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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My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2018, Part 5: Travel Stuff

I love a vacation or getaway, so nothing makes me happier than a travel-inspired gift, whether it’s something I can use while I travel or something that reminds me of travel. So today…GIFTS FOR TRAVEL AND AVIATION ENTHUSIASTS.

Away Luggage. It’s sleek. It’s durable. Away Carry-ons have an ejectable battery option. And best of all…it’s guaranteed for life. Away Luggage comes in 12 colors, and each piece is on durable wheels that rotate 360 degrees for ease of movement. Plus, if you travel with multiple Away Luggage pieces, they nest inside each other, so after you unpack, they take up less room in your hotel room. Starting at $225 for the carry-on, these are a great gift for travelers. You can also have it personalized by the manufacturer. Check out their whole website, as they also offer totes and backpacks made of water-resistant nylon. Shop here.

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Away Carry-on, $225

W&P Design Carry On Cocktail Kits. These carryon cocktail kits are small, but they contain everything you need to mix cocktails in flight, except the alcohol, which you can get from your friendly flight attendant, or purchase miniatures in advance. W&P offers kits for an Old Fashioned, a Bloody Mary, a Margarita, and more. At only $24, they make great gifts that will actually be used by the family member or friend who travels regularly! Or purchase the Travel Pack, which includes a small travel-size bag packed with three cocktail kits at $90. Don’t need the kit? Maybe your traveler would like five of the cocktail kits, called The Frequent Flyer, at $100. See slideshow below. Get them here.

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Seat For 1. This bag from Uncommon Goods gets a thumbs up from me, surprisingly. When I first saw it, I thought it was crazy, but after checking it out, it sounds awesome! The bag weights 2.6 pounds, and it’s small enough to carry on, but strong enough to hold an adult sitting atop it. In fact, it will withstand up to 330 pounds! Anyone who has ever had to stand at a boarding gate where there were no empty seats will appreciate this wonder! No more seats? Create your own with this bag! Priced at $65, it’s a great gift for a traveler. Get it from uncommongoods.com here.

Airportag.com I wrote about this one for home gifts, as well, but it’s worth mentioning again. This is one of those websites I could peruse all day. It bills itself as the “best aviation and travel gift shop.” It’s a great one, with airline and airport themed apparel and accessories…even featuring defunct airlines. Great for the aviation enthusiasts in your life, there are lots of customizable products. Personalized boarding pass-style pillows, mugs, shirts, comforters, totes, luggage tags, and many more…they have it all for the folks who love planes and trains. And the popular airport code apparel? They have that too! Prices start at under $5 for stickers. The airport codes duffle shown below is $64.90, while the airline “crew” luggage tag is $14.90, and the tote, bottom right, is $24.90. Shop airportag.com here.

O2 cool 5″ fan. Looking at this 5″ fan, you think there’s no way it helps anyone anywhere. Well, I think your traveling family member or friend will be surprised. I purchased one of these when I was in Vermont a couple of years ago, because I needed a fan on my face in the hotel room. It was the only one I could find in the local store, and I thought I would end up throwing it away. I didn’t throw it away. In fact, I used it for the rest of that trip and gave some to family members who also enjoy fans while they’re sleeping. It’s small enough and light enough to pack in a suitcase without adding weight or bulk. Priced at just $14.99, it’s a great buy at Amazon here.

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Amazon Fire Stick TV Bundle with Echo Dot (2nd gen). This is a great gift for the traveling friend or family member who loves streaming TV shows or movies. They can plug it into any TV’s HDMI port, connect to Wi-Fi, and continue streaming hit TV shows and movies…picking up where they left off at home. Pair it with the 2nd generation Echo Dot, making it even easier to use. Priced at $39.98 for the Fire Stick and Echo Dot, it’s a great deal from Amazon. Get it here.

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Mark and Graham Personalized Luggage Tags. Mark and Graham does these right. Made of quality leather in bright colors to help travelers locate their bags on the luggage carousel, these make great gifts. Priced at $55, you can get them here.

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Travel Diffuser Aromatherapy Kit. We love diffusers in our house. Sometimes, I walk into my daughter’s room and am surprised to find it smells like a posh spa, because she is using her diffuser with a lavender oil or some other great essential oil. Priced at just $30, the kit includes the small diffuser plus three essential oils: lavender, lemongrass, and peppermint.  Lavender is relaxing, while the others rejuvenate and refresh. I have my own essential oils from DoTerra I can use, as well, making it even more useful. Purchase the kit here.

Longchamp bags. When I travel, I often make purchases, and they don’t always fit into my luggage. A few years ago, a friend gave me a Longchamp Le Pliage bag, telling me she would fold it and put it in her luggage when she traveled. When it was time to go home, if she had made purchases, she could fit them in the bag and check it or carry it onto the plane with her. Made of durable nylon with leather accents, the bags fold flat and come in different colors and sizes. My favorites for travel are the Le Pliage Expandable Tote at $195 and the Le Pliage 21-inch Expandable Travel Bag, priced at $255. See them all at Nordstrom here.

Vintage Airline Gifts. OK, so it isn’t actually vintage, but a lot of the logos are at rebubble.com. I love apparel featuring defunct air carriers, and both of these sites offer plenty of options. Maybe you know someone who worked for one of the carriers, or you have a friend who is an aviation enthusiast. Or maybe your family member would love some airline-themed personalized stationery. The possibilities are endless.  Search for an airline name (National, Eastern, Pan Am, Continental, Mohawk, TWA, Braniff) and see the possibilities. Shop redbubble.com here.

Marpac Dohm Classic White Noise Machine. I’ve had one of these for years, because sleep is important. I’m a light sleeper, so when I’m in a hotel, I hear the air conditioner turn on and off. I hear slamming doors. I hear people walking past my room. And sometimes, I hear traffic. I learned a long time ago that white noise is my friend. I purchased the Marpac Dohm Classic White Noise Machine, and I carry it every time I travel. If you have a friend or family member who travels but complains about noise in hotels, this could be the ticket! Get it at Amazon for $44.95 here.

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LUSH Solid Shampoo/Conditioner with Tins. For travelers, it really stinks to arrive somewhere and discover your liquid shampoo or conditioner has leaked. Pressurized cabins can do a number on bottles of haircare products. When I was perusing the Lush website recently, I discovered they have solid shampoos and conditioners! No more messy leaks! And they’re priced right and smell great! Each item is priced under $15 for just under 2 ounces, and they come in a variety of scents. Make sure you pick up a tin for each product. Each tin is priced at $3.95. Shop Lush here.

Beautural Steamer for Clothes. I don’t always have time for the hotel to press my clothes when I’m traveling, so I love having a good portable steamer. With almost 600 reviews, this portable steamer is the highest-rated one on Amazon. It heats in 30 seconds and operates at 1200 watts, and it’s perfect for home or travel. Package includes a lint brush, fabric brush, and creaser. Your traveling friend will thank you. Purchase for $34.99 with free shipping here.

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Travel Listography. If you’re not familiar with Listography, you’re missing out. Listography Journals have been around a while. This particular one offers the traveler the opportunity to list travel-related things: places to travel, animals I’ve seen in the wild, people I’ve met along the way, etc. It makes a great gift for the traveler who loves to keep track of what he/she has done and keep a bucket list too. Purchase for $10.32 from Amazon here.

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And there you have it…a list of gifts for the traveler or aviation enthusiast in your life! Happy shopping!

NEXT TIME: Stocking Stuffers!