Laura Haley-McNeil

7/16/17, Summers past

Hello, Everyone!

How is your summer? I hope it’s fabulous and relaxing. I used to consider the middle of July the middle of summer, but with school starting the 2nd week of August, it now seems like the end of summer, though it’s very hot, not like summer’s end when I was a child and the weather cooled, reminding us that autumn is around the corner. Summer is never long enough.

As my husband and I plan our vacation, this summer we’ll spend it at St. Simon’s in Georgia for reasons I’ll blog about at a later date, I’m reminded of past summers that made an impression on me. Many years ago, I spent the summer in Pensacola, Florida. That was a memorable summer because I’d never spent much time in the south. As a child, we did spend a few years in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I still have to sing the song whenever I type the name of this state, but Tulsa never seemed like the true south, though it did affect my accent. My parents never acquired the accent my sisters, brother and I did. Two of my sisters were very young when we moved away, so they may have not been talking when we left.

That summer, we drove to Pensacola, which was quite the road trip. There were several places where we stopped where the accents were so thick that I couldn’t understand what the speaker was saying to me. One question that took some deciphering was “Kepya?” I soon learned that was, “Can I help you?” I heard that at a fast food restaurant in Amarillo. When we reached the bridge to cross over the Mississippi, I was again confronted with an accent I couldn’t understand. We finally learned the officer wanted to make sure we weren’t bringing any fruit into the state. I felt like I was passing through customs. This man took his job very seriously, though he was very kind and polite. If we had any fruit with us, he would make sure it didn’t enter his state. And I’d never seen a river as wide as the Mississippi. It seemed to take forever to cross to the other side.

Traveling through the deep south, I was amazed at the souvenir shops. The highways were lined with stores with southern memorabilia. It was a different time back then. I couldn’t afford anything, though I did buy a newspaper from every city we drove through and a map of each state and large city, none of which I kept. Every time I moved, found myself packing these newspapers and maps into several boxes. Having grown tired of that, these papers soon found their way into the trash. One thing I noticed in every shop where we stopped were wire earrings that supported painted porcelain balls. I must have found a pair that I could afford because I finally bought a pair. I don’t think I ever wore them, and eventually they disappeared, another casualty of my many moves.

In Pensacola, we found an apartment where the air conditioning didn’t work. I wasn’t used to the humidity, I’m still not, and I couldn’t believe how muggy the air was. But the Pensacola beaches were beautiful, with white sand that looked like sugar. That summer there was a large increase in the jellyfish population so I didn’t do much swimming in the Gulf which was a beautiful green-blue.

I had access to the naval base and can remember crossing a drawbridge, which fascinated me, but I soon became one of the locals and timed my trips to the base so I would miss the seafaring traffic that backed up the cars at the bridge for miles. Two things at the naval base fascinated me: the flight simulator, I was terrible at landing and usually ended up a few feet underground, and the antigravitational room. I have an iron stomach and can tolerate any motion. The antigravitational room was a circular room that rotated. I’m not sure how the gravity was suspended, but I loved that part and had a blast floating across the room.

There were so many things I loved about Pensacola. It fascinated me that the locals considered themselves more Alabamans than Floridians. The people were friendly. Whenever they learned I was from California, they would ask me if I knew their friend who lived in San Francisco or Los Angeles or Sacramento. After awhile, I got tired of saying no and said that possibly I did know their friend. Crazy, I know.

Something else I enjoyed was the food. I had never heard of hush puppies, but being fond of fried food, I couldn’t eat enough of them. We found a restaurant that was really a shack near the Gulf that served peel and eat shrimp. They’d set a huge bucket of freshly cooked shrimp in the middle of our table spread with newspapers, and we’d devour the shrimp.

My favorite place to eat were the boarding houses. This was many years ago, but we could eat a dinner for a dollar. The most popular place in town charged a dollar and a quarter. These boarding houses were located in mansions that once housed the wealthy. The upstairs rooms were rented, but downstairs was filled with dining tables that sat eight people. We’d sit at the tables with other locals or travelers. The staff would set big platters of food on the table. We’d pass serving dishes. When those were nearly empty, they were replaced with full serving dishes. Each night had a theme – one night would be fried chicken, one night catfish, one night meatloaf. There were sides of salad, okra, for which I never acquired a taste, cornbread and mashed potatoes. The most popular boarding house was run by a woman who was as wide as she was tall and she was very tall. She sat on a stool by the cash register and collected the dollar and quarter each patron paid. We met so many wonderful people in these places. Everyone one was friendly and loved to talk and of course wanted to know if I knew their friend who lived in some city in California.

This was a wonderful memory for me and one that I’ll cherish for many years.

I hope your summer is wonderful and memorable and that you’re having the best summer yet.