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 Things About Fall

This Sunday, September 23, is the first day of Fall! While I’d love to spend more days by the pool (and I will when it’s sunny and warm), I love Fall for lots of reasons. I know what you’re thinking, and no…pumpkin spice latte did not make the list. Some of my favorites are obvious, but maybe some…not so obvious:

  • Football season. No surprise. I love high school football. I love college football, especially SEC, and I love professional football. Football is my family’s bonding experience. In fact, Dish TV made a commercial based on my life. You can see it here. OK, so it’s not really based on my life, but it could be…and frankly, I should be the star of that commercial. They totally missed an opportunity. I could totally pull it off…southern accent and all! Feel free to contact DirecTV here and tell them to offer me a spot in their football package commercial, which could compete with the Dish one.IMG_6142
  • Fall wardrobe. Oh, I love boots, sweaters, jackets, camouflage (yes, camo), and everything else in a fall wardrobe. In the south, September is a little warm for the full-on Fall wardrobe, but we can wear pieces here and there. I can hardly wait till it’s cold enough for my favorite pieces. Fall clothes hide a multitude of sins. Am I still wearing my white jeans right now? Yes…totally disobeying all the rules…living on the edge. Being over 50 presents some fashion challenges, but one place to get some fall wardrobe ideas is Hello Fashion blog…see it here.
  • Fewer pedicures. I know most people love pedicures. I don’t. I don’t love to sit around with someone touching my feet. Nope. Not for me. I do it out of necessity. I simply can’t have the ugliest feet in town. Come October, though, it becomes more infrequent once it’s too cold for sandals. I know…the shame! I have spring/summer feet, and then I have fall/winter feet. For early fall, though, when I’m definitely still wearing open-toed shoes, I pick a nail polish color that works with my football team…Essie’s Forever Yummy is my favorite.
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    Forever Yummy

     

 

  • Bourbon. Football season means it’s Bourbon season. As soon as football season starts, I think of Bourbon. When I was in college, I would sneak Bourbon into football games to drink from those giant stadium souvenir cups. Back then, all the girls wore dresses and pantyhose to the games, so sometimes, to sneak Bourbon into the game, I could tape the bottle or flask to my inner thigh (inside the pantyhose) where no gate person would see it or find it. My mother would not have been proud. It stayed till I got into the game and went to the bathroom to move it to my handbag. (It’s possible I sounded a little like the little old lady church organist from Sixteen Candles when I walked…you remember…you could hear her liquor sloshing in her handbag when she walked out of the wedding. Listen at 1:33 in the clip here.) No, I don’t ever plan to run for public office. That being said…I don’t like to mess up a good Bourbon with a mixer either…give it to me on the rocks. For those of you who like cocktail recipes, Maker’s Mark has some good ones on their website…Snow Cap, Bourbon Butter Pecan Milkshake, Kentucky Mulled Cider, and a whole array of Highball cocktails. You can see them here Knob Creek Bourbon has great cocktails on their site too…click here.

Yes, there are lots more reasons to be happy about Fall, and these are just a few of my favorites. My very favorite thing about fall is celebrating our daughter’s birthday. This year she will be 15! It’s hard to believe. Her birthday in October is, indeed, a celebration. First, I was happy to get her out of my body. I was induced on a Friday, and she didn’t arrive till 10pm Sunday…it seemed like forever. (And then I sent my husband to the hospital cafeteria to get me some fried chicken and mac & cheese.) Her arrival into the world changed our lives. We discovered true joy! Don’t get me wrong…that first year was hard. I wasn’t sure I would survive it. I had the baby who wasn’t a sleeper (still isn’t), and once she could move around at all, she never sat still. She was a bundle of energy…still is. I love that she’s energetic and strong-willed. I love that she’s social and athletic. I love re-living all the fun of youth with her…and sharing life with her.

Happy Fall!

**Coming soon: my favorite skincare/healthcare products to help me get through Fall.**

 

 

 

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