It’s another scorching hot Sunday in the Tampa Bay area – outside, it’s mostly sunny and the temperature is 90°F/32°C, and the heat index is higher at 100°F/38°C. There is a huge clubhouse/pool complex that residents of the community have access to, but (a) I don’t like going there alone, and (b) the weather forecast for today calls for both a high of 95°F/35°C and thunderstorms later this afternoon. If it weren’t for the lack of companionship and the prediction of “boomers,” I would at least consider going to the pool; it’s too hot out there to go for a stroll or even read in the shade of the trees at the park that I like to visit in the cooler months.
50 years ago, the dying last Dog Days of the Summer of 1972 were also hot and rainy, and I probably spent quite a few early August days inside 1001 SW 102nd Avenue, our new house in Coral Estates Park, getting used to the hot subtropical weather in South Florida after living for nearly six years in the colder climate of Bogota, Colombia with my mom, my older half-sister (from the summer of 1969, the year she graduated from DeSales Heights Academy, an all-girls Catholic school in Parkersburg, WV), and in the same city as most of my mother’s extended family.
In August of 1972, Mom – who was a devout Catholic – compelled me to go with her to Mass on Sundays even though by age nine I was, at best, agnostic, and not enthusiastic about religion in general and Catholicism specifically. Mom was confident that my lack of faith – which bordered on outright skepticism – was just a phase and that eventually, I’d be just as firm a believer in Christianity as the rest of the family. That hope, added to the fact that at this stage in my life I understood that in Mom’s house, her word was the law, is why she made me go to late morning Mass on Sunday morning whether I wanted to or not.
Accordingly, my time was not my own until the Sunday religious services at St. Brendan Catholic Church ended and Mom drove us back down SW 102nd Avenue to good old 1001 and I got to change from my somewhat formal “going to Mass” outfit – which was usually a sensible pair of blue jeans (without tears or stains, obviously), a short sleeve button-down shirt, clean tennis shoes, and socks – to my shorts-and-T-shirt “playing outside” gear.
After that, summer vacation Sundays were – except for that obligatory trip to St. Brendan’s – almost like summer vacation Saturdays. In those last years before cable TV was the norm in South Florida and most of us watched “over-the-air” television, Miami’s independent channel, WCIX (Channel Six) aired older movies at one, three, and five in the afternoon as counterprogramming to sports programs on the Big Three networks – ABC, CBS, and NBC. So when my friends – especially my bilingual buddies Armando (who lived at 10135 SW 8th Terrace), across the street from Luis Dominguez, who lived with his parents at 825 SW 102nd Avenue, the house on the northwest corner of our block – could not play or if it was too hot or it was raining, I’d watch The 1 PM Movie, The 3 PM Movie, and The 5 PM Movie on the Zenith color TV in Mom’s room even if I did not understand the dialogue or know who the characters were, exactly.
If I didn’t like what was on TV either because of the language barrier or because I did not like the genre, I would either play with the few toys  that I owned at that early stage of our new life in Miami or read a book. Mostly from Mom’s stash, and mostly in castellano; Mom did not have much spare time to take me to either Dadeland Mall – which was her preferred place to shop – or the closer but less upscale Midway Mall on Flagler Street and SW 79th Avenue, so I had not yet discovered the joys of going to bookstores…or the public library, for that matter.
I have many more ways to keep myself entertained in 2022 than I did half a century ago, many of which – personal computers, compact disc players, home media releases of movies and TV shows, and the Internet – were at least a decade or so away, and I use them on hot and steamy summer days like today. But if you’re not living with a family or – at the very least – a significant other who loves you and you are away from your circle of friends, all the movies, books, music albums, computer games, or collectibles you own do not necessarily make you happy.
 I don’t remember owning a wide variety of toys at 1001 in the five years that we lived there. Sure, I had some, especially bags of “army men” that came in either blue-green or just olive-green plastic and represented either GIs with WWII-era uniforms and combat gear or more modern Vietnam-era U.S. soldiers. It wasn’t until a few years later that I saw an expensive set that featured a tank, a jeep, two artillery pieces, and, most important, toy replicas of soldiers from both the Wehrmacht and the U.S. Army, at one of my neighbors’ houses.
I don’t remember whose house it was, but if I had to guess, it was either at the Blanchards’ – the paterfamilias, Chuck, worked at Sears & Roebuck, so his sons Robert and Patrick were usually among the first kids on our block to get cool new toys – or at the house where Luis lived; his dad was a physician and made good money, so Luis, an only child, had a decent assortment of toys, too.