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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Mom On Vacation

For the next week, I’m not just a mom. I’m a mom on vacation.

It’s impossible to take a vacation from everything moms have to do. I can’t (and don’t want to) ignore or abandon my teenage daughter. I can’t say, “I’m on vacation. Don’t expect me to make sure you have food, and don’t expect me to talk with you or help you with anything.” That’s not even what I would want to do. My very favorite role in life…ever…is my role as Mom. I love being a mom. Is it work? Yes. Do I want to get as far away from my daughter as possible on vacation? Heck no! I love being with her…but I do have some things I don’t do on vacation…and some things I love to do.

One thing I do on vacation is unthinkable to lots of people: I don’t check email. I know! In 2019, I don’t check email when I’m on vacation. Irresponsible? Yes, but I don’t want to see the email about summer reading requirements. I don’t want to think about school. I don’t want to think about things that need to be done. I just want to enjoy some time away. I enjoy it with my child, but I don’t want to think about all the other essential stuff like school, what needs to be done at home, and all those other things moms do.

The older she gets, the more time I want to spend talking with our daughter on vacation. When she was younger, she was constantly asking questions…all the time…and especially on vacation. Now that she is 15, I don’t get many questions, except, “Can we go shopping?” Or “Where are we eating tonight?” But we have lots of great conversations about life in general. Vacation is a great time for us to sit down together and just talk…and I love it.

On this vacation, I’ve been getting coffee delivered to the room when I wake up, and I sit out on our balcony and enjoy it. The mornings are just a little cool, so the caffeine and cool air make for a good wake up. My daughter and her friend will come out and chat for a little while. The hummingbirds don’t impress them as much as they impress me, so they don’t sit outside as long as I do, but we make a nice connection first thing in the morning.

And while shopping with two teenage girls can be torture, on vacation it’s more fun, because the stores are different. The people are different. The surroundings are different. And all that makes for more great conversation. Meals are the different too…new restaurants, new foods, new beverages, new experiences…all make for fun conversations.

But I will tell you what else I try not to do on vacation. I try not to nag. Yes, moms can nag…even me. Heck, especially me. My nagging is in the form of “reminders” most of the time at home. I remind her she has three pairs of shoes that need to be put away. Or I remind her that she has less than 30 minutes to be ready to go. On vacation, I try really hard not to do all the reminders. I try to just let life happen…happily. If we have a dinner reservation, I just tell a little white lie about the time of the reservation, and then I don’t get annoyed when she is 15 minutes late getting ready. Reservation at 8:30? I tell her it’s at 8:15 or even 8:00. It’s barely a lie, right? Instead of staying in the hotel room while she gets ready, I go to the hotel bar and enjoy a cocktail while I wait for her to get dressed. When it’s time to leave, she usually shows up right on cue…thinking, of course, that we are about to miss our reservation! But we’re not going to miss it…because of that little white lie.

Also, as part of vacation, I do things I don’t get to do at home. Swim with dolphins? Check. Climb a waterfall? Check. Hike through a rainforest? Check. Swim in pitch black water so I can observe bioluminescence up close and personal? Check. On this vacation, because it’s a city vacation, I’m not doing those things, but I’m trying new foods. I’m spending lots of time outdoors relaxing. I’m just enjoying life without thinking about things that need to be done around our house.

My friend, Angela, will be joining us today. She arrives in a couple of hours, and she will be doing a mom vacation in a different way, because her daughter won’t be here. Her daughter is on a trip of her own. Angela will bring even more conversation. My daughter loves chatting her up, so the conversations will get even better. They’re conversations that don’t always take place at home. And with Angela, I will enjoy people watching on a whole new level, because it’s vacation.

We still have another week left of vacation, and I plan to enjoy it without emails and without nagging. I plan to enjoy being a mom on vacation with my daughter and friends. And I will continue telling the little white lie about the reservation time…just to keep the peace.

I’m Leaving On a Jet Plane (Spring Break!)

“I’m leaving on a jet plane…don’t know when I’ll be back again…”

John Denver wrote about it in 1969, but Peter, Paul, and Mary’s version of the song is the most popular. If you’re not familiar with it, you can hear the song here.

When I was in first and second grades at Brewton Elementary School, in Brewton, Alabama, we would swing as high as we could on the swingset on the school playground, and when we did, we would sing that song. Well, we sang that and Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, but that’s another story.  When I think of I’m Leaving On A Jet Plane, I think of happy childhood days.

And I think about it a lot…mostly when I’m preparing for a vacation. While I’m packing, I walk around my house singing, “All my bags are packed, and I’m ready to go…” I can’t help myself. I get excited about vacations, and I guess that song represents the joy of childhood and the joy of a vacation for me.

Our next vacation will be spring break…just two weeks away. I need spring break. I need it every year. My friends laugh at me, because I start making plans in October or November. By the time we’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve, I’m already looking forward to spring break. I count down the days, and as of right now, we will be leaving in fourteen days. Bring it on!

Before I continue, you should know I do a lot of travel research before I plan a trip. Friends also make fun of me for that, but I don’t really care, because it’s rare for me to have big surprises about hotels or destinations. My very favorite site is TripAdvisor, because it has reviews on hotels, airlines, restaurants, and places to visit. I read carefully, and if I have questions about something, I call resorts or hotels directly, or I call friends who have visited the same place before, if I know someone who has been.

We are doing a beachy, sunny vacation this year, and I need it. We’ve had so much rain this winter in Charlotte….it’s depressing. I need the warm sunshine on my face, so I can produce some much-needed Vitamin D. Aside from that, I need worry-free time. I need to be away from the city in which I live. Seriously, I love Charlotte, but occasionally, and I don’t care where you live, you need to get away from the same four walls, the same people, and the same scenery. I just need a break. I need a week of no homework, no sports practices, no cooking, no cleaning, no obligations…just a week to do whatever we want to do.

Here’s the thing about Spring Break, though. For me, it doesn’t have to be somewhere glamorous. The main thing for me is that it has to be somewhere that’s easy to get to. Because it’s just a week, I don’t want to waste a lot of time on the getting there and getting home. I want to get to my destination quickly and get home just as quickly.

This year my daughter is taking a friend with her, and I am taking a friend too. My husband is staying home…he doesn’t enjoy traveling as much as we do. I offered…he didn’t want to go. He’ll probably enjoy the quiet time he’ll have at home without us!

I’ve already arranged our airport transfers and reserved our poolside cabana. Having the cabana ensures we will have a spot by the pool every single day we are there. I don’t want to have to get up at 7 o’clock in the morning while I’m on vacation, just so I can have a chair by the pool. It also makes it easy for my daughter and her friend to find us if they need us. But who am I kidding? They will avoid us like the plague!

I hope to come home rested, tan, happy, and ready to tackle the rest of the school year…a little over two months after the break is over, but we do have a nice Easter break in there. Once spring break is over, I’ll be counting down to that…for the record, that break will start 25 days after spring break ends.

Two more weeks till we get the party started! Maybe I should call now to order a bottle of champagne for our cabana…

“So kiss me and smile for me…tell me that you’ll wait for me…”