by Rosi Bacallao Rodriguez
In 1957 when I was 7 years old my family came to Miami Beach during summer vacation. We visited the Miami Seaquarium and afterwards entered Key Biscayne and had ice cream in the Howard Johnson that was at the entrance of the Key. We drove through this small island and saw nice small houses. There were no traffic lights, no streetlights; the island had one shopping center and a couple of gas stations and was not very populated. We loved it at that time. Who would have known that just three years later Key Biscayne would be our home for the next 60-plus years!
In the summer of 1960, my parents (Miguel “Coco” and Rosario Bacallao) and I left Cuba. We locked our house in Cuba and came with a few things to meet my paternal grandparents, who were already here. It was then that we came back to Key Biscayne. We rented a Mackle house at 355 Hampton Lane. It was a three-bedroom, one-bathroom home. Both of my parents got jobs and soon we were settled.
At that time, there were 90 Cuban families on the Key. Most of them were friends or part of our family and many of them are still here today. There was no need to leave the island, we had everything we needed right here. It was an Island Paradise!! My father Coco Bacallao enjoyed playing tennis at the Key Biscayne Yacht Club with many of his friends – tennis was his passion! He played until he passed in 2010. My mother Rosario passed away four years later.
My grandfather loved to take pictures. He converted the utility room of our house into a darkroom to develop his photos. During Halloween he would take pictures of every kid on the Key and give them out after developing them.
I went to Key Biscayne Elementary School. My teachers were Mr. Jenkins, Mrs. Koster, Mr. Sanchez, Miss Missio and many others. I was there until 7th grade; then we were bussed to South Miami Junior High for 8th grade. I made many close friends who are still here on the Key today.
I celebrated my 15th birthday at the old, old Key Biscayne Yacht Club. By “old, old” I mean the one with basically no building and only a screened patio for dining and parties. It was nothing like the new facilities we are now able to enjoy.
I made many new friends on the Key. Our bikes were our transportation, and when I was 13 my father taught me to drive in Cape Florida, which was just a dirt road. At the time, at 13 you could get your restricted driver’s license. My friends and I would ride our bikes through what is now Key Colony, which at the time was a golf course with a little pond. We would all get together at the Beach Club during the weekend and have a great time. On the east side of Crandon Boulevard there was a red barn with horses, and we would jump the fence and play there. Next to the ocean was a house owned by Mr. Paul; it had a deck with little lights, and he would let us have parties and barbecues there lots of times. He was a lawyer and we loved to go there.
The doors to our homes were left unlocked and my bike was on the front porch, and we never had a problem. We stayed on the Key during a couple of hurricanes and everyone would help each other afterwards. The houses were very well built.
Who can forget the 4th of July parades with Dr. Handwerker as “Uncle Sam” and later Tim Stickney as master of ceremonies? At the beginning they were not as large as the current ones, but it was a place where you could find all the Key residents celebrating that very important date in the history of the United States and mingling with friends and neighbors. I think we all missed not having a parade in 2020 due to the pandemic.
I will always remember with great fondness the new friends my parents made when we moved to the island. They always made us feel welcomed: The Herrings, Feltons, Claytons, Frieds, Hegamyers, Molts, Vernons, Curtisses, our neighbors the Johnsons and Camarotas and many others, most of whom are not with us anymore.
The shopping center at that time included Vernon’s Drug Store (where we used to have vanilla Cokes and French fries after school), Thompson TV, Key Bootery (where my mother worked for many years), Key Biscayne Hardware, Bristol’s, Scott’s, and our favorite at that time, the 5 &10. The Winn-Dixie was there, but it was at ground level with a bakery next to it. There was also a Pantry Pride where CVS is now located.
Pines Canal was another fun place to be during the summer; there was a rope we would swing from and jump into the canal to go swimming.
Our family is still here, including our children and grandchildren. I married Fernando Rodriguez, who I met when I was 14 years old at the St. Agnes field, when he came to play football with his friends on the Key. Our lives crossed paths again after 13 years, and we now have two wonderful children, Ani and Ferdi. They also went to Key Biscayne Elementary and later transferred to St. Agnes Academy when I started working there. They have fully enjoyed life on the island. Ani is married to Alex Montero and they have two wonderful children, Victor and Javi. They now enjoy the island as much as I did as a child, especially the Village Green, where they are active in athletics.
We now enjoy our wonderful Village Green Park, which in the old times before being developed as a park had a trail that we made by riding our bikes through the bushes from Fernwood Road to Crandon. We also enjoy the new shopping centers, restaurants, shops and condominiums, and the many new families. Every afternoon, I walk with two of my best friends from the 1960s, and we still enjoy our little island with many new homes, sceneries and new faces. It is still an “Island Paradise.”
Thank you to the United States for welcoming us into this wonderful nation. Thank you especially to this little island, Key Biscayne, which is not so little anymore, for all the memories we have made from generation to generation!
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