The Shoofly - September 2015
Clermont Harbor becomes an idyllic Shangri La to a small girl and her grandfather in this essay by Russell Guerin
And Meredith did indeed have some claim to all that she knew as Paw Paw’s Beach, for it was she who showed immediately that she would love it as I did. It was because of her ease at learning what to do with sand, a spoon, and a makeshift bucket that I knew that to buy another place in Clermont Harbor was a good thing to do.
I had had a presence in Clermont since I was born. Even before that event, my father had built a small house back on Forrest Avenue. That was succeeded by a larger house, this one really on the beach. Eventually, it was wiped away by a hurricane known simply as “the ’47.” On the same site, another residence disappeared in Camille, after being severely damaged in Betsy. Post-Camille, a secondhand trailer was considered adequate by my mother—until an arson fire consumed it, that is.
And so I went without a place to call home in Clermont Harbor for too many years. Sometimes I would rent a room at the Paddlewheel Motel, on the grounds of what had been the site of my father’s hotel, which had burned the day after Roland and I finished grammar school. The motel afforded me the chance to go fishing once in awhile; at one point I rented a couple of rooms to accommodate all four of my daughters. (I think I had a successful night floundering that time, while they watched TV in their rooms.) Some years, I would stay at the Paddlewheel for a night so that I could be at the Wolfe’s the next morning for our annual 4th of July picnic there.
It was at such times that I heard Bo and Julia Wolfe say that they might sell their home on the harbor one day. I think it was one of those things that we just tuck away in the corner of the brain. I did not consciously remember it until one day, when I had a business appointment in Bay St. Louis, and I saw a for-sale sign on a house on Main Street. It then occurred to me that I should check it out, that I could afford to buy something in Mississippi, and that it had been too long since Clermont Harbor.
What followed was a call to the Wolfes, and an appointment was made to view the house in a way that I had not previously when visiting for the 4th picnics. Michele and family either came with me or met me there. What I recall is that Michele and Meredith, who was then a year old, came inside with me. Michele liked what she saw, as did I, but it was a hot day and the house was not yet air-conditioned.
I continued touring the house and grounds while Michele, Mac and Meredith went to the beach. There, someone produced the spoon and bucket; Mother Nature provided the sand. Meredith did not have a bathing suit, and at times like that, who cares?
That was followed by some ten years of lovely memories, like the rabbits and squirrels, the egrets and great blue herons, the turtles, otters, and the alligators. And of course the fish and the crabs, the latter of which we always stored in the pen that hung from our beautiful little roofed pier.
I still remember watching Meredith spooning the sand while her diaper absorbed sea water and I knew right then and there that I would buy the Wolfe House. The rest was easy. Paw Paw’s Beach was being baptized with a new name, and it forevermore will be so called. The name I had given it, Harbor View, is still on the mail box, still standing crooked after Katrina, but its real name is Paw Paw’s Beach. The house may be gone, but the memories will last forever.
Check out more of Russell Guerin's wonderful writings on his website!
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