III. On Becoming a Writer: Tales of Two Cities – Miami

I was born in Miami, Florida, and after three years in Georgia, I lived in Miami from the age of four to fourteen. In Miami, I was fortunate to live not in a typical suburb but on a street of single-family homes in the midst of one and two-story duplexes. Our neighbors were young and old, Jews and gentiles with quite a few kids who moved in and out. It was, to say the least, an interesting mix. One neighbor was said to have committed a fur robbery in Philadelphia. Another, an aging widow, hid her whiskey bottles in the hedge of the house next door (which we kids found) and one day wandered naked through the neighborhood. Another time, my friends and I were certain we spotted a man from a “Most Wanted” poster on our street and notified the police.

As the child who preferred to be outside, I easily found friends to spend that time with. We rode our bikes around several blocks, roller skated on the sidewalks and held meetings among the branches of The Big Tree, a large banyan that sheltered us in its broad canopy of leaves. We filched kumquats from a neighbor’s yard, raced barefoot across the hot roadway of heavily trafficked Coral Way to buy trinkets at Rosie’s store, walked to the Parkway Theatre on Saturdays for two feature films and ten cartoons, shot BB guns by the railroad tracks a half block from my house and put nickels on the tracks for the trains to flatten. On a grassy lot down the street, we played games and tag football with the neighborhood boys.

We also built playhouses and fortresses with cartons scavenged from a nearby furniture store’s trash pile. One structure was so formidably built that a neighbor had the city building inspector come tell us to take it down because we didn’t have a permit. We also built a raft in my front yard and discovered that it didn’t float when a friend’s father hauled it on a trailer to the Bay. And because we lived close to the Bay, we once tried digging a backyard swimming pool and struck water from which rippled small puddles.

Patti, Jerri, Tommy, Tricia, Jimmy, Sharon, Roger were my friends in those years in Miami, but the friend most indelibly etched in my memory was Prissy.

A year older than I was, Prissy was an artist and a brilliant one, even as a child. Her friendship introduced me to a world of imagination and creativity that I consider one of the blessings of my life. School was never her place, but as I have recently learned, school was not an essential ingredient for Prissy’s professional success. Her artistic talent took her to Disneyworld where she became one of their leading artists and designers.

In those Miami years, Prissy’s imagination fired my own, and though I never came close to replicating her artistry (I tried), I understand today how powerfully the stories and games we concocted, the costumes and plays we created have influenced me as a writer.

Prissy also knew far more about the broader world than this sheltered kid growing up in a southern Protestant household. She taught me to play poker and together we tried smoking to see what the experience was like. And those “facts of life” my mother was hesitant to explain, Prissy filled me in.

I was fourteen when my family moved to Arlington, Virginia, which for me was an unfamiliar world within the suburban and sophisticated environs of Washington, D.C.

Next time: D.C.