At the Water's Edge
Growing up on the Gulf Coast leaves indelible memories - and a persistent longing to return. Guest columnist and Pass Christian resident Rebecca Orfila explains why.
Piney forest gave way to oaks, and then just south of Foley gnarled sea pines began their struggle to stand and finally gave up their battle as the white sand beaches of Gulf Shores met the steady tidal movements of the Gulf.
Mornings started as soon as the sun rose. My grandfather headed out to the town pier with his pole, bait, and high expectations. A quick drive with Mom to one of the small groceries on the island set us up for breakfast and lunch. We knew we would have fried fish for dinner whether it came from Papa’s catch or the local fish market.
Small, slightly faded photographs taken with my grandfather's Brownie camera show us tanned and cheerfully playing in the water. My grandfather, a jovial bantam rooster of a man, would sit in the shallows and guard over us while Mom and my grandmother prepared dinner of the special coastal kind.
The treat of treats for us as small children was to go out into the water and sit on the sandbars. Small crabs would rush away as we chased them. When my brother was just a toddler, he would declare in his baby language that it was Tide soap that made the water foam. We squealed with delight for an hour or more until my mother or grandmother called us in for a mid-afternoon dinner, and then short naps were taken by all.
At nightfall, there were only a few spotlights on the main road and neighboring vacation homes. Inside our house, the low murmurs of bridge bids and whispered calls for more bourbon and coke, along with the light from the kitchen, pushed back the coming darkness. Restless and still excited from the day’s activities, I tossed back and forth in my bed, shuffling the cotton sheets. The tossing gradually gave way to listening to the beat of the waves crashing on the beach. Those were perfect days at Gulf Shores.
We would return many times over the backroads of Baldwin County from our home in Mobile or from school at Auburn. Every now and then we would glimpse white blooming dogwoods deep in the woods, or the graceful cloak of wild-growing wisteria over a fallen tree, or a broken down wall of an old homestead set off from the road. It was very different from the more orderly fauna and structures of Mobile.
Life moved on, and the beach house was destroyed in Hurricane Frederick. My husband and I moved back to the Gulf Coast after years of being away. It was a promise we had made to ourselves during the many years in California. We were happy on our arrival in Pass Christian to see that despite the intense battering of storms and winds, the Gulf Coast and its people were returning and repairing their beloved communities. These coastal folks retain a special resilience and strength, I think. Or maybe they just want to see little crabs on the sandbars again.