STAYING ZEN : THE ART OF CHILLIN’ OUT AT THE BEACH
“Mother, Mother Ocean, I’ve heard you call.
Wanted to sail upon your waters since I was three feet tall.
You’ve seen it all. You’ve seen it all.
Watch the men who rode you
Switch from sail to steam
In your belly you hold the treasures
Few have ever seen.
Most of ‘em dream, most of ‘em dream”
“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.”
~ Zen proverb
Sometimes in our hectic lives even the most ambitious among us desire to turn our backs on the daily pursuit of power and success, to leave the suburban sprawl behind and to embrace the enchanting but unprofitable art of beachcombing. Like our prehistoric hunter-gatherer ancestors who started some of the mounds around St. Andrews Bay, we may choose to begin our intertidal zone scavenger hunt for shells, driftwood or some other part of Poseidon’s treasure on one of Bay County’s many isolated Gulf front beaches [see the BAY COUNTY’S BEST GULF BEACHES box in this article] but even if we don’t get a kick out of having the chance to enjoy Neptune’s blessing by getting something for nothing, a nice stroll on a peaceful beach is a great opportunity to decompress in the salt air, to calm your soul , to “give your head some space” and in the current cultural vernacular, “to stay Zen.”
The word “beachcomber” made its first appearance in print in Herman Melville’s 1847 book OMOO. Melville used the term to describe unemployed sailors who foraged along the beaches of Pacific islands for the remains of shipwrecks. Over the course of the next 166 years, the term has been associated with deserters, free-loaders, bums, drifters and in some cases, the criminal class of wreckers who were known to set up false beacon lights to lure ships onto shoals. Wrecking became such a tradition in the Shetland Islands that Christian preachers there once included this appeal to the Almighty in their prayers, ”Lord, if it be thy holy will to send shipwrecks, do not forget our island.”
Well, times have changed and these days it’s not your Mama’s beachcombing.
Not only do we have “Dr. Beach”, “Dr. Beachcomb” and pricey expeditions that promise “full immersion” within “the beachcombing experience”, we have the annual International Beachcombing Conference, beachcombing autobiographies and self-help beachcombing books that “explore self-being” while bringing a “simplified perspective to beachcombing.” In other words, BEACHCOMBING, INC. (made up of a variety of shamans, neuroconservationists and born-again eco-environmentalists who desperately need copy for their next book or mixed media presentation) is now selling a mixed bag of beachcombing gear and amazing adventures in unadulterated nature.
Beachcombing is really not a tough sell for the corporate beachcomber because it’s hard to argue with the joy beachcombing brings us. A simple walk surrounded by the beautiful backdrop of shifting sand and shimmering surf, accompanied by the sounds of rolling waves and shrieking shorebirds, somehow has the magical ability to transform us, to bring us deep contentment and to return us to memories of our childhood and our families. In fact, there’s a great deal of scientific curiosity concerning exactly why the sea has this ability to suddenly bring us deep contentment. In the midst of the stress of work, smart phones and deadlines, we often find ourselves daydreaming about our beachcomber life and find ourselves revisiting our excursions in our imagination.
On just about any beach on Earth, beachcombing takes you through some really cool nature but Bay County beachcombing has an added bonus that makes it unique to all of North America. These Gulf front beaches are absolutely, astonishingly beautiful. When clear water comes in with the tide, it doesn’t take a trained eye to see the spectacular display of color produced by sunlight upon the exceeding whiteness of the sandy bottom. Any painter of landscapes who can concoct the right combination of pigment and is able to get just some of that beauty down on canvas, deserves to charge a good price for their work.
From the intersection of Highway 98 and Florida Road 386 in Mexico Beach on the east to the Walton County line in Inlet Beach on the west, Bay County is blessed with over 40 miles of cherished Gulf-front beaches. Even though Bay County is only 100 years old, accurate maps of the area have been available for almost 250 years. During this time the sea has pounded and flattened this strand of sand many times and over the years, geographical terms like St. Andrews Island (1766), Crooked Island (1827), Sand Island (1827), Hummock Island (1827) and Hurricane Island (1855) have come and gone. This is not the place for a discussion about wave erosion and marine geology but, suffice it to say, the form and extent of the sandy barrier between the bay and the Gulf have changed over the years; in fact, there are no true barrier islands in Bay County anymore, only peninsulas. Even with all this geographical alteration, high rise condominium construction and urban beach, much of Bay County’s shoreline remains in the same natural state it was when the Spanish found it: a quartz white sandy beach with a few scrubby weeds in the dunes.
