Mother’s 80th Birthday

My mother’s 80th birthday is approaching…September 3. She was born in Alabama two days after World War II started in Poland. Sadly, she isn’t here to celebrate her 80th birthday. She died 20 months ago, on December 30, 2017. To say I miss her is an understatement. I’ve written about her before. She was nurturing…nurturing us as well as lots of neighborhood kids and our classmates. She liked for things to be done “the right way.” Yes, she was a rule follower…I got it honestly. But she also had a fantastic sense of humor…it’s necessary in dealing with my brother, for sure. And she had a great sense of adventure and encouraged us, her children, to have a sense of adventure, as well. My husband would tell you she did a good job of instilling a sense of adventure in me.

In November 1997, I decided I wanted to go to Mexico City for vacation. I didn’t have any friends who were interested in going, so I decided I would go alone. A few days before I was scheduled to go, Mother called me and offered to go with me. I knew she was going simply because she didn’t want me to go alone, but it turned out to be the trip of a lifetime. She purchased her airline ticket, and a few days later, we were on our way to an adventure. I had visited Mexico City in 1982, but Mother had no idea what to expect. I tried to make sure she saw everything she could safely see while we were there. We visited El Zocalo, which she found fascinating. We spent a lot of time touring the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, a place she considered one of the most beautiful places she had ever seen. We had coffee in the Gran Hotel, an historic hotel facing El Zocalo, admiring the beautiful glass ceiling. We shopped in local markets. We toured El Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Museum of Anthropology. We ate street food. We ate in great restaurants and dined al fresco at different places in La Zona Rosa. She always ordered chicken in molé sauce. And she fell in love with the warm people of Mexico. We spent Sunday afternoon in Chapultepec Park (see info here), visiting the zoo (pandas!) and Chapultepec Castle atop the hill overlooking the park. She laughed for years at how much I made her walk while we were there. And she laughed that we ordered late night room service every night while we were there. In fact, when the hotel put a copy of our bill under the door, I was shocked at the total. Remember, I was single and thirty years old…working in the travel business. I took one look at the bill and said to Mother, “Ummm…this bill is $8000. My credit card won’t take that much!” We quickly remembered, of course, that it was 8000 pesos. At that time, that translated to just over $1000 USD. Since I worked in the travel industry, I had secured us a great rate on the hotel room…80 percent off the rack rate…and we were staying in a beautiful hotel in La Zona Rosa. And in the end, it didn’t matter about my credit card, because Mother picked up the tab, as my parents had done so many times. Good times, no doubt, and it’s an adventure I’m glad we shared. She knew I loved Mexico City, and I am thrilled we experienced it together. I hope to one day take my own daughter to Mexico City to show her the same sights.

I have lived in North Carolina for the past 19 years, and Mother lived in Alabama, so I didn’t see her all the time. Many times, after Daddy died in 2006, I tried to talk her into moving to Charlotte, but she didn’t want to move this far north. I saw her several times a year, but we spoke on the phone every day…and often, more than once a day. She loved to talk about current events. She loved hearing about my life. She loved hearing about my daughter. She loved hearing about our adventures. She loved to talk about football.

She and my daddy also loved sunflowers. I grew some in my garden last year, and this year, I’ve grown more. Some of them are blooming now, but I hope a few will hold out a little longer. I want to have some blooming on her birthday, and it would be great if a few would hold out till Daddy’s birthday on September 14. In fact, two of my Mammoth Sunflowers are side by side…one is about two feet taller than the other, and that height difference makes me think of Mother and Daddy too. Mother was under five feet tall, and Daddy was 6’3″…so it makes me smile every time I see those two mismatched sunflowers.

When she fell ill on Christmas Eve 2017, I got up on Christmas morning and drove to Alabama, with the intention of bringing her back to Charlotte with me. On the long drive there, I thought of what I would say to make it clear she didn’t have a choice in the matter…she was coming home with me. But after arriving and speaking with the doctors, I realized she wouldn’t be coming home with me. She would be going home to the Lord. She would be laughing with Daddy soon. She died on December 30, 2017.

