Posted by: Dahni | May 23, 2011

Apalachicola

Apalachicola

“Heart of the Forgotten Coast”

 

By Dahni

© 2011 all rights reserved

 Click either map for larger view

Apalachicola is the heart of what many refer to as part of the ‘Forgotten Coast’ of the Florida panhandle. The Apalachicola River is the center of Tupelo Honey. Both ‘heart’ and ‘center’ are apropos for the town of Apalachicola, Florida.

“Apalachicola” pronounced (ap-ah-lotch-ah-cola) comes from the Apalachicola tribe and is a combination of Hitchiti Indian words “apalahchi,” meaning “on the other side,” and “okli,” meaning “people.” In original reference to the settlement, it probably meant “people on the other side of the river.” Many inhabitants of Apalachicola, however, choose to translate the name of their town as “land of the friendly people.”  My recent experience made me believe the latter definition is an accurate depiction, of the people of Apalachicola.

Many people travel and end up somewhere. I had reason to visit Apalachicola and that was to find a grocery store, traveling from St. George Island to Eastpoint then across the John Gorrie Memorial Bridge at night. I was staying on St. George Island for a reason too and it was for a wedding. But I have since learned that I only thought these were my reasons when in truth, I was drawn to Apalachicola.

In the dark across the bridge (better than a mile I think), connecting Eastpoint, FL to Apalachicola, the road took a sudden rise for the larger boats underneath to traverse the gulf. Coming down and on my right, the shore line was lit with lights and ship shops and trades, boats and a tower, more like a beacon, or a light house, or a message in a bottle to someone lost and like a steady calm voice as if saying, “Turn in here.” I had been drawn.

I could not find what was needed at the store, but Apalachicola at night found me and I knew I must return the following day. I did. I needed to find a certain bakery for the wedding cake, but I needed more to explore Apalachicola. And after crossing the same bridge as the night before, I marveled at the pelicans just above the rail, perfectly still on the air, as if suspended animation was taking place right before my eyes. I was suspended. I forgot myself.

Apalachicola as I was told has not changed much in about 100 years in as much that the population then and today, is still around 2,000 people. I suspect that its people really have not changed that much either – still a fine and friendly folk. Little quaint shops dot the landscape, manicured lawns, trees, flowers, shrubs and houses beautifully maintained though long ago since first brand new. The familiar and expected palms are there, the Spanish moss and the celebrated and practically perfect honey that comes from the gorgeous Tupelo trees were everywhere.

Apalachicola is not a rich town or a poor town either. Not a technological marvel, but certainly no slacker. They still shrimp here, fish here and gather their famed Apalachicola oysters here, probably just like they always have, for many years. I was drawn to try the oysters at a lovely little place called, ‘The Hole in the Wall.’ And for my very first baked oyster, I chose ‘Apalachi Style.’ They have nearly ruined me as I want more. I forgot myself.

After lunch and after more exploring, I found that it would only take about 5 minutes to get whatever you needed, but the stories you can hear, could take you hours. I might as well have died and gone to hog heaven or have been at the Piggly Wiggly supermarket, because I’m always open to a good story. And I met not a few master story tellers.

Now I had an intended destination which was St. George Island. I had an intended purpose which was a wedding and I took a certain route to get there. The road went through some slash pine forest for miles. I did see a couple of my very first bear crossing warning signs. Then finally, I arrived at St. George Island and then just happened to get to Apalachicola? No, like I have been saying, I was drawn there.

I have since Apalachicola, been studying and pondering why this area is called part of the ‘Forgotten Coast.’ According to some history, Apalachicola once stood toe-to-toe with New Orleans “when cotton was king.” But for me, I can’t forget something I never knew. I never knew. But why is this area forgotten?

I have traveled a bit in the past and most recently, even ‘got found’ at Apalachicola. And recently or currently, much of our country is a little stressed or a lot concerned about many things and the economy is one of the big things. I did not sense this in Apalachicola. My feeling is that most people here by critter crook or fish hook, just pretty much get whatever they need from land and sea, just as they have for well over these past, however many years. Many people are alive, but few seem to ever really live. I felt like people just live here and will no doubt just keep on living, no matter what the rest of the country does. I felt like I was living while in Apalachicola. I forgot myself.

But what kinds of people live in Apalachicola? Well the first answer is obvious, people that were born here, sometimes generation after generation. The other groups of people that live here are drawn here and one of them explained it to me.

I was again drawn in, and this time by a store of proprietor, Mr. John Lee, originally from Idaho I believed he said. He had traveled extensively and was involved in advertising then moved here, now retired. I did not quite get the word retired as his store was filled with fascinating stuff of the past for sale, antiques, a little repair area, the biggest jar of Tupelo honey I have ever seen, smaller ones for sale, some of this and some of that and T-shirts displayed in the most unique packaging design I have ever known. I told him the packaging was brilliant and I am putting this in writing for all to see.