It’s hard to believe that beachcombing would become a potentially criminal activity but that’s exactly what we have in our present day. Everyone knows there’s always been rules and regulations at the beach like “no dogs”, “no glass containers” or “walking on sand dunes or sea oats prohibited”, but now we have the threat of “no shell collecting allowed” or barriers that keep people from walking on the beach such as closing walkways that go through the dunes to the beach. The recent events pertaining to the locked beach walkways at Bid-A-Wee are not the first time this conflict between the private and public has occurred on our beaches. Bay County has seen the horrific results that can occur when private property owners become a barrier between the public and the beach. In the summer of 1930, the owner of Long Beach Resort decided a great way to limit access to this treasured and limited public resource was to pistol whip a man the owner claimed was trespassing “on property of the beach “ when the man decided to relax in the sand just west of the resort. While his entire family stood by in shock, the “trespasser” not only was struck against the head repeatedly with a pistol by the Long Beach owner but was also kicked repeatedly in the groin. This assault resulted in permanent brain damage and impotence in the “perpetrator” and he ended up having to be institutionalized in Chattahoochee but not before May 23, 1931, when someone walked up to the owner of Long Beach Resort as he was getting out of his car on Highway 98 near St. Andrews and sent him to an early grave with a load of buckshot in the face.
The bad arrests on Shell Island during the summer of 2006 were amicably resolved but they exposed the erosion of legal principles as old as the common law itself but you know something’s happening to our right to walk on the beach in the United States when an agency like the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources issues a standing prohibition that “denies the removal of any natural artifacts from the public beaches of Hawaii.” Could this type of regulation be in some Bay County beach’s future? For beachcombers, the hunt for shells, driftwood and artifacts is as ingrained within us as our own DNA so we bristle when we are permitted to pick up unoccupied shells but not allowed to take driftwood or sea glass. The marine resource enforcement bureaucrats who come up with all this “look but don’t touch” mumbo jumbo, are afraid we might remove an important clue from some ancient shipwreck blown to shore. So next time you find a gold coin on the beach fronting Spanish Shanty Cove, feel free to photograph it but make sure you leave it in the sand the same way as you found it. Always remember that touching anything on the beach could cause terrible erosion or destroy the natural oceanfront camouflage so important to insects and shorebirds.
Falling in love again with taking a stroll down a lonely beach may be the perfect way for each of us to take control of our cluttered lives. In May of 2013, Cruzan Rum took the “beachcomber lifestyle” as the state of mind and the way of life they want to brand onto their rum. In their television commercial, the viewer finds himself adrift within the towering waves of a stormy sea and hears the announcer say, “You are drowning. You are literally drowning in a figurative sea of busyness. When…wait! Is that?” The viewer suddenly sees an island on the screen and hears a greeting from a voice with a strange accent, ”Welcome! Welcome to the Island of Don’t Hurry where life never moves too fast and Cruzan Rum flows freely. For two hundred and fifty years our pastime has been ‘passing time.’ Join us. Come leave your hurried life behind.”
After introducing you to the National Bird, a rapping parrot who “can fly but chooses not to” and showing a domesticated tortoise hauling a cart of rum on the beach, the announcer gives you a preview of the national sports of “Zero K Runs” and “Sleep Yoga” along with advertisements for “Monkey Massages”. Then the announcer ends the ad with the words, “Slow down and enjoy the Don’t Hurry lifestyle wherever you may find it. When you hurry through life, you just get to the end faster.”
There’s is a tendency to underestimate our experiences walking the beach. How much is “pretty” worth to you? The value to the elderly or infirm of their entire life’s catalogue of beach scene memories has not been accurately calculated but a nice testable hypothesis would be whether pleasant memories at the beach are a great predictor of late-late-late life satisfaction. Stay tuned…
THE Island of DON'T HURRY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZyFbLT94JY&t=16s
BEST GULF BEACHES
#11 City Pier Beach – This spot might have made Number 11 on our list but this beach is definitely Number 1 when it comes to memories for the Baby Boomers. This was the location of the old Wayside Park and the site of countless summer picnics and winter walks on the beach for families in the 1950s and 60s.
#10 S. Rick Seltzer Park Beach on Thomas Drive – A walk in either direction introduces you to the Grand Lagoon Peninsula and will lead one to excellent venues where you can take a break from your travels, relax at a bar overlooking the beach and enjoy the eye candy.
#9 County Pier Beach – A two-mile hike east of here will take you along an urban beach under the shadows of towering condominiums. This stretch was once the center of all activity on PCB. Today there are few memories of the “Good Old Days” still standing but Goofy Golf located across from the pier has stood the test of time for almost 60 years. Its theme could also stand for Bay County’s beaches: “This is the Magic World, where the ages of time abide in a garden of serenity, with perpetual peace and harmony.”
