“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

Requiem Allegro: The Beach

-- continued from the previous post

Right now America is hoping the cap on the vomiting oil from BP’s blown well into the Gulf of Mexico holds and the relief wells will kill the whole disaster. Whatever stops it, reality says we are looking at decades of consequences. I can’t image cheering for any reason.

IMG_0035My daughter, Gulf Shores, c. 1979

IMG_0037 My son, Gulf Shores, c. 1979

New Horizons and Sunsets

My 60-year relationship with The Beach continued for many more decades after my father was re-assigned to Maxwell A.F.B. in Montgomery, Alabama; it would be nearly a decade, after I was in college, before I returned to Santa Rosa and Destin.

In this interim, my concept of The Beach expanded to include a new spot, Gulf Shores, Alabama. My aunt’s husband inherited the Graves beach house that the state of Alabama had built for Governor Bibb Graves in the 1930s. It was one of only a few structures at Gulf Shores for decades and decades, until 1979, and it stood out from the other structures.

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My cousin Emory, above with his father, on the sand at the Graves house, Gulf Shores, mid-sixties.

Beachball

The others, like most of them from Gulf Shores to Panama City Beach at that time, were post-World War II cement block beauties. Many of them, the few private cabin-type houses or the motels, were painted a pathetic excuse for sea-foam green, or a sort of pale Pepto-Bismol pink, or your basic spoiled, curdled cream. There were no such things as Holiday Inn or condominiums.

To get to the Graves house, you drove southeast from Montgomery until you could smell the salt water and finally see it directly in front of you; you took a right at Jeannie’s store at the T on Highway 98 and went nine-tenths of a mile. On the Gulf side of the road, it had a central living area with paneling and cathedral ceiling of Cyprus. Bookcases lined the walls, maybe two stories up. The high ceiling wasn’t really for looks; it was for air, as there was no air conditioning.

We depended on the seemingly constant southerly breeze. I slept in a hammock on the screened porch that ran the whole length of the back of the house. The Gulf air ranged from an eerie stillness to a beach breeze to some wind to hurricane force winds. The only one we really dreaded was the stillness; it would create an inferno, even on that screened porch.

People on the Gulf Shores beach in those days were sparse. We had it all to ourselves. But there was a hitch in those pre-development days: There were no grocery stores, only Jeannie’s little hole-in-the-wall where you could get milk and bread and a few other staples, along with the supplies of fishing and crabbing equipment and bait; we had to bring every bite of food we would eat, except for the fresh seafood we could get when the fisherman came in; we had to bring all the water we would drink, as it smelled and tasted like rotten eggs until more than a decade later. It was gross to have to brush your teeth with that water.

But there was Mimi’s. Calling it a restaurant is a stretch, but the food was pure heaven. You had to leave the beach, head north back to the small village of Foley, turn left, and double back on the Fort Morgan road. We would go at least once each trip.

Sometimes we would travel east on Highway 98, cross the bridge into Florida, and eat at a seafood place on the outskirts of Pensacola. There was no Flora-Bama bar and liquor store in those day, but a couple of decades later, by golly, it was there. (Their Web site is showing current video of the view from their back porch.)

The constancy of the Gulf Shores Beach and Graves house would later become legacy for me, my newly married friends, and all our children. Now our grandchildren have been initiated to The Beach.

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Son, daughter, and first Lab, Gulf Shores, c. 1977.

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Back to Santa Rosa

Meanwhile, as college-aged kids, we flocked to Biloxi en route to the French Quarter, the quiet and beautiful hamlet of Destin, or to the rockin’ Panama City Beach, where we honed our beebop skills at the Hangout. There was no such thing as “under age.”

On one road trip to New Orleans, we went through Mobile, where I discovered West Indies salad at Bailey’s. Long after my brain stops remembering most stuff, I bet I’ll still remember that salad.

Destin had the Blue Room, Harbor Docks, and, being a fishing village, the best seafood markets. Because I was still a dependent with an Air Force ID, we could get in the Officer’s Beach Club, giving me a special measure of power and popularity.

A frat friend’s parents owned a cement block cabin with a couple of window air conditioners on a small Destin inlet where all the fishermen docked their boats at night and took them back out each sunrise through the Jetties and into the Gulf. He was really popular.

On my last trip to Destin and Sexton’s fresh seafood market, the cabin was still there, albeit surrounded by classy upscale homes and condominiums.

One Last Trip

While I was in grad school, my brother and I would take our last trip together to The Beach. The next year he left for Vietnam, where he died. We got in his blue Corvette – that would be the one after his red Vet – and headed south to Santa Rosa and Destin. We landed at the Faux Pas.

Lots-o’-Beer later, we decided to stop at the Jetties on the way to the Blue Room across the bridge into Destin. Being Invincible, we decided to jump in at the end of the huge jetty rockpile where Choctawhatchee Bay flows into the Gulf and where the currents are treacherous. We swam and swam and swam. Pretty soon, we weren’t swimming; we were struggling against the currents taking us farther and farther out into the Gulf. Finally we realized we were in trouble. Funny how swimming can sober you up fast.

A fishing boat came out to get us.

Again Invincible, we hopped into the blue Vet and drove off down Highway 98.

Learning breakers

Learning about breakers at Gulf Shores, c 1977.

 

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Protecting turtles eggs at Navarre today.

-- continued in the next post

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