When the rest of us find designer packaging that inflates the cost of the thing we really want, John uses the flat familiar Styrofoam container, just like you find beneath the meat at the grocery store and he seals his T-shirts with clear, shrink-wrap plastic, just like meat or produce at the grocer. Nice and easy, easy to carry in a bag or slap it under your arm. Brilliant! I should have-could have bought two – one to wear later and one to display, but I forgot myself listening to John.

As for being retired, he seemed pretty busy with his store and I suspect he is involved in other enterprises as well. Perhaps after a long day, he just goes to bed tired and repeats this daily or is simply re-tired again and again.

 
John ‘Tupelo Honey’ Lee – Styrofoam packaged T-shirt May 5th, 2011 – 82 Market St. – Apalachicola, FL
 

I happened to mention that I was in the area for a wedding. John verbatim quoted from his memory, something that he had written and shared with his own daughter on her wedding day. I asked him for the words and insisted he sign, date and provide contact information as I am want to give credit, where credit is due. I promised not to make T-shirts.   🙂

John obliged my request and I am grateful and here to share his words with you. I changed just one single word “marriage” and made it “love,” as I felt it was more fitting. And I suppose I gave it a title.

 

 Love Like Tupelo

By John Lee

 

Love should be like Tupelo Honey

Tupelo honey never crystallizes or turns hard

Tupelo honey is malleable, flexible and flowing

Tupelo honey fills in the valleys making the depths less deep

And the peeks less high and easier to surmount

Tupelo honey’s becomes more earthy with age

By John Lee © 2011 hand written for me on May 5th, 2011

Apalachicola, FL

Looking at and sounding out his name just rolls on your tongue like his Tupelo honey. The man is a story-teller, articulate, smooth like his Tupelo honey, easy on the ears and he displays a twinkle in his eyes. And I think he is a poet too. He is like that big huge un-readied jar of Tupelo honey on his shelf with a stopper. If opened, you just might have bought it for the $6,000.00 price tag on it, but unique and precious. Van Morrison wrote a song called ‘Tupelo Honey.’ I think John Lee could write a song or two as well.

But John Lee was drawn here some long ago and for his first two years he told me, “The heat melted my ears.” Perhaps this is similar to the French Mistral (master) wind and searing heat the artist Vincent van Gogh endured, for his passions were far greater.  Of this wind it is sometimes called the ‘devil wind.’ It has been said that it, “Would blow the ears off of a donkey.” And so I surmise that one endures the unimportant and forgets when they truly live.

John Lee bought a hundred year old house and lives now quite content with neither air-conditioning nor furnace. One endures the unimportant and forgets when they truly live.

And artists and writers of note get drawn here. John Lee told me that once even Ernest Hemmingway came to Apalachicola and had lunch and wrote a note, “Great place for a story.” Perhaps he had lunch like I in the same café, sat in the same chair and dined on Apalachi style oysters just like me. But he did not return.

I have since getting back home painted a picture called, ‘Love like Tupelo,’ inspired by John Lee’s poem. I posted it and his words, the lyrics and a little video of Van Morrison singing ‘Tupelo Honey’ on one of my blogs (web logs) on the Internet. It is to share with any and all and dedicated to my nephew and his new wife.

http://daytight.wordpress.com/2011/05/21/love-like-tupelo/

I have written this that is now in your hands. And you are the judge if it has anything of value. But my points are two-fold. I was truly drawn to Apalachicola. And I forgot. I forgot myself. And I will return if, as my grandfather used to say, “If’n the good Lord’s willin’ and the crick’ don’t rise.”

For Apalachicola, your affects and your effects have made me forget myself. If perchance there lays some dormant great American novel in me, I am surely confident that you Dear Apalachicola, will as you have drawn me in, will draw it out.

Dear Apalachicola, your gulf waves washing over me, washed me. Your sands polished smooth the roughness of my soul. Your gulf breezes and salt air purified my lungs of life’s many irritants. Your heat cooked the juices of my imagination. Your Tupelo honey lingers sweet on my tongue’s memory that here I was not just alive, but I lived at least one day, in my some odd fifty years.

Apalachicola is the heart of the Forgotten Coast. The Apalachicola River is the center of Tupelo honey. And there I forgot my many woes, troubles, pains, strains, stresses and irritants. There I forgot myself.

So my dear, dear Apalachicola, as you have drawn me, I hold you and I keep you –

Unforgettable!

Just I-Magine,

Dahni

Reprints of this post are available upon request and/or just compensation
Contact me: dahni1@gmail.com
All rights reserved

Responses

  1. I thank you so much for the kind words of my home town. I was born in Apalachicola and was raised in Eastpoint. My family now has 5 generations living there. My grand parents came from Ala. They loved Franklin County and lived there until they died. I now live in N.C. but Apalachicola, Fl. is in my heart for ever. Thaks again.
    Hellen Turnage

  2. I met John Lee just four days ago and was really drawn to his tales. Seems like a pretty good fella.

  3. Thanks for your comment. I thought he was great! Nice to know he’s still telling tales and capturing hearts like yours and mine! 🙂


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