#8 Bid-A-Wee Beach- The locked iron gates on the walkways are an ugly nuisance but the 1600 feet of unoccupied beaches and dunes have delighted the entire public since the beginning of time and have been dedicated “for Park Purposes” since 1938.
#7 Laguna Beach- West of the Panama City Beach City Limits, this 7/10 mile of dunes and beach is the first on our list that takes us completely away from the tourist mayhem and traffic gridlock so choose this beach or one of the next six when you are a little cantankerous and having problems “staying Zen.”
#6 Sunnyside/Santa Monica Beach- Put ten toes in the sand and head in either direction. The cares of the world are waiting to left behind.
#5 Mexico Beach- The seventeen miles of beaches between Pinnacle Port and Moonspinner on the west side of the Bay County seem like they’re light years away when you park your car next to this roadside slice of paradise located next to the Gulf County line and with the lack of commercial development, you’ll feel like you just stepped back into the “Old Florida.”
#4 St. Andrews State Park Beach- Gorgeous beaches, the jetties and the gateway to Shell Island but it does have one little disadvantage: an admission charge and the place doesn’t open until 8 o’clock in the morning and closes at dusk. Annual entrance passes can be purchased each year for $60 but they are only good for you and your car. Your passengers will be charged two bucks a head.
#3 Phillips Inlet Beach- You may walk to this beach through Camp Helen State Park and the entrance fee is a little lower than the one at St. Andrews. An alternative is to drive down Highway 98 a bit and park at the Inlet Beach Access parking spaces just across the Walton County line at the end of Orange Street. The beach is only a hundred yards away and the walk from there to Phillips Inlet is one of the most beautiful in all of North America.
#2 East Crooked Island Beach- This a U.S. Air Force property but with no gates and no need for paperwork. Be prepared to show an ID and if you walk over three miles west down this pristine, unoccupied beach, you might get turned back when they launch one of those drones out into the Gulf.
#1 Shell Island- Bay County’s sparkling jewel shimmering in its tranquil, watery seclusion. This subtropical paradise is home to the northern limit of the wild sabal palm tree and even though it can now be accessed by land via Tyndall, it is still functionally an island. Tyndall’s portion is called Tyndall Beach and you can visit it if you have the right kind of paperwork with the Air Force. Leave only footprints. Only trash litters.
This article was published in the MAY-JUNE 2013 issue of PANAMA CITY LIVING MAGAZINE Volume 8 ~ Issue 3
THEODORE TOLLOFSEN: GRAND LAGOON’S SOLITARY MAN
“Don’t know that I will but until I can find one, a girl who’ll stay and won’t play games behind me.
I’ll be what I am: a solitary man, SOLITARY MAN.”
One day in 1954, Claude Willoughby, hired in ’49 as the first manager of St. Andrews State Park, stopped by a ramshackle squatter’s cabin built beside the shimmering blue green waters of Grand Lagoon to check on the condition of the tenant and found the old man unconscious and sprawled out on the floor. Later that same day, the state park’s most legendary resident passed away at a local Panama City hospital; so ended the strange intriguing nautical life of Bay County’s Nordic version of Robinson Crusoe, Theodore Tollofsen.
By ’54, Theodore, better known as Teddy, had lived the primitive solitary life of a castaway for at least 25 years on a spit of sand that is today occupied by one of the most popular state parks in Florida, attracting almost a million visitors each year. It certainly wasn’t so crowded when Teddy first showed up, shipwrecked on Grand Lagoon after a 1929 hurricane. Eighty four years ago, there were no jetties, no full service marinas, no Thomas Drive, no close neighbors and although Teddy’s part of Grand Lagoon was only four miles across the bay south of St. Andrews, it was centuries away from the running water, electricity, telephones and city sidewalks of Panama City.
There are a couple of stories about how Teddy and his boat ended up wrecked on the southern shore of Grand Lagoon but one fact is certainly known: Teddy blamed himself for the demise of his beloved vessel and to the day he died he would affectionately pat the decaying wreckage of his boat and, in his heavy Scandinavian accent, explain to visitors,”The boat wrecked here and so we’ve stayed together.”
During the months before his death, Teddy must have had a foreshadowing of things to come. He’d begun selling some of his possessions to visitors and had told Willoughby about where to find the money he’d stashed in his shack in case he passed away. Teddy wanted the money to be used for the final expenses associated with his burial.
Toward the end of his life vandals and burglars had become occasional visitors to Teddy’s cabin. The thieves were probably attracted by the nearby abandoned army post at the jetties that had manned a gun battery at the jetties during WWII to guard Panama City Inlet. Even with the improvements made by the army during the war, the jetties area was still not very accessible by land and a four wheel drive vehicle was necessary to traverse the six miles of dunes that separated the area from Highway 98. Nevertheless, the army barracks were vandalized and Teddy’s cabin had been plundered. Teddy believed that a box containing his 1911 U.S. citizenship papers and his U.S. Navy discharge papers from WWI had been stolen during one of the crimes. For this reason, Teddy never received any form of a pension during his lifetime.
