This coming Saturday, my sister, Ginny, is tying the knot in our hometown of Gulf Breeze, Florida. Since we’re here, I thought that this week I would share some of my most memorable places from around town with you guys so you can get to know the pretty little beach community that Chris and I grew up in.
Gulf Breeze is a barrier peninsula off the coast of Pensacola, Florida. It is a beautiful little town. The kind of place where you run into your minister, your kindergarten teacher, and the Homecoming Queen when you go to the grocery store. I know that not everyone is thrilled with that kind of lifestyle, but it certainly is nice and cozy when you go back home to visit.
This morning when we got up, we fed The Beast…I mean, The Bean…and we headed down to Chris’ grandparent’s house. Grandma and Granddaddy Brown were and still are a huge presence in Chris’ life. Growing up, their home was a second home to him and since they lived just across the street from his Dad, it was an easy place to escape to.
They live right on the water and we used to go out in their boats all the time when we were growing up. I’d head over to Chris’ house early in the morning on Saturdays when we were in high school and we’d walk down to Grandma and Granddaddy Brown’s house, usually with friends or our sisters in tow. We’d pack a cooler of food and drinks, sunscreen (for me), and maybe a towel if someone remembered. And then we’d head out on the water. We’d go tubing or jetskiing or Chris would take us to a swimming hole that you could only reach by boat.
Years later, I mentioned something to Chris’ granddaddy about where we used to go swimming and he responded, “Oh, the shark hole.” Yeah. Chris had unknowingly been taking us to a place that is known for being a deep pit in the middle of the bay where sharks liked the cool, deep water. They were just little sand sharks, but still. I consider myself lucky to be alive and have all my limbs.
What I remember most when I’m at Grandma and Granddaddy Brown’s house is that they used to have a big, wooden gazebo that sat just off their beach. It had benches around it and a little sun deck that stuck out over the water. It was destroyed in a hurricane several years ago, but I remember exactly where it stood.
What I remember most about the gazebo was that when I was about 17-years-old, Chris picked me up for a date one night at my house and he brought me back to his grandparent’s. We walked out back and I gasped to find the entire gazebo covered in votive candles! They were everywhere! On the benches, on the deck, on the steps. The entire gazebo glowed in the soft candlelight. And there in the middle of the glowing gazebo was a picnic dinner for two.
It was so sweet and so memorable because it was so unlike Chris. He was never sweet! He was never romantic! So, to seem him go through all this and step out of his comfort zone for me melted my heart.
Which became the problem that night.
As we ate, every one of those votive candles melted into the wood of that gazebo. Before we knew it, there were over 100 little piles of candle wax melted all over the gazebo. We spent the rest of our night chiseling wax with our silverware.
What I also love about Grandma and Granddaddy Brown’s house is their garden in the front. When you get to their house, you drive down a long driveway back to the water where their house sits. Lining the entire drive are orange and satsuma trees that will be heaping with fruit in just another couple months, if the frost this winter didn’t kill them.
Granddaddy Brown spends his mornings out in these groves, taking care of the fruit but also of everything else he grows out there. Cucumbers, peppers, pineapples, limes… You name it, he probably grows it.
These are baby peaches.
More satsuma trees he just planted and a few fruit trees he just bought.
Red potatoes just about to bloom.
Grandma and Granddaddy Brown in their garden.
Granddaddy Brown grows the goods and Grandma cooks them up in butter and lard and bacon fat and all those things that make Southern vegetables so delicious. In fact, Grandma cooked those vegetables for her family every Wednesday night at her house. Wednesday Night Dinner was just what you did. And though she sometimes switched up what meat or fish we had (her fried chicken was always my favorite), her veggies were always the same. Heavenly.
And Granddaddy Brown did everything it took to protect his vegetative loot in order to ensure that he would have his Wednesday Night Dinner. He used to have a cat named Kooter Brown. Kooter would sit next to Granddaddy’s chair out in the driveway. Right next to Granddaddy’s gun.
(PETA readers, you should probably just turn away for a minute)
So, Granddaddy would shoot whatever would get into his garden and that darn Kooter Brown would go retrieve whatever had been shot! He was a retriever cat! Have you ever heard of such a thing?
Kooter was a mean old thing. He wouldn’t let anyone touch him. But a couple years ago when he was 150,000 years old, he came up to Granddaddy Brown as he was sitting in his chair in the driveway one afternoon and he climbed up in Granddaddy’s lap and rubbed all over him for a few minutes. And then he jumped down, went off into the woods, and that was the end of Kooter Brown. Granddaddy thinks he came one more time to see if there was any fish laying around.
But we all know better.
I couldn’t start off a week of blogging about my hometown without beginning at Grandma and Granddaddy Brown’s house. Some of my happiest memories from growing up were in this house, in their yard, in their boats, and around their dining room tables. Part of coming home means coming to this home.