In my childhood, desire was measured in stacks of quarters and permission to roam off freely on my bicycle. My childhood was no where near idyllic but the strange little enclave that was Cutler Ridge fostered a childhood that was truly unique. Judging by the Facebook fans, Cutler Ridge was an undeniable, shared phenomenon. I could give a litany of markers and identifiers to which every other Ridge Rat could silently nod and attest. It was a peculiar place, filled with blue collar, union workers, skilled craftsmen, teachers, first generation college professionals like my father and lots and lots of housewives…….and kids. Seriously. Tons of kids. We have public summer recreation, today called “camp”, that lasted all day and included swimming, bowling, sports, crafts, skating and was absolutely FREE. WE walked to school, in droves. And we were racially diverse. And I have asked, now in my adulthood, if the racial diversity was a white myth we adopted to feel “enlightened”. I do not remember gender or race being a hindrance. What limited you was on which side of US1 you lived. East of US1 was better than west. But then again north of Caribbean Blvd was better than south. Status was a product of avenues and roads, streets and terraces. And those kids who lived on cul de sacs or Whispering Pines Lake were even better.
I was an industrious child, always offering to do extra chores for change. A dime to sweep the driveway, a quarter if I did the sidewalk too. And I saved every penny I could. I was not the kid that bought baseball cards or Matchbox cars. My Granny hand sewed me Barbie clothes, so I had a collection of original Dot Hall creations made from the same satin and silk as the Mardi Gras costumes she sewed as a living. She even hand sequined the wedding dress and evening gowns. Isn’t it predictable that I coveted Mary Catherine’s store bought Barbie clothes, made from polyester and plastic? I collected my change for candy. We would ride our bikes to Liggets Drugs or Grants and buy candy. For a $1.50, I could get a No Jelly, a Chunky, 2 Bubs Daddys, a Jolly Rancher(sour apple or peach flavored) and box of Jaw Breakers and a packages of watermelon Now&Laters. At Grants you could get 10 full sized candy bars for $1. Back then, there were more than 10 candy bars from which I could make my selection, too. And I horded candy. So did my mother. She bought her 10 candy bars, too and wrapped them like a rump roast and buried them in the deep freezer to keep us kids from scrounging them. We pilfered anyways….and always got caught.For as squirrely as we were about “treats” in my house, it is amazing none of my sisters and I had eating disorders. We were sneaky with food, especially snacks and “goodies”. My mother horded Nabisco sugar wafers. My sister Chrissy horded Drake’s Ring Dings. My dad managed to eat cookies none of us really liked: Lemon Coolers and Pecan Sandies. This meant he always had cookies.
Then there was the Sears candy counter, where you could buy candy by weight, fresh popcorn and fresh roasted, warm cashews.
And don’t even get me started on Dixie Cream Donuts. I swear, if someone were to reopen Dixie Cream Donuts in Cutler Ridge, recreating the swivel bar stools and the display case, not to mention the Maple nut longs, the sprinkles and the cinnamon rolls….Cutler Ridge would have its own Mecca and every Ridge Rat who lived south of SW 87th Avenue since 1955 would be headed home.
Nostalgia is a sign of aging. Wistful desire for a long lost object or experience is a mark of time. I want to hear the diving board at Cutler Ridge pool or the lifeguard tell everyone to get behind the red tile. I want to see the water tower again. I want to go to Pierre’s dry cleaners and watch the motorized rack spin and spin. I want Dino’s Pizza and Flynn’s Dixie Ribs….at least the sweet pickle bucket. I want to hear the sound of driving over the rail road tracks at US1 and Caribbean Blvd. I want to hear the kicked can in the central hallway at Cutler Ridge elementary. The best thing is that every other Ridge Rat knows these things as if they were the Empire State building or the Washington monument. These things were home, our home.