After Teddy’s death Willoughby found the money in the shack Teddy had told him to use for burial expenses along with a box containing all the personal papers that Teddy believed to have been stolen. Willoughby used the money from the shack along with donations to give Teddy a proper burial. The city donated a plot in Greenwood Cemetery and as many as 100 attended Teddy’s funeral, including some Tallahassee dignitaries. One story goes that Teddy’s grave was at first marked with ballast stones from a foreign vessel yet another goes that the ballast rocks came from the wreckage of the beloved boat which first brought the Norwegian to the watery seclusion of Grand Lagoon. In the present day, the second story seems so much more appropriate as one visits Teddy’s grave and sees ballast stones set in the concrete around his burial vault.
Because of the friendship Willoughby had established with Teddy, visitors to St. Andrews State Park’s new Environmental Interpretive Center can catch a glimpse of the little estate on Grand Lagoon that sustained Teddy for a quarter century. It was Willoughby’s job to demolish Teddy’s dwelling and outbuildings and to dispose of his possessions. This wonderful exhibit of a few of Teddy’s tools and personal items along with photographs donated by Willoughby provides us with a window into Theodore Tollofsen’s life as a castaway.
Norwegian fishermen are world famous for building cabins and cottages on the beaches of northern European islands to house themselves during the summer fishing season. For Teddy a winter on Grand Lagoon was probably the equivalent to a summer near the Arctic Circle so Teddy, who ran away to sea at the age of 14, utilized his nautical experience in the construction of his little home on the lagoon. Not only were Norwegians at the end of the 19th century the most desired deckhands on the world’s sailing ships but they were also famed on the Gulf Coast as wreckers and salvagers so it was understandable that the shutters on Teddy’s cabin would be zinc plated skylight hinges retrieved at low tide from some wreck in the Old Pass. The inside of Teddy’s cabin contained so many nautical items that you felt like you’d just climbed below deck into the captain’s quarters. A wood cook stove was the centerpiece of this Spartan affair with a built in table and bunk. Nine lanterns of various designs hung, stood or rested around the small room along with a battery powered radio Teddy used to hear the news and weather of the day. The inside of Teddy’s cabin contained so many nautical items that it looked like he’d raided a maritime museum. The ornately carved nameplate of the TECUMSEH crowned one window. The Tecumseh was built in Gloucester, Mass. In 1911 and sank in the Old Pass at Land’s End, possibly in the same hurricane that wrecked Teddy’s boat in ’29.
Teddy’s resourcefulness with the driftwood and the wrecked lumber that came in on the tides of the Grand Lagoon Peninsula was also evident in the small structures that surrounded his cabin. From his lumberyard, which included everything from pieces of plywood to massive 10 inch by 10 inch pilings, Teddy constructed a small pier on the lagoon with a fish cleaning house. A single concrete block served as the step off his front porch and salvaged lumber was used to build a smokehouse, a well cover, privy, storage shed, chicken coop and “South Florida,” a raised roofed sleeping platform without walls built about three feet above the dunes behind Teddy’s cabin in order to take advantage of the summer breezes and avoid the season’s heat and mosquitos. Keeping with the nautical theme, Teddy’s hen house was covered with tarred cotton fish net.
In addition to the heat of the summer, the cold of winter and the sting of mosquitos, Teddy also had to adapt to less that crystal clear drinking water. He had hand drilled a twenty foot deep well through layers of sand, muck, shell, clay and hardpan to get to a stream of dark brown, tannic acid stained water. Willoughby told a story about how Teddy’s well water was so brown that Teddy would often forget to drop in tea leaves when he brewed his “tea.”
For refrigeration Teddy dug a root cellar in order provide a cool space to store his chicken’s eggs. In addition to eggs, Teddy’s breakfast often included oatmeal and sea greens. Sea greens are green leafy algae of the genus Ulva that grows on the rocks of the jetties and is exposed at low tide each day. Teddy thrived on the abundance of seafood and his smokehouse was filled with split mullet and maybe a ham or two from one of the wild pigs that inhabited the Grand Lagoon Peninsula at that time.
Teddy was reclusive and lacked any close neighbors but he still needed money so at least once a week he’d make his way into town, either by rowing or by motoring his small boat across the bay and walked the streets of St. Andrews peddling the fresh flounder he’d gigged the night before or searching for odd jobs such as repairing nets or rigging boats in the marina. Teddy may have turned his back on society but he certainly didn’t turn his back on the dollar. He needed cash, not for liquor, he claimed to have given up drinking in Mobile in 1907, “I quit drinking in Mobile after I figured I’d been a fool long enough.”; nor for tobacco. Teddy never picked up that bad habit but he did need cash for canned milk, oatmeal, grits, sugar, flour and tea as well as for radio batteries, chicken feed, lamp oil and outboard motor fuel.
