Surfside, Florida, lies at the north end of Miami Beach, extending from 88th Street to 96th. I remember that the streets parallel to Collins Avenue and going north and south were Harding, and then, alphabetically for famous authors, Abbot, Byron, Carlisle, Dickens, Froude, Garfield, Hawthorne, and Bay Drive which angled off from Dickens. We lived at 94th Street, on Bay Drive, right across from the bay.
In 1938, wood pilings and two by twelve inch capping boards remained from dredging the bay to make the land. You could run along the top of these boards for a mile or more. Underneath the boards the coral sand had eroded into a shallow beach where menhaden pilchards crowded around the pilings. On calm days, you could look down and see blue crabs walking gingerly along the bottom. On the beach armies of fiddler crabs marched near their holes, raising their large claws up and down. I would lie on the cap looking down into the water and watch the mangrove snappers swirl around coral rocks, and once I saw a batfish.
There were few houses in Surfside. Along the beach was the swanky Surf Club and on the bay side an island and the Indian Creek Country Club guarded by a bridge and sentry. Underneath this bridge big snook snapped at shrimp on moonlit nights while dolphins breathed and gasped down the channel. More than anything I wanted a rod and reel to go fishing.
Weekday mornings we took the bus south to North Beach Elementary School. In the fourth grade I had Mrs. Krueger for my homeroom teacher. My parents gave each of us a dollar a week for lunch. For twenty cents a day, you got a peanut butter and butter sandwich on thin, soft, white bread, a glass of milk, and Jell-O. Because, I was old for my grade, and help was needed, I got a job in the school cafeteria which gave a free lunch. With the dollar I saved I could buy a box of crayons or a Fudgcicle or go to the movies on Saturday and have money left over. My parents were against such spending during hard times and shortly after I started working I no longer received any lunch money. I was destined to work in cafeterias though the ninth grade.
Fudgcicles were sold in the cafeteria. They came in a brown and white wrapper and were frozen chocolate ice milk on a stick. I noticed that valuable prizes could be had for saving Fudgcicle wrappers. You could get a yoyo, a cap gun, a Red Ryder BB gun or a rod and reel. For the rod and reel, one had to save 1500 wrappers. Few children were interested in saving Fudgcicle wrappers for valuable prizes and they left them on their trays when they turned them in.
Agnes, a young black women, cleaned off the plates and trays into the garbage can. I would then arrange the plates and glasses in a square basket, slide them into the washer-steamer in a corner and pull them out to the left around the corner where they air dried. The aluminum trays were washed separately.
I asked Agnes if I could do her job so that I could collect the Fudgicicle wrappers. Cleaning plates was a messy job and made you smell like garbage but hope for a rod and reel made it easy. Therefore, Agnes and I swapped places and every day I would put 10 to 20 wrappers in a cardboard box next to the receiving window. After several weeks, however, Mrs. Pearl, the supervisor, made me go back to steaming plates and cleaning trays.
I thought that was the end of the Fudgcicle experiment. At the end of the school year, however, Agnes came to me and gave me the cardboard box filled with fudgcicle wrappers. She had kept collecting them. They smelled of mildew and bad chocolate and were so stuck together their number could only be estimated. I estimated there were at least 1500 wrappers in the box.
I taped the box shut and sent it off to the Fudgcicle address with a letter requesting the rod and reel.
A couple of months into the summer my mother, Helen, was all excited. A package, a long cardboard tube, had arrived for me. I broke open the tube and poured out its contents. Inside were the simplest little tin reel and a short light fly rod. There were some line and hooks. The whole thing looked like it cost 95 cents.
I put the line on the reel, threaded it through the guides, and tied on a sinker and hook. I picked up one of the fiddler crabs off the beach, took off his large claw, and hooked it through the body. I lowered this down into calm water and waited. A three-pound mangrove snapper swallowed the bait and ran under the piling. I pulled on the rod and it broke! The reel jammed! I hand lined the fish in and had him flopping on the loose sand.
I proudly took him home where we had him for supper. My mother thought I was very clever for sending off those Fudgcicle wrappers. I wasn’t so sure.