that the canal I wrote about in my previous piece was actually the Oleta River and my "Ojus" is now "Ojus Park". Those familiar with Google Map searching can find these easily enough. There is even a street level view where you can drive down the streets in the places I describe. Most look only vaguely as I remember.
A Night Unremembered
6 years ago