Teddy apparently had little need for human companionship in his sandy solitude but he did have a soft spot in his heart for animals. He kept cats and he had his yard birds and he told Willoughby a story about raising a pet hog. After saving the little pig from drowning in shallow water near Shell Island, Teddy placed the little porker in his boat and took it home to raise. Within a year the pig had become Teddy’s constant companion and had acquired a love of fishing. The moment Teddy picked up his cast net or his homemade rod and rusty reel, the pig clamored into the boat, positioning himself in the bow and placing his front hooves up on the gunnels, ready for a bumpy ride on the bay. Things rocked along well for about a year but by then the pig had grown so large that he’d almost sink the bow of the boat and out of necessity Teddy passed his pet hog along to a fellow Norwegian in St. Andrews. Stories vary on whether Teddy’s pig ended up on the dinner table or lived out his days in the neighborhoods around Beck Avenue.
So how does one come about to choose such a strange lifestyle? Was Teddy’s irrational attachment to the rotting wreckage of his old boat enough to explain a quarter century of self-sustained isolation? Could Teddy have been mentally handicapped? He certainly had the opportunity to experience neurological damage. On at least two occasions during his career as a deckhand he’d been poisoned into unconsciousness before being shanghaied. He’d been struck by lightning on three occasions: once in South Dakota; once on board a fishing schooner in the Gulf; and once on Grand Lagoon near his little shack.
All of these things are clues to why Teddy chose the life of a rugged individualist but Teddy’s secret may exist in a mysterious photo Willoughby found after Tollofsen’s death in the long lost box containing Teddy’s personal papers. Teddy claimed he’d always lived a solitary life and had never married but Willoughby found a photograph of a bride and groom in the box and the picture of the groom bears a remarkable resemblance to what Teddy may have looked like before he became a shaggy gray headed and weather beaten old man. Could Teddy’s story be another Norse legend of the sea, one that includes one last dangerous voyage that left not a widowed mother and lost children but a lost love that asks the haunting, eternal question: “Is it better to have loved and lost or never to have loved at all?”
But in summing up the strange life of Theodore Tollofsen, perhaps the author of the 1950 article about Teddy in the Florida Parks Service magazine describes best how Teddy’s self-sufficiency and independence turned his life into a legend that lives on until this very day:
“For my money he’s a memorial to the frontiersman that has made our country the greatest in the world today, living proof that an energetic person can get his just share of fish and grits come hell or high water.”
Information for this article came from Jeannie Weller Cooper’s PANAMA CITY BEACH: TALES FROM THE WORLD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL BEACHES, James Burgess’ SAND IN MY SHOES, and page 26, February 23, 1975 Panama City News Herald article entitled, TEDDY THE HERMIT.
This article was published in the MARCH-APRIL 2013 issue of PANAMA CITY LIVING MAGAZINE, Volume 8 ~ Issue 2
SPRING IS IN THE AIR!
Yellow Daffodils and Purple Japanese Magnolia Blossoms!
TIME TO CELEBRATE THE SEASON AND HEAD FOR THE BEACHES!
King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
Much of Panama City has changed over the past sixty years. An international airport, modern highways, shopping centers and high rises have replaced much of what was almost a wilderness just after WWII. Change has been a certainty and our adaptation to change a necessity but some things haven't changed. The sun has its cycle, the moon its phases and the tides ebb and flow and in the month of March, the sun's warmth renews our world once more while the cobia move west just off Panama City Beach's shoreline along their ancient migratory path. As I write this column in the middle of January, most cobia are feeding in deep waters south of Panama City but in the next few days an ancient genetic program will trigger a secret and unique navigational system within each of these fish and the cobia will activate some sort of unknown compass needle to lead them through their spring spawning migration to breeding grounds in the Northern Gulf off of the Mississippi River delta. The sun passing over the equator on the first day of spring; the full moon on March 27th; the gradual warming of Gulf waters; all of these factors probably put the cobia on its path to migration but regardless of why they begin their journey, the maritime trail of the cobia leads through the water just off Panama City's shoreline and somewhere, somehow, exactly the same factors that lead the cobia to our beaches trigger the detonation of a DNA timebomb within each one of us and we drop everything we're doing and HEAD FOR THE BEACHES!