On her birthday, I will add a little Bailey’s Irish Cream to my coffee in memory of her. She would laugh if she knew that.

Happy Birthday in Heaven, Mother.

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First Day of Sophomore Year

Today is the first day of school at our daughter’s school. She will be starting her sophomore year of high school. Seriously…only three more years of school before she off to college. How can that be?!?

She survived…even thrived in freshman year! She learned a lot academically, socially, and athletically. She got good grades. She loved her teachers. She made new friends. She had some solid extracurricular activities. In fact, she played varsity field hockey and varsity lacrosse, and she was a basketball cheerleader. The cheerleading part is a big deal. She is not one who likes to perform. She likes to play sports. She isn’t looking at her “audience” when she plays sports, but cheerleading is different. I was very proud of her for trying something new. And it wasn’t just new to her. Her school hadn’t had cheerleaders in years, so she was a part of a new team altogether.

And now she begins her second year of high school. She has already had a few field hockey games. She had school orientation yesterday, and after a rough morning of “I have nothing to wear,” she rebounded after orientation, telling me she was thrilled with her schedule for the year. Even though she had no idea which of her friends were in her classes, she was happy with her schedule. Whew! That’s a win!

The first couple months of school, my husband will drive her to school, or she will ride with friends. I will pick her up after field hockey practice most of the time, and I’m sure she will get rides with friends when she can. But in October, she should be getting her driver’s license, and life will change for all of us. She will drive herself to school and home from practice in the afternoons. She will be able to meet her friends on weekends on her own. I won’t have to take her where she wants to go, because she will be able to drive herself. It’s going to be a big change, and though I’m sure I will worry every single time she drives away, she will be gaining some independence.

Independence is the goal. Our little girl is growing up…that’s for sure.

Last night, before going to bed, she made sure she had everything she needs for school today…notebooks, paper, pens, pencils, books, book bag, etc. We made sure she is prepared for a new school year. After forcing her to take “first day of school” pictures, my husband drove her to school this morning, and they stopped at Starbucks on the way. I feel sure she reunited with friends she hasn’t seen this summer, and right now, she’s likely meeting her new teachers. She’ll eat grilled cheese from the cafeteria at lunch, and if she doesn’t get a ride home with a friend, I’ll pick her up after school.

And chances are, she will tell me very little till she is good and ready to tell me.

But I’m embracing this 10th grade year, even though I prefer an eternal summer…and I’m already planning vacations for the holidays, spring break, and next summer. It’s what I do. We always need something to look forward to. Because I want her to know that life is meant to be lived NOW. Do the things you have to do so you can do the things you want to do. See the world. Enjoy your friends. Learn new things.

I’m not going to pretend I’m happy the school year is starting. I’m not. If I could do it, life would be one big adventure. But reality is that she needs to go to school…for lots of reasons.

Our baby is not a baby anymore.

Let’s get this school year started…and I’ll be looking forward to the next holiday!

 

 

We Finally Made It

Has there ever been somewhere you wanted to go but just never made it happen? I don’t mean a big trip. I mean a little place somewhere you wanted to visit when you were in the area, but circumstances kept you from going?

A few years ago, I embarked on a road trip with my friend, Mary Ann, along with her three kids and my daughter. We started in Charlotte and drove al through Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania…and straight home from there. We saw most of the things we wanted to see, but we missed a couple.

The first one we missed was Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, Wisconsin. You can see the website here. It’s a giant cheese store about 45 minutes from Chicago. It’s actually more than a cheese store…it’s a gift shop, an ice cream parlor, a restaurant, and a big photo op! Of course, it’s shaped like a castle, but it’s not made of cheese. We found out about it when we were looking at information about something that might be fun to visit just over the Wisconsin border from Chicago…it would be a way to make a quick visit to Wisconsin so our kids could add it to their lists of states they had visited.

