My family and I spent many summers at the beach, first at Pensacola Beach, and then, when my daughter Aimee and two friends discovered Navarre Beach, we went there. At the time Navarre Beach wasn’t well known; it is now. Thanks to a law that prohibits high rises, there are only a few at the end of the beach near the bridge that crosses the Santa Rosa Sound.
In late February of 1983, a party of ten pooled money and rented a house that would accommodate all. My good friend Henry Avery and one of the Baton Rouge Little Theatre’s best actors, whose name I don’t remember, were part of the group, as were Aimee, her friend Chris Waters, my daughter DeLaune, a good friend, and her twin first cousins.
Despite a stiff breeze blowing in from the Gulf, Henry would marshal a group to sunbathe, making it more tolerable by finding a depression in the sand where they could get sun, but also some protection from the wind.
Each of us were responsible for cooking the main meal one night. I remember all the meals as being good, but the most interesting one was the blackened redfish Chris Waters cooked. Paul Prudhomme had just introduced blackened seafood and Chris decided to try one of his recipes. We were all gathered at the counter that separated the living/dining area from the kitchen, watching Chris. All of a sudden, heavy smoke blew towards us, so heavy some of us began to cough. Henry tied a napkin over his face, got down on the floor and started crawling to the door, followed by the rest of us. The smoke cleared and lo and behold, the redfish was edible, though we all agreed there must be some way to cook it without driving people outdoors.
Chris, Aimee and I were the last to leave. For some reason, instead of taking the main road to the bridge, we traveled on a parallel road, and toward the end of it, we saw a house with a for rent sign, one so perfect that we parked in the drive, climbed the steps to the deck around three sides of the house and peered in windows to check the place out.
The furnishings were lovely, there was a wet bar in the living/dining area, and two bedrooms downstairs. We could see stairs leading up to what must be the master bedroom. I took down the number of the rental agent, sure I couldn’t afford such a wonderful place, but curious about the price. To my amazement, the owner wanted only $400 a month, and this included all utilities. I asked the rental agent why the rent was so low, and she replied that the owner sent employees to the house in mild months deducting expenses as being business related.
I rented it for two months that summer. A son of the rental agent carried my luggage and heavy typewriter upstairs, placing the typewriter on a table in front of a window that looked out on the Gulf. I was doing a lot of technical writing and editing at the time, and assured my clients that they would get their work on time. A few sounded grumpy, admitting they were envious that I could do my work at the beach while they were stuck in hot humid Baton Rouge.
I did have visitors. Three of my daughters came for a week, other friends for long weekends. My life had been difficult in recent years, to be able to take long walks on the beach at sunrise and watch stars at night helped me find peace that I hadn’t had in a long time.
Later my second husband, Dick Baldridge, and I bought a condo on the beach at Navarre, and when the one next door was for sale, we bought that one, too, planning to knock through walls and make it one large place. Then Opal came, and destroyed them both. Anything built to replace destroyed homes had to be on the original footprint, but since we had the double space, we were able to rebuild one house instead of the two.
The contractor, Joe Faulk, only built houses for people he liked. Fortunately, he liked us. I think the turning point came when he learned that all the rooms would be painted the same light blue, and all the Formica countertops would be the same light blue. He told me that usually he had to work with decorators from Atlanta, whose ideas of what wallpaper and countertops were suitable for a beach house drove him crazy.
I have many happy memories of that house which I had for nine years. However my daughters’ lives made it impossible for them to visit me except occasionally and so I put it on the market just before Ivan struck.
All the houses Joe built survived the hurricane with little to no damage because unlike others which had peaked roofs, Joe used hip roofs so that the wind couldn’t blow them off.
The days I packed up that house were some of the saddest in my life, but I knew that was a chapter I had to close, so I did.