Lessons From The Florida Panhandle

The Florida Panhandle. It’s a place I know well. It is a place that is near and dear to my heart.

My daddy, his siblings, and all my first cousins grew up there. I was born there. My grandparents lived there. My daddy is buried there, and my mother’s ashes are there.

When I was five months old, my family moved to Brewton, Alabama, and I never lived in the Panhandle again, but we visited family there regularly. We also vacationed at the beaches along the gulf coast in the Panhandle. I learned a lot in the Panhandle.

This past week, I took my teenage daughter on a road trip through the panhandle. Neither of us had been there since 2007, and she had no recollection of that visit. I also showed her some places she had never been. She didn’t act particularly interested in all my stories, but maybe she will remember some.

Maybe she will remember my telling her about doodlebugs in the Panhandle. Nope, I’m not talking about VWs. I’m talking about antlions, insects whose larvae dig pits to capture prey. If you’re not familiar with them, this will be as confusing to you as it was to my daughter. But doodlebug pits look like tiny holes in the ground with a small crater around them. When my cousins and I were little, our Granddaddy showed us how to get doodlebugs to come out of what we thought were their homes. He told us to put a tiny stick down into the hole and stir it while saying, “Doodlebug, doodlebug, come out and get a cup of coffee. Doodlebug, doodlebug, your house is on fire.” After a few stirs and a few chants, the doodlebug would emerge! We thought it was because of our chanting, but as an adult, I know it was because of the stirring. I think Granddaddy was just giving us something to do, so we wouldn’t bother people, but we spent hours bothering doodlebugs…and we had fun and made memories!

I also learned about biddies in the Panhandle. Nope…not gossiping old ladies or hot girls (urban slang). Biddies…young chickens. I must have been about six or seven the first time I heard young chickens called “biddies” by my cousin, Patti. I think we were visiting her house when she suggested we go see the biddies. I followed her to someone’s barn…I have no idea who it belonged to. I don’t remember much about the biddies, but I do remember there were cats there…and hay. I also know my mother must not have known where we were. She would have been worried about snakes. I don’t think we stayed long, but I learned that some folks call young chickens “biddies.”

When my Granddaddy died, a family friend took some of the cousins to get a milkshake at cousin Patti’s other grandparents’ store in Sneads while the grownups talked. They didn’t have a chocolate shake, so I ordered a strawberry shake. I feel sure the folks at Patti’s grandparents’ store knew how to make good milkshakes, but on that day, I learned I don’t like strawberry milkshakes.

On the beach in Panama City Beach one year, when I was a teenager, I learned that tar sometimes washes up with the tide. There had been an oil spill in the Caribbean, and the jetstream pushed a lot of the tar into the Gulf of Mexico. I knew nothing about it, until I was walking the beach near the Fontainebleau Terrace and got some tar on my white sneakers. Had to throw those away…tar doesn’t just wash out easily.

Also in Panama City Beach, at Miracle Strip Amusement Park, I learned a Scrambler amusement park ride is a lot more fun when it’s enclosed in a giant building shaped like an abominable snowman with loud music playing and mirrors on the walls…and bright lights flashing. I also saw a chicken play a piano at Miracle Strip and rode the Starliner roller coaster.

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Miracle Strip Amusement Park in 60s or early 70s

And everywhere in the Panhandle, I learned that gnats will congregate around your eyes, your nose, and any cuts or scrapes you have. Natural springs are naturally cold (Blue Springs Recreational Area). And more info here. I learned that Spanish moss is beautiful, even though it’s not a moss at all…it’s a flowering plant. I learned about stalactites and stalagmites at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. In Quincy, I learned about a banker who loaned folks money to buy Coca Cola stock….eventually making them millionaires. Many years later, I became friends with that banker’s great granddaughters purely by accident, after meeting one of them at a party in Charlotte! From my daddy and his siblings, I learned what life was like in the rural Panhandle after the Great Depression. I learned about peach trees right outside the door whose limbs were used as switches. I learned about the one room schoolhouse in Bascom and Faye Dunaway’s being a student there. Yes, that Faye Dunaway…of Bonnie and Clyde fame. I listened to speculation about how a community called Two Egg got its name, and I ate as much pound cake as I could when I visited a great aunt in Two Egg. In my grandmother’s house, I learned what an antique sewing machine looked like, and I heard stories about my grandmother and aunt playing organ and piano at folks’ weddings and funerals…oh, one funeral story I’ll have to share another time. At the beaches in the panhandle, I learned how much fun it is to bunk with all your cousins in one house on vacation. And I used my first crosswalk button to cross the beach road in Mexico Beach when I was six…it was malfunctioning and shocked the stew out of me. On that same trip, I learned about wading out into a bay to catch scallops on the same trip. And I learned that fireworks are pretty on the beach.

