Half a century ago this week, in the Miami suburb of Westchester, my mother and I moved into the house we would call “home” for the next five years – a one-story, 1505 square foot, single-family house that sat on a 7,777 square foot lot: 1001 SW 102nd Avenue.
Built in 1963, the house was around the same age I was when we moved in around the first week of August 1972: nine years old. Interestingly, it was in the same Westchester neighborhood – Coral Estates Park – where my family had lived from the summer of 1963 till we moved to Bogota in 1966; 1001 was within walking distance from that house – 911 SW 99th Place – but it was slightly smaller and lacked both a swimming pool and a lakeshore view.
Fifty years on, I don’t remember if Mom looked in other neighborhoods for a house – she did not want an apartment unless it was the only affordable option – or if she zeroed in on that house as soon as we arrived in South Florida in late spring of 1972. I do remember that even when we were staying with the Valbuena family before we moved into our temporary abode at the El Portal Apartments complex in Sweetwater, Mom – with me in tow – was visiting her friends Carmelita and Norberto Blasco frequently, and often went running errands with Carmelita – who was, as kids say now, Mom’s BFF and my madrina – for most of the day.
I do remember, though, that once the serious negotiations regarding the sale of the house began in late July, Mom took me a couple of times to see 1001 – especially the room she had chosen for me – and to meet the owner, Eleanor Zimmerman.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts about this period of my “second childhood” in Miami, Eleanor – or “Mrs. Zimmerman,” as I addressed her during our first meetings – had recently lost her husband, Charles, due to ill health, and even though she was fond of the house, Eleanor was getting on in years and a three bedroom, one and a half baths house was simply too much for her to take care of, much less afford on her fixed income.
And because her best friend, a Puerto Rican widow – her name was Lula Blackburn – who worked at a duty-free shop inside the Miami International Airport terminal lived next door and had offered her a room in her home, Eleanor was willing to sell the house to my mom for $31,000.
Of course, my nine-year-old self did not know all this. All I recall was that I spent a lot of time either at Norberto and Carmelita’s house (915 SW 102nd Avenue) – which was separated from 1001 by two houses – or the Blanchards. who lived next door to the Blascos at 925 SW 102nd Avenue, while Mom went through the financial and legal process of buying our new house.
My memories are vague on the issue of when, exactly, my older half-sister rejoined us – unwillingly, at that – in Miami. I don’t recall Vicky living with us in the two-bedroom apartment in Sweetwater, but it’s possible that she might have done so, considering that she would only have had to put up with the cramped conditions at El Portal for a brief time. But it’s also possible that she arrived in South Florida from Bogota once Mom and I moved into 1001 in early August of 1972.
Whenever it was that Vicky rejoined the small trio that we became from the summer of 1972 till our mother died in July of 2015 is not important; what matters is that by the time school started in late August or early September, Vicky was once again living with us, even though the seeds of our eventual conflicts and sad estrangement were planted then.
When we moved in, 1001 was a comfortable house even though it lacked central air conditioning or heating. It did not have any shade trees out in the front yard, which faces west and is adjacent to the always busy SW 102nd Avenue. Each one of the three bedrooms had its own little air conditioning unit, which meant that each bedroom had two windows, including one that could be opened or closed because it did not have an attached a/c unit. The room air conditioners were of 1960s vintage and were noisy and often balky devices, and we had to keep the bedroom doors closed so that the cool air did not “leak out” into the vestibule between my room and Vicky’s.
As I recall, my room – the smallest of the three – was on the southeast corner of 1001, while my half-sister’s bedroom was across the hall from mine on the southwest corner. I had two windows; one of them could not be opened.
A few feet to the north of my room lay the house’s only complete bathroom with a shower/bathtub. It was on the east side of the house and had a window – but no air conditioning unit – that faced east and overlooked the spacious, tree-shaded backyard. As I recall, Mom’s only complaint about 1001 was that it only had one and a half baths (the half-bathroom with a toilet, sink, and medicine cabinet was in the master bedroom), but she figured that at some point she would set aside some money and have her bathroom remodeled so she could have her own shower/bathtub – especially on the rare occasion that my grandparents or other relatives visited.
To the north of the bathroom, the house opened a bit, as this was where the living room, dining room, and kitchen were. I can’t tell you the dimensions of those rooms, but they were far larger than their counterparts in the next (and last) house that we lived in from 1978 to 2015.
