When our daughter was four my husband and I decided we would like to explore a different part of the Florida coast and find a “mom and pop” motel like we visited when we were children in the 60’s. I did my research and found the perfect motel in Carrabelle, Florida called the Beachside Motel. This is about 70 miles east of Panama City, Florida. There is a reason it is called the “Forgotten Coast.” At one time the town was known in the Guiness Book of World Records as having the smallest police station in the world – a single pay phone booth.
When I called the owner, Linda, she told me Max, the motel handyman, would be there to check us in when we arrived in the evening. Linda was from up north and she had owned the motel for several years and had some of the same families return each year to spend their vacation at the Beachside Motel. We were so excited about our “Old Florida” adventure. When we arrived Max had left the key on the counter in the unlocked motel office with a note that we could just “settle up” the next morning. The motel was an L shaped-one story building with parking directly outside of our door with a chair or two on which to sit in the cooler hours of the day before the “bite’en flies” came out. The floor was terrazzo tile and the shower barely trickled with water that smelled of sulfer. The television was an old color set with only three stations. Who needs TV when you are about to live your own version of the movie “Deliverance?”
The next morning we got ready to go down to the beach- Allen in his Polo swimsuit, me in my cute designer suit that amply covered my body, and our daughter in her Kelly Kids or Fast Friends label swimsuit. The first people we met that day were from a small town outside of Tallahassee. The wife, a fleshy and well-endowed woman, had on a swim suit 3 sizes to small. She and her husband were there with their three children-one of whom was a baby that ran around in a diaper the entire time we were there. They were from the pork rinds and Pabst beer set. They invited us to their room for drinks later that evening.
Allen, our daughter and I went down to the beach and soon our little one announced she had to potty. I did tell her she could go tee tee in the water if she really had to go. We had been to the beach many times before, but I guess this had never come up. She looked at me like I was crazy and we trekked up to our room. I suppose thinking back-as long as it took to potty train her- she was not about to undo everything she had learned. When I took her up to the room, our new friend was sitting on a chair outside of their room with her legs wide apart chewing on boiled peanuts-her boobs flopping around while she watched her diaper-clad child roam the gravel parking lot. I smiled and told her we had to come up for a potty break. She then asked, “What-she gotta go poo?” I just stopped and casually said, “No, she just has to tee tee and she doesn’t like to go in the water-but thanks for wanting to be specific.” She then cackled and said, “Well ya’ll are just too high-class to go piss in the ocean.” I realized at that moment I was out of my league. There was nothing in my experience that could have prepared me for that response.
We had a nice, but benign evening with this couple and then we went back to our room. The next day we were invited to a motel bonfire for all of the guests. Most of these people knew each other; they were nice ,but seemed to be somewhat suspicious of us. Allen did not wear cut-offs or drink Milwaulkee’s Best, our daughter didn’t tinkle in the water and I was helping plan the bonfire that evening like a Cocktail Party. I was trying to get a list together of our cookout needs when one of the women told me just to bring some “Marshmallers, the big kind.” O.K. -when in Rome. So marshmallows we brought.
When we all gathered for the cookout there was a little boy of six from Hosford with his grandmother and his very young father. One must pause first to consider this part of Florida – it is south of I-10, north of the beach, west of Tallahassee and the Appalachicola River- on the edge of a national forest primarily composed of swamp, palmetto plants, cypress trees and wild boars. The little boy ate a few of the marshmallows and I heard him get a little irritable and cry. I told them in my most pleasant hostess voice,”Oh, let him have another marshmallow-we’ve got plenty.” She let me know quickly, “He don’t want no marshmaller-he wants a dip.” Not getting it -I asked, “A dip of what?” Only to be informed that their little one wanted some more snuff. They only let him do it on the weekends. I’m thinking- “Oh, but of course, it makes perfect since to me-everyone I know dips and all of the children in our daughter’s preschool do it. I should have been more sensitive and understanding of his needs. Who needs another marshmallow when you can have a dip.”
I decided on that note it was time to mingle with some of the other motel guests. I met an older man who had surely had a few drug induced trips in his day. He had wild eyes and he smoked rolled cigarettes. He asked me if we smoked and naively I said, “Oh, only once in a while when we drink.” -No- he wanted to know if we-“You know smoke?” ” Oh My Stars-I’m thinking-Of course we don’t. That would be against the law. Are you nuts? Married people with children don’t really do that do they? And, certainly old men like you don’t do that?” I then tried to exchange pleasantries through his smoke-filled haze. I asked him how old their son was. He stopped and thought a moment and looked at his young wife and he looked at me and announced, “Now let me think back-he was conceived in Panama City in September of ’92-Uh, let’s see-Yea, he’s two. They looked at each other apparently remembering their fun in Panama City and agreed their child must be two. I could picture them having a big party for their baby on the anniversary of the day he was conceived and them giving everyone marijuana cigarettes as party favors.
We had to leave the next day, and we actually exchanged numbers with the people who were not too high class to potty in the ocean. We’ve never called each other. And, even though we did not really have anything in common with most of these people-the common bond was an Old-Florida Bonfire on a beautiful summer evening with people who looked past all their differences.