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Blue Springs Recreational Area and Park, Marianna, Florida

The coastal Panhandle looks different now. There are planned communities and high rise condos where beach houses and roadside motels used to be. The original Miracle Strip Amusement Park is long gone from Panama City Beach, but there is a new Miracle Strip located near Pier Park on the beach road. Shipwreck Island waterpark and Capt. Anderson’s Restaurant are still there, and even the old Fontainebleau Terrace is still standing…it was a beauty in its heyday.

A little farther north, along Highway 90 in Jackson County, one big difference is that most motel/hotel accommodations either closed or moved over to I-10 after it was completed through the area. Well, that and the Hurricane Michael damage that is everywhere from Panama City to Jackson County…lots of devastation. In Marianna, lots of the downtown businesses were damaged and/or destroyed. I have lots of memories there…getting my first Florida State University sweatshirt at Daffin’s, seeing the RCA dog on top of one downtown business, and watching Mary Poppins in the old movie theatre there. The theatre has been gone for a long time, but I remember. Say a prayer for the folks who are still affected by that terrible storm. Lots of people are still suffering, including my aunt, whose house in Panama City was badly damaged by the storm.

The Panhandle taught me a lot. All this, and I didn’t even mention Tallahassee, Destin, and other places yet! Whew! I’ll share stuff about those places soon. Big lessons from all over the Panhandle. Mostly, it taught me my aunts, uncles, and cousins are keepers. Maybe we need to plan another beach vacation for the whole bunch!

I hope my daughter will remember some of it…

***Some friends asked me about the planned communities along the Gulf Coast. You can find lots of rental information here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Get Busy Living…

My friend, Mary Ann, called me one day this week and told me she had read about a little boy with a terminal illness who wanted to get his photo with “Welcome to…” signs of different states. It was important to him. Mary Ann, in her infinite wisdom, said, “Shouldn’t we all be doing that, anyway?” She didn’t mean we should all be taking photos with signs. She meant we should all be doing things we want to do...living our lives.

And she’s right. Mary Ann knows how abruptly a life can end. Her daddy was killed in a tragic automobile accident when he was in his 40s. I’m sure he had lots of things he still wanted to do.

My conversation with Mary Ann made me think of a line from The Shawshank Redemption, a movie starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. The film is based on a Stephen King Novella, Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption, which I now need to read. The line? It is a line spoken by Tim Robbins’s character, Andy Dufresne, a banker who had incorrectly been found guilty of murdering his wife and was subsequently sentenced to prison:

Get busy living, or get busy dying.

My daddy loved that line. We took it for what it was: If you don’t get out and do the things you want to do now (live your life), then you will start to wither…mentally and physically.  We can make the time and energy to do the things we dream about, or we can sit around, letting time pass, till there’s no time or energy left to do it. We can choose to live life in a positive way…or not.

Think about that. What are some things you’ve always wanted to do? It can be something as simple as learning to knit…or something adventurous…or something to help the community.

Both my parents are gone now, but I feel like they did most of what they wanted to do in life. They encouraged me to live life to its fullest. Yes, they wanted me to be responsible, but I remember, when Daddy was dying, he told me, “Y’all need to enjoy your lives. You can’t take your money with you…enjoy it.” Both my parents always reminded us often that “life is not a dress rehearsal.”

Daddy didn’t mean we should get out there and waste money.  What he meant was that we need to use it to do some things we want to do. My parents were very conservative with their money. After Daddy died, Mother became even more conservative with her spending and investing. I would tell her, “Mother, spend it. Enjoy it!” And she would always tell me she wanted to save it for us. But she still did a lot of what she wanted.

Mother and Daddy took lots of trips together. They preferred the Caribbean for big trips, but they were happy to find a local sporting event to attend most of the time. Indoor track meet at the local coliseum? They were in! Baseball game? You bet! Daddy loved driving, so often they took road trips together too. And when I say he LOVED driving, I mean he LOVED it. Daddy started driving in 1952, and as an adult, he drove many times the miles most people drive in a lifetime. He died in 2006…54 years of driving, and he never had an accident.

