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.

11890034_1136177743089714_2795682653520860646_o

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.

 

 

 

 

 

*****

Advertisements

I Need A Vacation From The Rain

My cousin, Patti, and I were talking on the phone this morning. She lives in Florida. She was sitting on her back porch like she does most mornings if it’s not raining.

Every time I talk to her when she is on her back porch, she talks to the cardinal that flies into her yard. She’s not crazy. Well, maybe she is crazy, but talking to the cardinal has nothing to do with that. She looks at the visit from the cardinal as a visit from my mother.

Patti used to visit my mother regularly. Sometimes she would stay for a couple of days, and sometimes she would stay for three weeks. Mother loved every minute of it. She always sounded happy when she answered the phone during Patti’s visits. They would talk and laugh…oh, how they laughed. Mother had a wicked sense of humor, and Patti is hysterically funny…always has been. Whenever I was there at the same time Patti was, my stomach would hurt from laughing.

Patti wasn’t laughing this morning, though. She told me she was “all up in my feelings,” meaning she’s emotional.

Patti lives in the Florida Panhandle, in an area that was hit hard by Hurricane Michael late last year. Fortunately, she didn’t have a lot of damage to her home, but all the trees around her house, for miles, are gone. She lives near a wooded state park that I remember visiting as a child; there were lots of trees. Almost every tree is gone, she says…snapped off by the wind. She has sent me pictures, and I’ve looked at pictures on Google Earth. It looks terrible…still. She says it looks like a war zone.

And lately, to add insult to injury, they’ve had a lot of rain…just like the rest of the Southeastern United States.

So when she said she was all up in her feelings, I said, “Patti, of course you are…it’s all this rain!” We’ve had the “mulligrubs” at our house too, because of all the rain. *The definition of mulligrub from Merriam-Webster is “a despondent, sullen or ill-tempered mood.”* Mother used refer to the blues as “the mulligrubs.”

My personal cure for the mulligrubs? A vacation.

Spring Break can’t get here fast enough for me. Admittedly, the sun has come out for the last couple of days in Charlotte, but I want real sun…the kind you can only get in a tropical location. I’m leaving Sunday for Mexico with a friend, my daughter, and a friend of hers, and we can hardly wait. I plan to sit by the pool or in the beach cabana, enjoying the beverage of my choice (champagne) and laughing with my friend.

And as soon as I get back from our Spring Break, Patti is going on a much-deserved Caribbean cruise with her sister. Hopefully, some time in the Caribbean will brighten her outlook for a while. I’m sure they will laugh a lot, since Patti makes everybody laugh. She was always the funny one in our family…well, my brother gives her some competition there.

I won’t even get into how funny the two of them together are.

So, I just have three more days till I get on that plane to Mexico. Can you tell I’m counting down? I’m saying some prayers that it doesn’t rain the whole time we are there, but even if it does, the change of scenery will be fun, and I’ll have good company. I’m sure my daughter and her friend will avoid us as much as possible, but they will be required to have dinner with us.

And Patti just has nine more days till her cruise…pray for sunny skies for her too.

If you’ve had the “mulligrubs” or been “all up in your feelings” and you live in the Southeast, maybe it’s all the rain. Maybe you need some sunny days…even fifteen minutes of sunlight can lift your mood.

Rain, rain…stay the heck away!

***If you live somewhere that it’s gray and rainy a lot, you might want to invest in a Verilux HappyLight. Amazon has them, starting at $39.95, here. It’s supposed to provide good light therapy to improve your mood. It was recommended to me by a physician, but I’ve just ordered it.***

 

 

 

 

*