Sunday, February 28, 2010

Readying for Re-Entry

February 28, 2010

This is Sunday, the last day of my one-month vacay in Fairhope. It's been by turns edifying, exhilarating, stimulating, and disappointing--but I'm leaving with a sense of accomplishment and eagerness to get back to my life in New Jersey. By far the best part of the vacation was the escape to moderate temperatures in a February that may go on record as one of the most brutal in the Northeast since they started noting such things in weather history.

I'm starting to get packed, and hope for a marathon tutorial on my new Mac today from the person I refer to as my Mac-friend, who has the patience of Job and knows the equipment literally from the inside out. When I sit at a computer I tend to think of it as a glorified typewriter, and ignore many of the features and programs that would make working on it easier and more effective than the old Smith Corona. Maybe I'll get some new information that will bring me more in line with the 21st Century. However, knowing computer-geeks types under the age of 60, I may not see him at all today and will be on my own with the electronics.

I tell some of the story of this month on my other blog, Finding Myself in Hoboken. It will be months and perhaps years before I actually know what I got out of this month, but I am already trying to address its significance. The weather factor is really what brought me here, but Fairhope itself imposed its will on my journey by throwing a few people in my path and exposing me to the ambiance unique to the town. The family homestead in Montrose seems to have been sold (with a closing date set for mid-March) and my brother and I were drawn closer in our mutual dealings with the absent sister who has all the cards. I did not have time to accomplish all the things on my own agenda, but none was crucial, and, being on vacation, I did not push myself to do anything that didn't come rather easily.

I took out a temporary membership at the gym at the hospital and kept up my exercise program as well as I could--going at least three times every week and usually four, as I do in Hoboken. I tried to watch what I ate, but have no doubt will have gained a few pounds. I went to a lot of dinner parties and even gave one myself.

Being in Fairhope changes people a little, and I hope I have changed for the better this time. I reflected on why I left and why I still enjoy the place when I return, and why I look forward to leaving and also look forward to a return visit next year. Just thinking about all that will change you a little. Fairhope means more to me than it might to most people, because it ignites inner conflict ("You can't go home again") that may never be resolved, or might actually have been resolved years ago. My book The Fair Hope of Heaven describes this pretty well, I think.

I visited with so many people, way more than I do in a month in Hoboken. Most of them assume I've got at least one more book in me, and all who do beg me to write about something other than Fairhope. I came here with the intention of starting work on just that, and have not written one word of it.

Starting work as a writer doesn't always mean writing. What is buzzing around in my brain now may well become a book in coming years. If so, I think it will be a good one. And I think Fairhope will have a place in it, if only because of my own back story, having grown up in Utopia (apologies to Paul Gaston, who has a recent and excellent book about Fairhope with that title), left it, and never stopped looking back.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The House I Built

February 24, 2010
Today I was driving in Montrose, the village where I lived until the age of 19 when I left to get married, the village that is now almost completely swallowed up by Fairhope itself. I decided to whip out the digital camera and get a photo of the house I built in 1999 and lived in until about 2003.

It was based on plans from Southern Living Magazine for a "Gulf Coast Cottage." Our mother gave the three children lots off the back of her property and each could do what he or she wanted with it. I wanted to build a house that looked and felt like the old-fashioned houses that had graced "old" Montrose in the years I grew up there. There is a large central hall and equal-sized rooms at the front on either side. I had the time of my life buying antiques to fill it, buying antique architectural elements (the front door, for instance) to enhance its connection to the past. It was a wonderful house to live in.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Houses I Have Owned

February 20, 2010

Driving back to my little cottage this morning I noticed that I was not only taking the long route, the scenic route, I was destined to pass three houses that I had owned when I lived in Fairhope. I looped around the long end of Bayview Street, once named Bayview Avenue (a name more melodious, and rhyming to boot), passed the curve, and saw the little creole cottage I once occupied with my late husband Jim Adshead. The once small one-storey has grown over the years and now looks rather imposing from the street, but still says "old Fairhope" with its situation on the lot and the oaks surrounding it. Then I crossed Fairhope Avenue, drove over the filled-in gully where the street replaced what had once been a little footbridge, and on my right was the beautiful bungalow where I last lived in Fairhope, the house I called "The Captain's House," because it had been built by Capt. Roberts, one of the bay boat pilots from Fairhope's early days. I've written much about the captain's house on this blog--using the little search window you can find many descriptions of it. Much of my heart is in both those houses.As I neared my rental, three houses away as a matter of fact, I came upon the house I once owned on the corner of Liberty and Pine Crest. Small and compact, this is a little 1950's cottage, like so many in the "fruit and nut" district (so named because of the preponderance of streets named for fruits and nuts), that doesn't look like much outside but has a lot of charm once you cross its threshold.