They also helped others…quietly. They didn’t want accolades for their acts of kindness. Many times I knew Mother to take care of an ailing neighbor…for months! They both gave away money to individuals or families who, they said, “needed it more than we do.”

Mother and Daddy enjoyed their lives. Sure, their experiences were different than mine, but they were of a different generation. I’m sure our daughter’s life experience will be different than mine. Heck, my brother is just 17 months younger than I am, and his life experience is different than mine, because we have different interests.

But here’s one thing I know for sure: I live my life. I’m not sitting around waiting for life to happen to me…I’m making life happen. I’m trying to spend time with people I love. I’m trying to make the world a little better. I am trying to create lasting memories with our daughter and with my husband. I am trying to do the things I want to do, and I am enjoying the ride.

So…get busy living, or get busy dying.

 

 

Move Over! My Driving Pet Peeves

I’m going to throw something out there that people don’t seem to remember: the left lane on a multi-lane road is for passing. I know! I know! You think it’s the fast lane. Some folks like to refer to the lane closest to the median as the fast lane, but in truth, it’s a passing lane. If you’ve been cruising all over town in the left lane, you’re doing it wrong. In fact, in some states you will be ticketed for cruising in the left lane…I have a cousin who learned the hard way after receiving a ticket for it on Interstate 10 in Louisiana. Just yesterday, I was trying to pass someone, and the car ahead of me in the left lane was going the same speed as the car beside him in the right lane…for three miles…get around the other car and move over!

Ever been driving in the left lane and had a car come up rapidly behind you? Unfortunately, the state in which I live, North Carolina, has very weak left-lane laws, but you’re supposed to move over so that faster car can pass. Surely, you’ve noticed clusters that form in traffic when cars in the left lane are not moving faster than other lanes. Here’s the gist: Use the far left lane (nearest the median) for passing. In some states, all lanes except the far right lane are for passing only, and if you’re using the lane for anything other than passing, you can be ticketed. You can see information about states’ left lane passing laws here.

In fact, within the last year, lots of Alabama drivers were surprised when they were ticketed for it. I know, because I talked with an Alabama State Trooper about it. Alabama State Troopers sent out a message via Yellowhammer News two years ago. To see it, click here. If you are slowing down the left lane, you are endangering lives. I always say, “If I’m having to pass you on the right, you’re doing it wrong.” Jake Lingeman wrote about it in Autoweek here.

Now that my daughter is about to get her learner’s permit, I’m paying more attention to driving habits, and here are some observations:

  • HAZARD LIGHTS IN RAIN Do not slow to a crawl in rain and turn on your hazard lights. Just don’t. Some states have laws against it. Hazard lights are for traffic hazards. Where I grew up, if you couldn’t drive in rain, well, you would hardly ever drive. If you consider yourself a hazard, you need to get off the road. If you can’t drive in rain, get off the road. Don’t stop on the shoulder; have lunch or coffee somewhere. By slowing to a crawl with hazard lights flashing, you are creating a hazard. Should you drive 85 through a rainstorm? No. But the other day, I was behind a car that slowed to 35mph in rain on the interstate highway…with hazard lights. Don’t do it. To see state laws regarding the use of hazard lights in rain, click here.
  • TURNING RIGHT ON RED First thing you need to know is you must come to a complete stop before turning right on red, and then you may turn ONLY when clear. You must be sure all parts of the intersection are clear, including cars facing you from across the intersection. If someone else has a green light or green turn arrow, you must wait. It happens all the time coming out of my neighborhood. I get the left turn green arrow, and mid-turn, someone from the other side turns right on red at the same time. Nope, nope, nope. Traffic facing a steady burning GREEN ARROW has exclusive right to enter the intersection to make the indicated movement free from conflict. Cars turning with a green arrow have right of way. And don’t forget to watch for pedestrians and cyclists. For more info, click here.tim-gouw-128115-unsplash
  • U-TURNS ON RED LIGHTS It’s illegal. I see it all the time. If you go into the intersection at any time on a red light, except making a right turn when clear, you are violating traffic laws. In some states, as long as you don’t enter the intersection or crosswalk, it’s OK, but that’s rare. To see what a Florida officer said about it, click here.