Alas, we didn’t get to go while we were on that trip. There was so much fun to be had in Chicago on that trip that we never made it to Mars Cheese Castle…never even crossed the border into Wisconsin. And I’ve always regretted it. I used to go to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, all the time, and I loved it. The people were always so nice, and well…the cheese! So I especially hated my daughter didn’t get to go. She, of course, didn’t care. She was 11 years old when we took that road trip, and Mars Cheese Castle just didn’t sound that interesting to her.

Yesterday, we flew into Chicago…me, my daughter, and her friend. The girls are going to a small concert early today, and then we are going to Lollapalooza in downtown Chicago. We are staying in Schaumburg, because the early event is near here. We will Uber into downtown later.

But when we landed yesterday and got our rental car, I told the girls I wanted to make a quick trip up to Mars Cheese Castle. They grimaced. They moaned. They complained. Actually, only my daughter complained, grimaced, and moaned. Her friend was very polite about it. My daughter asked if I could drop them at the hotel and go by myself? I almost agreed to it, but then I said, “Come on. You’ve never been to Wisconsin, and it won’t take long.” She rolled her eyes but gave in, asking only if I would stop and get them food on the way.

After a quick stop for food and a 45-minute drive north, we found Mars Cheese Castle! It was everything I had hoped and more! Seriously, I had wondered if we would get there and just see shelves of cheese curds, but whoever built it knew what they were doing. Of course, it looks like a castle on the exterior, and there is a big electric sign out front. I made the girls take pictures of me in front of the sign and the building when we got out of the car, and to my surprise, they wanted pics too! Winning!

We walked in with a family who had visited many times before. They were practically giddy! They had lived nearby at one time but had moved away, so they were there for a visit…and they were stocking up on the cheese curds! Of course, I grabbed some cheese curds and put them in my cart too. The girls disappeared as soon as we walked in, but in a few minutes, they came back to me, eating ice cream cones and wearing paper crowns with the Mars Cheese Castle logo on the front. We shopped a little; I grabbed a hoodie for me and some t-shirts for all of us, and we took some photos inside the store. I also got myself a cup of Superman ice cream and a paper crown.

As we walked to the car, we were laughing and taking more pictures. As soon as we started to drive away, my daughter said, “That was a lot more fun than I thought it would be!” Whew! One day, they will learn that I do my research ahead of time.

So I was able to mark Mars Cheese Castle off my list of places to visit, and my daughter has now been to Wisconsin! She has the paper crown to prove it! But don’t get me wrong…given the opportunity to visit again, I will be going back to Mars Cheese Castle!

The other place we didn’t get to visit on that road trip in 2015 with Mary Ann? Oram’s Donuts in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. See their website here. We made it to Beaver Falls, but we didn’t go to Oram’s because we had a car full of cranky kids that day…well, mine was cranky. It was the last leg of our big road trip of 2015, and we were all tired. But one thing I know for sure is that Mary Ann and I will get to Oram’s Donuts…without our kids.

So if you find yourself in Chicagoland or southern Wisconsin, visit Mars Cheese Castle. Think of me as you walk around eating your ice cream cone and squeaky cheese (cheese curds) while wearing your paper crown (they’re free at the ice cream counter).

True Friends Are Like Warm Blankets

True friends are like warm blankets.

This weekend, I spent three days in central Florida with a dear friend from college. We have kept in touch since we were 19 years old and students at the University of Alabama. We’re both 52 now…do the math.

We have shared a lot over the years…secrets, tears, laughs, good times, sadness, hard times…heck, we even have the same wedding anniversary, but she married five years before I did. We are true friends…through thick and thin. Oh, the stories we could tell! Stories of fun nights, bad dates, good parties, bad boyfriends, great experiences, terrible breakups, exciting jobs, sad losses, new babies, teenagers, and some stories of things that could only happen to us…or at least it feels that way. And we have shared some of those stories with our kids. They didn’t really seem to care at the time, though. In fact, they likely rolled their eyes, but one day, they will remember the stories we have told them…and they’ll laugh about some of them, and likely cry about others.

