Ojus was a small place but it had character. A southern charm, of a kind. It was viewed by most non-residents as a "cracker town". Most of the houses, like my grandmother's, were wood and stucco, or wood frame and shingled, on raised wood foundations. There were no cellars. How could there be? Dig down 3 feet and you hit water. A cellar would be perpetually flooded. Our house in Farmingdale had a cellar which flooded when the septic tank overflowed so I didn't exactly miss that feature. Kids ran around barefoot all the time, except at school, and no one cared. That was new to me. And odd, too, because there were burrs which hurt when they stuck in your foot and hurt even worse to pull out. The local kids called them "sandspurs" and it was a fitting name. These burrs were bunched on grassy stalks but the worst were loose ones because you wouldn't know they were there until you stepped on one. We'd throw the stalks full of the burrs at each other... just in fun.
Between sandspurs and "red ants" (more properly called fire ants), bare feet did not seem like a good idea to me. Fire ants are nasty little creatures. They crawl all over your foot and then, once they have it covered pretty good, all bite at once it seems. I have since learned that they actually do bite all about the same time, that it's done through a chemical scent/pheromone signal. At least these things were outdoor threats. Inside, there were wolf spiders and palmetto bugs. Wolf spiders are big brown spiders that moved very fast and are basically unafraid of you. If you happen to stomp on a pregnant one, you find yourself in the midst of hundreds of tiny baby wolf spiders. That usually starts a kind of dance where you stomp on all of the babies. Palmetto bugs look like cockroaches, only much bigger (up to 2" or more), and they fly. Ugly suckers. Neither of these pests bite or sting but they do manage to get into the clothes you left on the floor.
There were other pests I had to learn (and worry) about. Wasps and hornets and bees were not new to me but scorpions and rattlesnakes were. In fact, there were several poisonous snakes native to the area. And many stinging or biting insects that made wandering in empty fields or woods less than appealing. It took me some time to get used to the idea of this environment. Long Island was incredibly benign in comparison.
There were a couple of country stores on West Dixie Highway, the old main north-south highway that had been replaced by US 1. These stores sold bread, milk, and pretty much everything you can find in any mini-mart these days. They also were wood frame buildings on raised foundations. I wondered about those raised foundations until we had a lot of rain then I understood. In these stores there were usually soda machines. I recall a lever type Coke machine that held 6 1/2 ounce bottles. You put a nickel in and pushed the heavy metal lever down and a Coke would slide down into the chute. Then there was the slider case types. These looked like a huge metal picnic cooler. There were slots between metal strips and the bottles rested by the bulge in their necks between the strips, hanging down in the chilled water. these held the 12 ounce sodas which cost a dime. You put your dime in, selected the kind of soda you wanted and slid the nearest bottle toward a gate-like thing. Then you pulled it up. No coin and the gate was locked. I heard that some kids would pop a cap off a soda and use a straw to drink but I never saw anyone do it. We were always looking for slugs that would work as coins. I don't recall ever finding any. The most common sodas were Nehi in various flavors and RC (Royal Crown) Cola.
We'd buy a confection called "Lik-M-Aid" which was basically flavored sugar in a little envelope and pour that into a half empty bottle of coke. That would result in a massive production of foam which emptied out of the bottle like lava from a volcano. Sometimes we'd pour the confection on our tongues and then take a swig of coke, trying to hold the foam in as long as possible. There were also small wax bottles with some kind of flavored sugar water in them that we'd drink and then chew the bottle. Most of these candies cost no more than a penny or two.
There was a drugstore called "Moore's Sundries" just past the corner where the school was. It had a lunch counter which had all the usual sandwiches, sodas, and ice cream dishes. But most of us kids couldn't afford that. Still, we'd hang out there and read the comic books until somebody chased us off.
Sometimes we'd go up along the canal bank when the water level was low. You could walk along the lower edge quite a way. Occasionally, you'd see a gator swimming in the canal, always see mullet jumping in the water, and there were lots of land crabs in holes in the muck along the water's edge. Land crabs (Cardisoma guanhumi) are odd creatures. A sickly white underside with a bright blue upper. We'd flip them over with a stick and watch them struggle to right themselves. In the summer, when the heavy rains came, the crabs would migrate to higher ground. Sometimes the roads would be full of them, clattering across the road, a constant clicking from their legs against the asphalt.
Fruit flies were a big problem for Florida back in the 50s. Every once in a while, they'd spray for them. This was done using planes and people were supposed to be inside while the spraying was done. Of course, not everyone was. I recall a WWII era bomber flying almost tree-top level one summer day, spraying a cloud of white over everything. I sheltered under a big banyan tree down the street from my grandmother's until it cleared. I suppose if there were any long term effects they'd have shown up by now.
Ojus was not what people think of when they think of south Florida. Normally, you think of hotels and motels along the beaches, convertibles full of the young and beautiful, and maybe older folks sitting on the verandas watching the world go by. Ojus was working class poor. Oh, there were some nice homes with nice lawns along the canal but not a lot. Most homes were little, old, and the lawns unkempt. My grandmother wasn't poor but she lived on Social Security, her savings, and maybe what was left of my late grandfather's pension. She didn't drive, she walked everywhere, even in the heat of the summer. After we moved down, my mother would drive her to the supermarket for groceries. Before that, she'd shop at the little markets not far from her house.
My parents bought a nice house in North Miami Beach that first summer, in a housing development called Sun Ray (now called Sun Ray East), just a couple of miles away on the west side of the canal. North Miami Beach wasn't near Miami Beach or near the beach at all. It was a small city then, maybe 10,000 or so, and was a step up from Ojus. The house was only a block away from Greynolds Park. I would spend a lot of time in that park over the next few years.
I have found some pictures (and links to) of some of the things I mentioned above.
Old Coke machines
Google Map of Ojus, FL
A Night Unremembered
2 years ago