Tired Of Stoking The Furnace With 13 Tons Of Coal, My Daddy Pointed Us South

None of us knew what lay beyond. We'd heard there were snakes in the streets, rattlesnakes dangling from tree limbs. 

Mommy and Daddy's close friends, Vaughan and Roxy Tarpinian had gone south and wrote how happy they were living above their restaurant on the approach to MacArthur Causeway.

My brother Paul was nine, I was almost a year older, so we played games with Vaughan Jr. and Joan Tarpin. Their dad cut the last three letters off their name to eliminate any foreign tang. Somehow they found room for us to stay several nights with them while Daddy looked for painting jobs. He had been a Danish ship's cook and also for Askar Hall on Long Island. He learned how to paint from Sol Kaduson, during the Depression.

Our parents found a house in Edison Center that we could rent for $25 a month. I rode my bike on Sunday morning to Grables' Bakery where day-old rolls were a penny apiece. The house was gray-looking (old wood) and the sand was gray too. Paul and I pretended it was sandy like Miami Beach and built piles of dirt into imagined forts.

Longstoryshort: Digging in that sand I got larvae migraine infection; we tried calamine lotion but my hands itched like crazy and swelled up. Druggist said to go to Jackson Memorial Hospital downtown. They froze my hands with a solution to kill the larvae marauders who made trails beneath my skin. I stayed there 10 days.

Dr. Jackson's hospital fed patients from steam tables wheeled down the corridor; grits were dished out every meal. Lumpy, steam table grits became a lifelong hatred. My hands finally thawed and Daddy came to pick me up. He went to pay the bill but it was so high he didn't have that kind of money. Daddy offered to give blood to pay them, $25 a pint.

The doctor took one look at my father's skinny body (5' 10" tall, he never weighed more than 140 pounds) and said to forget the bill. As fate would have it, the Grove Park house my folks bought 10 years later had a backyard fence, which met the back yard of Dr. Jackson's home. The family kept a pet squirrel which roamed the neighborhood.

Doctors ran in the family so the squirrel's "daddy" opened up a practice a block away from South Miami Hospital. Our next door neighbor was Mrs. Rentz, a widow, whose daughter Polly Grentner became one of my closest friends. We took cruises together. Mrs. Rentz was forever locking herself out of her house and would ask my father to bring a stepladder to go upstairs and open her door.

Polly's brother-in-law, Charlie Grentner was a hotelier and restaurant owner. His piano bar and restaurant in South Miami, was noted for its food and sing-alongs. Mary McGowan, who had been one of Charlie's "regulars" years before I met her, sang till the day she died. Mary and I went on a cruise and I herded her onto the stage to sing. Up until that time, she'd only sang at Charlie's restaurant.

Her sister Martha Mishcon asked me to do her eulogy at the Presbyterian Church on Miller Road. Martha's so-loyal Beach crowd made the long trek to fill the church. Born in Savannah, both girls were showbizzy types. Martha became a dancer who performed at Miami Beach showplaces. That's how she met her husband, Lester Mishcon. She was front and center at every club she joined, always first in line to get recalcitrant ones to donate millions.

(to be continued)