"It started long ago in the Garden of Eden
When Adam said to Eve, baby, you're for me
So come on baby let's start today,
come on baby let's play
The game of love"
lyrics to THE GAME OF LOVE by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders
Everyone has their priorities. College students need to study hard for an exam for that business course called HOW TO SPEND ALL MY PARENT'S MONEY. The family man worries about the possibility of his mother-in-law moving into his house and staying forever. It's spring. The IRS wants to have a talk with you. Your yard already needs mowing. Your kid's failing math. The house needs painting. The air conditioning is on the blink and it's gonna get hot soon. The bills are overdue and the credit card's cancelled. The human race is facing runaway inflation, third world starvation and nuclear terrorism. Another "useless jobs" bill is being passed in Washington, D.C. and to think you could hardly wait to become a grown up but locked within your DNA is an innate impulse that explodes within you at this time of the year and you decide just to leave your troubles behind. You pull out all the beach stuff you stored before Thanksgiving and head across AMNESIA BRIDGE for another new year's adventures at the beach. It's the siren song of the surf, the salt and the sand that draws you back in a seasonal ritual.
Some of you might be wondering where AMNESIA BRIDGE is located in the Panama City area but remember that before the advertising slogan, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," folks have crossed Hathaway Bridge and suddenly lost their memory of the 9 to 5 Suburbatory they just left and 48 or 72 hours later they go back to the same Suburbatory across the same bridge, automatically erasing all the files pertaining to what just recently occurred in Panama City Beach.
Not only does this innate and cherished seasonal urge to merge at the beach occur in the genus species Homo sapiens who are natives and locals from Panama City but it also occurs in our neighbors to the north and the month of March begins a not so ancient migration south by many members of our own species who live as far as 150 miles north of Bay County. It is quite true that no one truly understands what kinds of unique navigational systems humans may have but it may be argued that just about everybody raised in an area as far north of Bay County as Greenville, Alabama and as far east as Albany, Georgia are imprinted with a homing instinct that works like clockwork.
IT'S ALL THE SUNSHINE'S FAULT!
Perhaps you remember the movie CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. It may be contended that like the characters in the film, those raised in Southeast Alabama and Southwest Georgia have cultural influences from childhood that have pre-programmed each and every one of them, imprinting them with a homing instinct to return to the Florida Panhandle when March arrives.
Many tax dollars have been spent to study the migratory corridors utilized by the cobia as they move west through the gully between the first sand bar and Panama City's beaches but little has been spent to learn about the spring migration of our own species back to the panhandle. Could it be possible that we could reawaken the migratory spirit within "best and brightest" of these springtime voyagers to the Panhandle and channel them this way so that Panama City Beach becomes their destination of choice each spring?
The origins of the spring migration to Panama City by humans is cloaked in mystery, however, as far as we know, it can only be traced back about 60 years. Harvey H. ("Hardy") Jackson, Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer at The Anniston Star, discovered an interesting 1960 Mobile Press-Register article that is an important document confirming that the onset of March's migration of our neighboring teenage "Goths and Vandals" from the north began as early as 1954.
Feb. 17, 1960, edition of the Mobile Press-Register, under the heading “News from Florida.” Headlined “Liquor Restriction,” it read:
“Panama City (Special) — The sale of beer and alcoholic beverages will be curtailed this year at three beach municipalities during the Alabama Education Association days March 15-20.
Panama City Beach Mayor Roy Martin, Long Beach Mayor J.E. Churchwell and
Edgewater Beach Mayor M.C. Buckley have joined in the move to ban the sale during the time several hundred Alabama teenagers are here at the beaches.This will mark the sixth consecutive year when sale of these beverages will be prohibited during the meeting time.”
In researching the veracity of this 1960 newspaper clipping, Professor Jackson interrogated several Bay Countians who lived through many A.E.A. Holidays from the Fifties and Sixties. They concluded that this news article couldn't be completely true and even if it was true, it wouldn't matter because,"Those kids could find cold beer in Saudi Arabia."
This teenage need for fake IDs during the month of March presents unique challenges for any Panama City Beach tourism development executive because it only takes one viral video of Bluto yelling "Go Bulldogs" while urinating off of a PCB balcony to "negatively impact our brand."
Regardless, the month of April will get here soon enough and the job of any self respecting tourism executive is to effectively overcome all obstacles so the challenge is clear. We have a mandate to scientifically identify the SPRING BREAK MIGRATORY PATTERNS of our neighbors to the North and help them get in touch with their "homing instinct for the beach" so they can experience the joy of expectation which occurs when you know that within a matter of less than three hours, you'll have left all your cares behind and that your very own ten toes will soon be in the sand and you'll be looking south over the gorgeous Gulf of Mexico saying to yourself," MAN, I AM SO GLAD TO BE BACK AT PANAMA CITY BEACH!