As for this weekend, we didn’t talk about old times a lot. We have covered that many times over the years. Of course, we laughed about some of the funnier things that happened when we were together, but we didn’t rehash it all. We talked about life as we see it now…33 years after becoming friends. We’re middle-aged moms now. We have a different vantage point now than we did at 19. We talked about things we have been through…things we have survived…and we talked about happiness. We talked about how, at 52, we know happiness doesn’t come from having material things. We are very aware that not worrying about how the bills will be paid can contribute to a peaceful, happy existence, but all the extra stuff...not so much. You can have lots of jewelry and fancy cars, but do those material things make you happy? We discussed that what makes us happy is experiencing life with people we love.

We know that for a lot of reasons, but mostly, we know it, because we didn’t sit around talking about material things at all. We didn’t talk about cars, jewelry, handbags, or clothes. We enjoyed talking about interactions with people. We shared stories about life experiences. It wasn’t about bragging rights. It was about sharing life events and how we handled them. We discussed painful experiences and what we learned from them. I’ve lost both parents, and she has lost her dad…we talked and cried about that a lot. And we talked about joyful experiences…things we did together; things our kids have enjoyed; stories of our children’s childhoods and our own childhoods…and more.

Did I mention we laughed a lot?

And while no one can “relive” their youth, we found ourselves absolutely slack-jawed while we watched Endless Love (rent it on Amazon here), a movie we were too young to see when it was a released with an R rating in 1981, but we both watched later on HBO. In fact, it had been so long since either of us had seen it that we forgot Tom Cruise and Jami Gertz had bit parts in the movie. And we had never realized before that a then-unknown Ian Ziering (of Beverly Hills 90210 fame) was in the movie. We also watched Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink (you can rent both on Amazon.com) and reminisced about seeing those movies as teenagers. And before you even think it…I know Sixteen Candles could never be made today with its sexism, underage/nonconsensual sex, underage drinking, and more…but it’s comedy, people! It’s supposed to be funny. I thought it was funny in 1984, and I still think it’s funny now.

During the day, we drove around the lovely town where she lives. We looked at historic homes, parks, flowers, and trees, and one day, we went tubing with her teenage son at Ichetucknee Springs State Park…quite the adventure! The water was refreshingly cold as we floated down the river…laughing and talking. She laughed at me when I would float off into the grasses on the edge of the river, and I laughed at her when she missed the entrance to the disembarkation ramp. We made new memories we will laugh about for years to come.

But what I enjoyed most was simply being with my friend. She knows who I really am and loves me anyway. Spending time with my friend was like being wrapped in a warm blanket. She’s comforting. She has been around for a long time. And she makes me feel secure. I came home feeling rejuvenated. I came home feeling content.

Sure, we are middle-aged moms now, and we have had a lot more life experience than when we became friends. We are, in fact, older than our parents were when we became friends. Wow…we really are middle aged.

She’s a keeper.

I Don’t Want Summer To End

There are lots of moms out there who can hardly wait for school to start. Maybe they want their house to stay clean. Maybe they need to get more done. Maybe they’re tired of dealing with childcare. Maybe they want the routine.

I’m not one of those moms. I love summer, and I love having my child home.

We love our daughter’s school. She will be a sophomore in high school this year, and she has been there since transitional kindergarten (pre-k). We wouldn’t have kept her there if we didn’t love it.

But I’m not ready for school to start.

Aside from the fact that I’m really not ready (I haven’t purchased her books or any other supplies), I’m not emotionally ready.

I won’t be one of those moms making dancing videos in the front yard on the first day of school. I won’t be jumping for joy.I’m more likely to be making crying, sad videos, because I’m sad summer is over. I will be sad school is back in session.