The living room faced west and had two large windows with a view of SW 102nd Avenue – with its non-stop traffic to and from SW 8th Street/US 41 – and the block across the street. The vista was unremarkable except at sunset, and to keep the house cool Mom kept the curtains drawn during the summer months until the day – in 1974, I think it was – when she went to Sears and bought a Kenmore central air conditioning unit.
We hardly ever used the dining room, but we had a beautiful dining room set that was one of the few things Mom had been able to ship from Bogota when we had to leave that city and move back to the States. It was an elegant, traditional dining room set, complete with a cabinet for my mother’s rarely used Limoge set of fine dinnerware, a rectangular dining room table that could seat six people without the extension, eight with it, and the matching chairs.
(It is understood that the dining room was off-limits except during special occasions such as our traditional Christmas Eve dinner or the few times that my maternal grandparents or other relatives came to visit. Aside from that, no one ever sat on a dining room chair or put a purse or set of keys on the dining room table. There were plenty of places where visitors could sit in the living room – we had a sofa and two chairs that Mom had been able to ship from Colombia to Miami and even had reupholstered before we moved into 1001, and there were other places where guests could put down their purses. But the dining room table was verboten.)
When we moved in, the house had no enclosed patio, so the sliding glass doors in the dining room faced east and led directly to the back porch, which had an area covered with concrete where one could put a barbecue and have a cookout. Beyond that, of course, was the backyard, which in addition to a St. Augustine grass lawn, also featured two mango trees, several gardenia bushes, a birdbath strategically placed in the center, and a couple of other shrubs and bushes.
Adjacent to the living room – which was also where Mom had a 1970s cabinet-style Zenith stereo system complete with a turntable for LP records, an eight-track tape deck, and an AM/FM radio, as well as a bookcase where she kept some of her Reader’s Digest Condensed Books hardcovers and some novels (many of them in English, but some of them in Spanish) – was Mom’s master bedroom.
This was where she kept the Zenith color TV, and because I would not get my own small black-and-white TV until my 10th birthday, most of my TV watching during this time was done there. The master bedroom had several windows, including one that looked out west toward the avenue, plus another that faced a bit toward the north and had a not-very-interesting view of 935 SW 102nd Avenue’s southern wall and the chain link fence that separated the DiRosa family’s property from ours.
As for the kitchen? Well, I don’t recall if it had a door that separated it from the rest of the house, but it was a 1960s-era design, with a cozy recessed area that had a booth where one could sit and eat meals on the round kitchen table. We had the usual appliances available in 1972: the kitchen came with a dishwasher, an electric stove, a wall-mounted oven, a refrigerator with a water dispenser/icemaker, and the usual kitchen sink, cabinets, and drawers for utensils and whatnot.
And finally, we had a spacious utility room with a washer, dryer, and a pantry for dry and canned foods. This was the northernmost room in 1001 and it had a door that led out to the side of the house and the northern edge of the patio. There was also a rotary-dial phone on one of the walls in the utility room; the other rooms with phones were the living room and Mom’s bedroom.
The yard, like all the yards in Section 6 of Coral Estates Park, had a chain-link fence that stood between 4 and 5 feet tall. We did not have a padlock; when we lived in 1001, we kept all the doors locked, but we only used a latch to keep the fence gate closed. During the half-decade that we lived in that house, we never had a break-in; the only time Mom had to call any Dade County agency was when she saw a poisonous snake – a water moccasin – slithering out in the front yard, and for that, she had to call Animal Control, not the police.
I loved that house – and “my” block in general – from the moment we first moved in. Like my mother, I thought the only defects it had was that it only had that one complete bathroom and – something which was beyond our control – the fact that our neighbors to the south, Lula and Eleanor, owned seven dogs that were constantly barking, especially when Lula returned from work around one in the morning and all of the dogs would greet her enthusiastically and loudly.
And even though we only lived there for five years, 1001 is the house that I am fondest of. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have that many traumatizing experiences there, or maybe it’s because like most people I see some parts of my life through the rosy tint of nostalgia, but even after we had been living in East Wind Lake Village for 20 years or more, I missed that house in Coral Estates Park more than I currently miss Miami now that I live in the Tampa Bay area.
 Per the real estate website Zillow, 911 SW 99th Place is a single-family home with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a private swimming pool – which my parents had installed when Dad bought the house shortly after I was born – and an interior area of 1,617 square feet. The house sits on a slightly larger lot – 10,875 square feet – and its backyard overlooks a manmade lake to the east. But the layout is similar, even though the cosmetic details differ greatly.