All these houses have been extensively remodeled since the days I lived in them. They look spruce and bright, and beckon the passersby to come in for a visit. In many ways I wish I could do just that, but I also know that my time in each of them has passed and I am off on another journey. Happy houses. Beautiful day.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Winter Cottage

When I was asked what distinguished my rented cottage my answer was, "Nothing. From the outside it looks exactly like all the houses in the Fruit and Nut District."You enter into the adorable 1950's kitchen.Then you come into the cute little 1950's Fairhope livingroom.There is a charming "cottage" master bedroom.And a sunny second bedroom.There is, in fact, a little dining room and a nice back yard. Only one bathroom, but it's shiny and comfy for all practical purposes.

This house is typical of the kind of places that were built to be affordable, in the years roughly between 1955 and 1970, in a neighborhood with streets named Pecan, Kumquat, Orange, and Fig. All are not named for fruits and nuts--there is Pier Street, there is Liberty, there is Pine Crest. This particular house is not far from the bay, and the picturesque geography of Fairhope itself adds interest to the situation. It's cozy and livable. Notice there is a camellia bush in the front yard, and it has blossoms in February.

I may make this winter vacation a yearly habit. So far, it is working out well.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

An Adventure in Florida

A few months back I was invited to talk to a book club at the Santa Rosa County Library in Florida about The Fair Hope of Heaven. This library is in Seaside, and apparently Fairhope has a lot of fans in Seaside. (Seaside's developers are said to have made a number of visits to Fairhope when in the design phase.)

I was in Hoboken, where I now live, when I got the information that the book club in Seaside had read The Fair Hope of Heaven and wanted to meet me. I already had plans for a vacation in Fairhope for the month of February, so the talk was arranged. I had been through Seaside before but had only a vague idea of where it was in relation to Fairhope. I figured it was just a hop the other side of Pensacola, which is an hour's drive. Joan Head, the organizer of my excursion, arranged a night's lodging for me in the carriage house of her friends, Ralph and Ann Bogardus. (Ann said, "Joan calls it a carriage house. We call it a garage apartment.")

The talk was set for Tuesday after my arrival in Fairhope the preceding week. I was to spend the night in the carriage house, make my talk at 10 A.M., join Joan and the Bogarduses for lunch, and then drive back. Anticipating a drive of about two hours total, I packed and left in the late afternoon Monday. I drove and drove. Crossed the bridge to Pensacola beaches, drove through Gulf Breeze, Navarre, and on and on. I was sure I had gone too far. I pulled into a little Gas 'N' Go and showed the man behind the counter my directions. He shook his head and said I hadn't gone nearly far enough, that I was headed in the right direction, and just to keep driving.

It was dark. I was hoping to be there by 7 P.M. because Ann said that Ralph was making jambalaya. I always get antsy when I think I've driven too far, and that happens usually when I haven't driven long enough, so I knew this was just a much longer drive than I anticipated. Still, I wasn't clear about when to make my turn, so I pulled over once again. This time the man behind the counter knew nothing of where Seaside was or how to get there. Luckily, there was a customer in the store who told me I still had about 20 miles more to drive.

I made a turn at the appointed spot, then drove for a mile or two with nothing in sight, so I was sure I was going the wrong way. This time I went for my cell phone and called the Bogardus number. Ralph was friendly and told me to turn around. I did and came to the end of the road and realized I had been going in the right direction in the first place. Hoboken friends and acquaintances will recognize from my many posts about being lost in New York City and in Hoboken that this is becoming a pattern with me. I don't have the best sense of direction in the world, and, as a matter of fact, even when I'm going the right way I tend to think I'm not.

I found Ralph and Ann's house, and Joan was there with her husband Bob, all awaiting the jambalaya and a visit with the befuddled author. We hit it off as if we'd known each other for years. I spent a nice night in the garage apartment, wondering if I'd have anything to say about the book or about Fairhope when I spoke the next morning.

I needn't have worried. The book club was a very friendly audience. Most had read my book and loved Fairhope, finding its history very interesting. I was comfortable telling them about the book, why I wrote it, and answering questions about Fairhope today and yesteryear. Had my lunch and went back to pack for the return trip.

Now I was prepared for the almost-four hour drive, I shook hands with Ralph and Ann and thanked them for their hospitality and said, "If you're ever in Fairhope, come and see me."

It wasn't until I was about half and hour on the highway, with a Frank Sinatra CD playing in the car, that I realized I don't live in Fairhope any more.