School starts for our daughter on August 21st, but she started field hockey practice last week, so she can’t go on any more trips this summer. She loves field hockey, so it’s fine with her, but it makes me sad. I love looking for trips for us to take, and now I will have to plan them for weekends. Add in the athletics schedule and school event schedule we have to plan around once school starts, and there’s very little opportunity for us to go anywhere.

There are so many reasons I love summer. I like not having a routine! I like flying by the seat of my pants. I like the spontaneity of summer. Some would say that’s exactly why I’m not a CEO…because I can’t (won’t) make a long-range, detailed plan for my life. And they’re exactly right. That sounds absolutely terrible to me! I like to take opportunities as they arise. If a friend or family member calls me and says he/she has an extra ticket to something, I’m in! A last minute trip? Call me! You won a cruise but have to leave tomorrow and need someone to go with you? My passport’s ready! Drinks on your patio one evening with no notice? I’m there! In fact, I’ll ask my husband to drive me over, so I don’t have to drive home. And if you’re my neighbor, it’s even easier!

And that’s the kind of spontaneity I love about summer. I love the possibility of a last-minute trip. I love when our daughter asks me on a Wednesday afternoon if she can have a few friends sleep over. I love staying up late talking with her and sleeping in the next morning. I love having a cocktail on the patio with my husband in the evenings, watching planes pass over and looking for satellites after dark. I love that our daughter has no homework in summer…her time is her own. I love that she’s relaxed in summer, which makes us all more relaxed. I love spending time outdoors, even if it’s hot. I love gardening. I love that we don’t have to rush home after a dinner out so our daughter can finish homework. I love having her home during the day, even though she is usually on the go.

I just love summer. And when school starts back on August 21, all the joy of summer will be gone. All the spontaneity will be replaced by routines. The relaxing evenings will be replaced by homework (for her) and volunteer meetings (for me).

And then I remember that in three short years, she will be heading off to college. That will be a whole new level of dread. I will be happy and excited for her, but wow…life will change. She will go off to college and will likely never live under our roof on a permanent basis again. I will really dread the end of summer in 2022. Even though I know college is one of the very best times of life, and I will be excited for her to experience it, I will dread it for me.

For now, we have two more weeks before school starts back. I’m already watching Facebook for the videos of happy moms all over the country pushing their kids out the door on the first day of school. Not me. I’ll be the mom who looks down and out. I’ll be the mom who keeps reviewing the school calendar, double-checking for long weekends and days off. I’ll be sad. And on the last day of school in 2020 (May 29!), I’ll be more excited than the kids!

But there is a silver lining. The start of school means the start of football season!

Lollapalooza With Teens

It’s the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. My husband and I watched a documentary about it recently and loved it. When naked people were swimming and bathing in the lake, I turned to my husband and said, “Just think…those people are someone’s grandparents now. Imagine watching this and seeing your grandparents!”

I was far too young to go to Woodstock, but I remember seeing lots of “hippies” around when I was a kid in the 70s. When I was around five, every time we saw a “hippie,” we would flash them the peace sign. It seemed like the thing to do.

Now there are lots more music festivals around the country. I’ve been to Jazz Fest in New Orleans…way back when, but I don’t think I’ve been to any other music festivals…till this weekend.

I just got back from Chicago with my daughter. She and a friend wanted to go to a YouTuber concert just outside the city, in Palatine. The concert was scheduled for 11am Saturday, and it was scheduled to end at about 4pm. When she first asked, I said, “No.” But as it got closer to August, I started thinking about it again. My daughter started field hockey tryouts today, so if I took her to the YouTube concert, it could be our last hurrah of the summer. And I bought the tickets, booked the airline tickets, and made hotel and rental car reservations. She was thrilled.

