From ages 5 to 9 we lived in Coral Gables, Florida, in a small house beside an empty lot that was our jungle playground. Avocado, mango and banana trees, lizards skittering between ferns, a turtle we thought of as a pet, named “Easter,” and bare feet at all times were all part of our landscape. My memories from that period are a film reel of just us kids. Adults were in the periphery like shadows sometimes peeking into our line of vision, their “Charlie Brown” voices directed only at each other.

The Miami crew on the beach on a camping excursion. The author is on the right and her brother, Tom, is directly to her left. Photo courtesy of Nori Gale

The streets in our ’hood were riddled with co-conspirators who were always ready for a game of sardines, kick the can or flashlight tag. My brother and I were in the thick of it. Tom was the mastermind of games and ringleader extraordinaire. We left the house in the morning scrubbed clean and came home in time for dinner, hair flying every which way, sweaty, with legs and arms freshly scraped.

Miami has its share of dramatic rainstorms, and there was one I remember that was a combo of intense heat and drenching showers. Tom orchestrated an expedition where we took advantage of someone’s dislodged turf and tried to ride the turf shards like rafts down the river our street had become. It was a muddy, waterlogged experience, mostly unsuccessful, but deeply satisfying.

A favorite haunt was the Venetian pool, where I learned to swim, graduating to the deep end during our time there. It was built in 1923 from a coral rock quarry, and is fed by a spring in an underground aquifer. Within its cream-colored stucco walls are waterfalls and caves where we orchestrated epic adventures as pirates, swashbucklers and crusaders, providing hours of entertainment and leading to nights of deep, satisfying sleep, our bodies still in the heat.

Camping trips to the Florida Keys or Fisheating Creek meant picking up our neighborhood crew and transplanting them to fresh ground, which provided us with unique surroundings and activities. Days were spent beachcombing for shells, vacant sand dollars and sea urchin husks and the occasional hermit crab found in a tide pool. On one of those trips my dad, ankle-deep in the ocean, discovered a half-buried, fully intact conch shell the size of a football, gleaming pink inside, bleached matte white on the outside. He taught us how to make music by blowing it like a bugle in the small hole the beating ocean carved out at one end. These days ended with us all perched on driftwood seats before a blazing fire, primed for ghost stories and s’mores.

A work transition for my dad meant leaving Miami to head back to New England. On our final night, moving truck packed and sitting in our driveway, there was a leave-taking party on Cadagua Avenue. The adults were giving off a somber energy to which Tom and I were impervious. We didn’t grasp what moving would mean for us; we were focused on the fact that we were granted a later curfew that night, and there were games to initiate and winners to be hailed, disputes to be mitigated, all before last call.

It wasn’t until years later that I understood the good fortune we’d had to have lived so freely, mostly outside, and surrounded by a posse of adventuresome pals during those Miami years. It was my first lesson in the value of living in the moment and an indoctrination into the much too adult and mature construct that nothing stays the same.

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