The following article was published in the JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2013 issue of PANAMA CITY LIVING MAGAZINE, Volume 8 ~ Issue 1
THE WAYSIDE PARK
by Robert Register
One afternoon after school my Daddy came home early from work and asked me this question,
"Bob, how'd you like to go to the picture show with me tonight?"
"Yes,sir, Daddy!" I exclaimed.
"Well, get your toothbrush. Tell Mommy to pack you some warm clothes and bring some books and toys to keep you busy."
"To go to the picture show?" I asked.
"We're going to the Martin Theatre in Panama City, son."
"Hot dog! So we're not coming home tonight?"
"No, Bob, we'll be staying at the Dixie Sherman Hotel in downtown Panama City tonight."
"What about school tomorrow?"
"Tell Ms. Odum you were sick."
"Daddy, won't that be telling a story?"
"You're sick, aren't you?"
"Aw, I bet you're sick. Sick of school."
"Oh boy!" I ran down the hall screaming, "Mommy, Mommy, Daddy's taking me to the beach!"
There is no doubt in my mind that on that winter afternoon in 1958 I was the happiest eight year old boy in Alabama. Even after over 50 years, the memories are so sweet that they bring tears of joy to my eyes. My most vivid childhood memories are of my father, Earl Register. He was loud and he was strong and he loved his little boy. He'll always be my best buddy. Neither time nor the unspeakable tragedy of his death, nor anything else can take that man's love away from me.
That is my inheritance. (Thank you, Daddy, I love you.)
When it came to going to the beach, it didn't take me long to pack my satchel.
Mommy took care of my clothing and I gathered up Dr. Zim's Insect Book,
my color crayons, my tablet and my shovel.
I've always been ready to get sand in my shoes!
My mother, Kate, hugged my neck in the driveway and told me to "be good" and next thing you know we're heading for Panama City. Our house in Dothan was on Gaines Street and it was located one door down from the intersection with South Oates which was U.S. 231 South, the Panama City Highway. Being eight-years old, I was very concerned about getting to the beach as quickly as possible so I was a little worried when Daddy hung a quick left onto the Hodgesville Highway.
"Hey, Daddy. Where are we going?"
"To P.C., son. Why?"
"But this ain't the road to Panama City."
"What have I told you about saying the word 'ain't'?"
"I'm sorry. But this isn't the way to Panama City."
"Sure it is. Hodgesville is due south of town and from there we can cut over to Graceville or maybe Campbellton or maybe even Grangerburg."
"Daddy, why do you always go a different way every time you go somewhere? You even do it when we drive over to Grandma's house and it's just across town."
"Bob, I'm not like a cow. I don't go down the same trail back to the barn every evening."
"I just don't want us to be late. What time is it, anyway?"
"Confucius say, 'He who work by the hands of a clock will always be a hand.' "
Daddy had already handed me a strongly worded explanation of that little saying before, so I decided to climb over into the back seat of the company car and take a nap.
The next thing I knew Daddy was yelling, "Wake up, Bob. We're about to cross the Lynn Haven Bridge!"
I loved Lynn Haven with its pink houses and views of North Bay.
"Are we stopping by Aunt Estelle's house?" I asked.
"Nope. We're heading straight for downtown. We'll check in and then eat supper at Angelo's."
To this day, I always think of Daddy's Aunt Estelle whenever I eat fried scallops. That woman could cook the steam out of a mess of scallops. Every time we went to Aunt Estelle's house in Lynn Haven, she fried scallops. If she didn't have any, she'd send out for some.
The last time I saw Aunt Estelle was in the late 70s at the insane asylum at Chattahoochee.
Old age had caught up with her and she didn't know where she was from the man in the moon, but she remembered me though. She told me,"Bob, let me go get out of these clothes and put on my apron and I'll fry you up some scallops." That's the last thing Aunt Estelle said to me as the nurse led her back to the ward.
I never saw her again.
Daddy and I checked into a great room on the top floor of the Dixie Sherman.
That hotel was Panama City's tallest building and it wasn't a skyscraper but as far as Bob Register was concerned, we had a penthouse suite in the Empire State Building.
image courtesy ofhttp://www.beaconlearningcenter.com/weblessons/bayhistory/bhis29.htm
I turned on the TV and opened the curtains so I could see the sun going down over St. Andrews Bay.
"Get away from that window and get ready for supper, son. Go wash your face and hands. We're going to Angelo's."
It didn't take me long to follow directions. I laced up my paratrooper's boots and I was ready for action. Everything we needed was right there around the block from the Dixie Sherman. Restaurants, movie theatres, newstands, soda fountains- downtown Panama City had it all.