We arrived in Chicago late Friday afternoon, and at the rental car counter, I heard lots of chatter about Lollapalooza, a huge music festival that was going on in Chicago while we were there. I hadn’t even realized it was happening. The girls didn’t dare ask me to take them for any number of reasons…we were staying outside the city; they didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth; and I’m sure they thought I would say “no.” We got our car and made a few stops on the way to the hotel. I had booked two rooms; sharing a hotel room with two teenage girls is no fun. But when I got to my room, I quickly got online and looked for tickets. I purchased three one-day tickets for Saturday from StubHuba trusted resale company, and I got a surprisingly good price. You only live once, right?Then I picked up my phone and called my daughter in their room, saying, “Tomorrow, after you get out of your YouTube thing, we’re going to Lollapalooza. I just got us tickets.” She gasped. “What?!?! Really?!?!” She told her friend, and they squealed with delight!

So Saturday, while they were at their first event, I drove around looking at sights and  had lunch with a friend who had moved from Charlotte to Chicago years ago. We met at a place called Mother Clucker’s Kitchen(who knew people in Chicagoland could cook good collard greens?!?), and we laughed and talked, and she told me how to take the train from Palatine into the city…and back. And as soon as the girls were finished with their event, we did just that…took the train into the city.

When we arrived at Grant Park, I thought it was a little overwhelming…the sights, the sounds, the people! But the girls were completely unfazed. They hit the ground running, telling me they were going to see Lil Skies at the Lakeshore Stage. What?! Huh?!? But they were gone! I looked on the directory and found the Lakeshore Stage and headed that way. To get to it, I had to walk over a slight hill, and when I did I was amazed. There was a sea of people standing in front of me! I couldn’t believe my eyes! At first, I thought I’d never seen so may people in one place, but then I realized I had…in football stadiums, but never just out on a flat surface. It was incredible that so many people were standing together, singing the same song, waving their arms at the same time as Lil Skies.img_6119

After Lil Skies played, I found the girls (thank God for cellphones), and we went to a merchandise stand together, where we shopped, regrouped, and setting up a meeting point and meeting times. They told me which stages they were going to and which artists they wanted to hear, and I sent them on their way. But first, I made sure their phones were charged, and if they weren’t they had to take a portable charger (I always carry one).

I wandered between stages. I listened to different artists. I talked with folks around me…from Deerfield, Illinois; from New York; from South Carolina; from Alabama (the Tua Tagliavaloa jersey was a conversation starter); and a family from California. I watched people dance. I checked out the food vendors but didn’t get anything. I enjoyed the crazy wardrobes and the funny t-shirts. One favorite t-shirt was “Done Adulting For Today.” Indeed!

Did I feel safe? You bet! At no time did I feel threatened or see anyone else who appeared to feel threatened or looked threatening. People were happy. Folks were polite. There was no pushing or shoving…lots of folks offering to take pictures of others, giving each other directions to stages, etc. I did see two or three folks jump the fence to get in near the Lakeshore stage, and I read in a newspaper article there were a few arrests for possession of controlled substances…and one for assault…but I didn’t witness it. And honestly…there were thousands of people there; one assault arrest? Do the math…that’s pretty good.

After the girls had heard the artists they wanted to hear, we were on our way back to our hotel. They talked and talked about how much fun they had and how they couldn’t believe they got to go to Lollapalooza! We then made plans to return next year. I will definitely take friends with me, because it would be so much more fun with friends. And next year, I’ll feel better knowing the girls know their way around.

I feel like this is only the beginning of the music festivals for us now. We’ve already been talking about Coachella. That’s one I definitely want to do, so I hope we can make it happen before she’s off to college. Going to a music festival might sound like a crazy thing for a middle-aged mom, but I wasn’t even the oldest person there…and there were lots of people about my age. I was also a “safe person” for teens to approach; several walked over and talked to me while they waited for friends or tried to regroup. Moms have that affect on teens.

So now I’m already booking our hotel rooms for next year. We’ll purchase tickets for the full weekend next year, and several friends have already “volunteered” to go with us! And next year, I will be prepared with the correct wardrobe. The only shoes I had taken this year were wedges, and I didn’t take any really casual clothes. But next year...it is on!

 

 

 

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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.

Miracle_Strip_Amusement_Park

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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