So, yeah…not complaining…just putting it out there. I certainly make mistakes when driving…probably every single day. But if I cut someone off or make another mistake, I always give the courtesy wave. If you don’t know about that, you can read about it here.

Happy motoring!

***COMING THURSDAY: My Favorite Holiday Gift Ideas for 2018!***

 

 

 

 

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Learning to Drive

As our daughter’s 15th birthday approaches, so does the excitement about the driver’s learner permit. Yes, it’s exciting, but it’s nerve-wracking at the same time.

It’s a lot more difficult to get a driver’s license now than it was when I was a teenager. Our daughter doesn’t even have her permit yet, and we’ve already had to jump through some hoops.

In North Carolina, there are lots of moving parts to getting a learner’s permit. If no one tells you the different steps, it can be rather confusing. I’ve had to ask multiple people a million questions throughout the process, so hopefully, this will help some of you. This has been our process:

  • Register for Driver’s Education at age 14 1/2, if it isn’t offered in your school. (see bottom of page for contact info for three companies)
  • Send in payment for course.
  • Attend course and pass written driver’s ed test.
  • Go to the DMV for the eye test (if the company doesn’t offer it)
  • Schedule the driving portion of Driver’s Ed.
  • Complete the practice driving (six hours) with instructor.
  • Obtain proof of enrollment form from school.
  • Go to DMV on or after 15th birthday for written test and permit…take birth certificate, form from school, completed Driver’s Ed form, and Social Security card.

If I didn’t have friends who reminded me of things to do throughout the process, my poor daughter probably wouldn’t be on her way to getting her permit in a couple of weeks.

She completed the classroom/written test portion of Driver’s Ed the first week of June, getting it out of the way. She had to be 14 1/2 to enroll in the course. We then had to wait till about a month before her birthday to schedule the driving portion of the course. She had the first of two three-hour sessions this past Saturday, and she said everything went smoothly.

Anyone who has ridden with a new driver knows it can be nerve-wracking, but the only way to learn is through practice.

When the instructor arrived at our house, she told me that she usually stays in the neighborhood for the first two hours, and she never takes anyone on the highway in their first session. I wasn’t worried. I knew our daughter was in good hands, so I was very relaxed while they were gone. Plus, my daughter has practiced driving me around on private roads for months.I knew she would do well driving the instructor in the neighborhood.

When my daughter got home three hours later, she said she thought she had done very well, and she did go on the highway. She said that after they drove around the neighborhood a couple of times, the instructor said she was ready to get out on the open road. First, they practiced some parking skills at a nearby parking lot, and then they got in the interstate! Yikes! I love interstate driving, but some people hate it. I asked my daughter what she thought of it, and she said she liked it. Near the end of the lesson, they drove to pick up the next student driver and came home. She has her next session this weekend.

I’m excited for her, and nervous for us. I remember when I was learning to drive. It was exciting thinking about the freedom that was coming my way! I’m sure she feels the same way, but first, we have to make sure she knows what she’s doing. We have a year to help her practice to get her prepared.

It was a lot easier when I as a teenager. We took Driver’s Ed at school, and then when we turned 15, we could test for our learner’s permit. That was it. I don’t even think we had to show any proof that we had taken Driver’s Ed. But Driver’s Ed at school was fun. We had driving simulators. They were nothing like real driving, but they were fun!

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LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

I remember some of the driving mistakes I made early on when I was learning to drive. My poor Daddy. Our house was at the top of a hill, so if you backed out of our driveway in one direction, you were backing a little downhill on the road. One day, with my daddy in the car, I forgot to put the car into Drive after backing out, and I stepped on the gas pedal, sending us speeding down the hill backward! Somehow, Daddy stayed calm, and I got things under control. He probably never wanted to drive with me again, but he did. Another time, I stepped on the gas instead of the brake as we turned into a street. And somehow, we survived it.

I’m sure when Daddy was teaching my brother to drive, it was much less stressful for him. My parents had caught my brother driving a friend’s car when he was just 14, so there’s no telling how much driving experience he really had when he got his permit. It wasn’t funny at the time, but Daddy laughed about it years later.

Later, after I had my license, he taught me to drive a manual transmission on a Jeep we had…another adventure, but not one my daughter is likely to have, since so few manual transmission cars are made now.

