Nickel For Your Thoughts

After a massive stroke paralyzed Sandy Simon's left side in 1993, his doctors told him that if he lived -- which they doubted -- he would be a mental and physical invalid. Today, at age 61, a slight hitch in his walk is the only hint of Simon's ordeal.

The limp is barely noticeable as he leads a visitor through his airy, eighth-floor Delray Beach apartment to his favorite spot, a deck overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway and the blue expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. Simon, a retired real-estate developer and grandson of pioneering Palm Beach County merchant and developer Abraham Simon Essa Chalhoub, spent mornings during his recovery on the porch writing. Inspired by the beautiful view, he penned a series of uplifting words, such as sunrise, flowers, and rainbow.

"Out of that came a few sentences, then a book of poetry," recalls the soft-spoken Simon. "Then I wrote a childhood story of growing up in Delray Beach."

The story is about his father, farmer and builder Alexander Simon, and George Morikami, namesake of the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Boca Raton. The Simons owned land next to the Japanese-American farmer, and when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, Morikami spent the afternoon with Simon's dad. Simon writes: "Mr. Morikami cried all day, asking my father rhetorically many times: 'How could they do this terrible thing to America? How could the people of Japan, my homeland, attack the good people of America, my new home?'" Morikami could not be consoled, but the Simons and their neighbors convinced the U.S. government not to send him to an internment camp during World War II.

A version of Simon's story appeared in the Boca Raton News on December 7, 1994, and other historical pieces written by Simon ran periodically until 1997. Those stories and others are now compiled in the colorful, photo-filled book Remembering... A History of Florida's South Palm Beach County 1894-1998, which Simon will discuss April 29 in Boynton Beach.

Boynton, Boca Raton, and Delray Beach are featured in the book, which forgoes the dry, academic approach to history in favor of storytelling. The book relies heavily on family histories -- the Simons' and those of other prominent pioneers. It begins in 1894, when parcels of swampland in southern Palm Beach County were purchased by speculators and developed by buyers into farms and later into beachside resorts. Simon's grandfather, a Lebanese immigrant, took part in the area's transformation. He arrived in 1912 and opened a dry goods store on Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach in 1916. The two-story building was also home to Bob's Famous Bar and Restaurant and today houses Powers Lounge.

While Simon does a good job of supplying readers with a comprehensive portrait of the area, his best writing is saved for personal memories, which begin with the '40s. For example, he describes yesteryear Delray from the point of view of the nine-year-old paperboy he once was.

"Some afternoons," he writes, "when I was carrying newspapers table to table [in restaurants] with my standard greeting, 'Newspaper, sir?' a customer would ask, 'Do me a favor son,' handing me a $5.00 or $10.00 bill (a lot of money back then -- a full week's earnings for me!), or $2.00 to bet on a named horse in a particular race.... I would run across the street to the bookie joint upstairs above Falcon's Drug Store on the corner, and look forward to buying a fine hot dog at Gillie's Bar and Grill next door."

If his customer won the bet, Simon recalls, he could count on a 25-cent tip; if the horse lost, he might get a nickel. Either way he'd get his hot dog, because back then they cost just five cents.

-- John Ferri

Sandy Simon will discuss and sign copies of Remembering... A History of Florida's South Palm Beach County 1894-1998 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 29, at Borders, 525 N. Congress Ave., Boynton Beach. Admission is free. Call 561-734-2021.

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John Ferri