Soon we were seated at a shiny formica table beside a plate glass window inside Angelo's Steak Pit. We watched the traffic and the people on the sidewalk as we waited for our steaks. Angelo Butchikas was the owner and he knew Daddy real well because Panama City was on Earl's territory route with Goodrich. My Daddy was one of Mr. Angelo's favorite customers.
When we were through eating, Mr. Angelo came to our table. He treated us like we were royalty. I really liked him a lot.
"How was your steak, Bob?" he asked.
"Real good, Mr. Angelo," I replied.
"I noticed that you didn't touch your black olives."
"I eat green olives, but I don't like black olives."
"Please, Bob, try one of these," said Mr. Angelo.
I tried one of Mr. Angelo's ripe olives. It tasted real strong but it went down all right. Just like eating fried bay scallops reminds me of Aunt Estelle, black olives always remind me of the nice man who had the great steak house in downtown Panama City, Angelo Butchikas.
& many times, when I try something new, I think of Mr. Angelo and his winning smile.
After Daddy paid our check, we walked down Harrison Avenue to the Martin Theatre. We took our seats and sat down to watch Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in what was probably the most exciting Western filmed up to that time, "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral."
image courtesy ofhttp://www.panamacitydowntown.com/play.php
image courtesy of http://www.martintheatre.com/history.html
It may have been a great movie but it was too long for this little eight-year old from Dothan. I fell asleep but I didn't miss the good part. All that gunfire at the end woke me up so even though I felt guilty and disappointed for falling asleep and missing the movie, I was sure happy about seeing that gunfight at the end.
When I woke up in the morning, Daddy had already gone to work. The night before he'd told me not to worry, that he would leave early and not wake me up. He told me to hang around the room, draw and color and watch TV so I did. I stared out the window at the beautiful bay. I watched a little TV. I drew insects out of my Dr. Zim book and colored cartoons I copied out of the News-Herald. Before noon Daddy was back and we were checking out of the hotel.
Now came the good part. We were going to Panama City Beach!
It was raining cats and dogs plus it was freezing but that didn't matter to us. We were heading for the beach! As we drove over Hathaway Bridge the weather began to break and the rain slacked up a little, but it was still bitter cold. I had on a couple of sweaters, my windbreaker and my toboggan. [Yankees call them "stocking caps"]
Panama City Beach was a ghost town. Nothing was open except a little grocery store across from Wayside Park. There were no cars on Front Beach Road. No lights were on in any of the motels or in any of the other businesses and not a soul was down toward the Y at the Wayside Park. We had the beach to ourselves. Miles and miles of snow-white dunes & crashing waves abandoned for Bob & Earl's day at the beach.
At Wayside Park, I jumped out of the car and ran straight for the sand dunes. The sand around the concrete foundations for the picnic tables were riddled with ghost crab dens and I immediately began to terrorize those little critters. Down by the water we found plenty of big cockle shells that the storm had washed up on the beach. When we got tired of picking up shells, Daddy chased me down the beach so far that I collapsed in the sand from fatigue. We laughed and walked back to the picnic tables to seek shelter from a fresh rain cloud blowing in from the Gulf.
We sat silently on top of the picnic table & watched the storm come in.
Daddy said, "Son, God knows this is the prettiest beach on the face of the Earth."
"Well, Daddy, you ought to know. You saw lots of different beaches during the war."
"Some of the best. The islands of the Caribbean, the coast of Brazil, North Africa, the islands of the Mediterranean, the French Riviera, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and the Adriatic Coast.
But I still like Panama City best."
Years later, when I was first out of college, I went back to Panama City Beach for a weekend with our family. Daddy was a little mad at me because I'd showed up a day late(blame Tuscaloosa for that), but he forgave me.
(He always forgave us children, but he never forgot.)
At night, Daddy and I buried a light pole in the sand at the edge of the surf behind the Admiral Imperial. This light attracted skates & rays to the shore and we celebrated the excitement of resting our lawn chairs in sting-ray infested waters by toasting each other.
We were having a lot of fun when Daddy made a very serious statement.
He said,"Bob, you've always obeyed me with the exception of three times.
THREE TIMES YOU WENT AGAINST ME!"silence
I was scared to death.
Believe it or not, I was speechless. (quite an accomplishment for someone who's Cloverdale neighborhood nickname was "LUNGZZZ" )"Three times you went against my advice & each time you were right."
"I'm sorry, Daddy, but what times are you talking about?"
"Three times. When you changed your major;
when you dropped out of ROTC;
& when you let your hair grow out.
Three times you went against me and every time you were right.
I was wrong."
OK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!I had no idea this would be my last conversation with my father but I'm glad it happened at the beach.
Panama City Beach always brings back memories of my Daddy.
For that reason alone,
Bay County, Florida,
will always be THE HOME OF THE WORLD'S MOST BEAUTIFUL BEACHES.