So our adventure in driving is about to begin. It’s difficult to believe. I remember when our daughter first started walking, and we said she didn’t have walking around sense. Will we feel the same way about her driving?

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DRIVING SCHOOLS IN CHARLOTTE (I’m only listing companies my friends have used):

Helms Driving School…Website:   http://www.helmsdrivingschool.com/Services.html

Jordan Driving School…Website:   http://www.jordandrivingschoolcharlotte.com

Faulkner Driving School…Website:   http://faulknersdrivingschool.com/about-us.aspx

 

 

 

 

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Keep The Courtesy Wave Alive

Is it possible there are people out there who don’t know what a courtesy wave is? I guess it’s possible. I grew up thinking everyone knew about it and everyone did it, but as time has passed, I’ve come to realize some folks still don’t know. Are we witnessing the slow death of the courtesy wave?

A courtesy wave is a hand wave or gesture a driver or pedestrian offers as an expression of gratitude for a kindness on the road, or as an expression of apology after a mistake.

When I was growing up, courtesy waves were commonplace. Everybody did it, as far as I knew. I remember both my parents being courtesy wavers, and my brother and I became courtesy wavers, as well. It’s just what we do. Or at least that’s what I thought. It seems fewer people offer the courtesy wave these days.

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Last week, when I was driving to school, a man was trying to back out of his driveway into the street, but traffic made it difficult for him. I stopped so he could get out. He backed out of his driveway and drove away…no courtesy wave. He certainly didn’t owe me anything, since I did it out of the kindness of my heart, but really? I couldn’t believe it! I stopped traffic for him, and he couldn’t just hold up his hand to thank me? That’s like someone holding open a door for you and you don’t say “thank you”! Come on, dude! Just give me the wave!

Another afternoon, I was picking up my child from a crowded place. The car next to me and I allowed a car to pass in front of us, so he could exit. He didn’t even look at us, much less give a courtesy wave. I looked over at the driver of the car next to me and recognized him, so I put down my window and said, “Wow. A courtesy wave would have been nice.” He responded, “I thought the exact same thing!”

But it happens all the time. I think there are way fewer courtesy wavers than there used to be. I don’t get mad, but I often wonder if they know how great the courtesy wave is. Courtesy waves carry a lot of power, but if you don’t do it, you’ll never know. They have the power to make someone feel appreciated; or to apologize; or to offer forgiveness.

I’m an extreme courtesy waver. My courtesy wave is one long continuous wave from different angles…or accompanied by a “thank you” if I’m a pedestrian. I offer that wave in different situations. Here are some examples:

  • If I’m trying to walk into Target, even if I’m in the crosswalk, and you stop to let me cross, I’m giving you a courtesy wave to thank you for your kindness. I’m likely going to smile and actually say, “Thank you!” I appreciate someone letting me cross. That’s how a pedestrian can use the courtesy wave.
  • As a driver, if traffic is backed up in my lane, and you let me over in front of you, you get a giant courtesy wave. In fact, chances are I will roll down my window and hang out the window to give a big wave with a big smile, and I will likely follow up with another wave over my shoulder and a wave out my sunroof. Like I said, I’m an extreme courtesy waver.
  • A courtesy wave can go a long way in bad situations too. If you cut me off in traffic and keep going, I think, “What?!?!” But if you offer a courtesy wave after, I simmer down. That courtesy wave means, to me, that you are apologizing for making that mistake. And I even give the courtesy wave of forgiveness in return. At the same time, if I accidentally cut someone off, I raise my hand for that courtesy wave as quickly as possible.

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I understand frustration in traffic. There are lots of things I dislike about driving: slow drivers in the left lane, drivers who fail to yield the right of way, people who change lanes without looking, and more, but a lot of those things can be forgiven with a courtesy wave. Sometimes slow drivers don’t realize they need to get over, but if they give me a quick wave and move over after I pass them on the right (ugh…if I’m having to pass you on the right, you’re doing it wrong), all is forgiven. I know they don’t care if I forgive them or not, but it’s civility.

Civility is good, and courtesy waves are part of that. I refuse to believe this gesture is dying. I choose to believe it is alive and well, but some folks just don’t know about it yet. Spread the word, friends…courtesy waves are powerful. They aren’t required, but they are appreciated.

***Thank you for reading Kelly Mattei’s Favorite Things. If you enjoy my blog, please go “LIKE” it on Facebook.***

 

 

 

 

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