I suddenly find myself at the age where I’m telling my kids “how it used to be when I was growing up.” I remember when my father and grandfather told me these same kinds of stories. And they successfully convinced me that life in Point Clear was more interesting back in their days. It’s certainly true my six siblings and I grew up with paved roads, and we didn’t have to ride a ferry to get to the city. But, with hindsight, it seems every generation has some interesting stories to pass down.
Scenic Highway 98 was asphalted by the time I was born, but there still weren’t many people living in Point Clear year-round.
“It used to be a dirt road?!” one of my kids exclaims.
“That’s right, ” I answer. “When your great-grandfather built this house.
“Of course, the summers were still full of vacationers, and having grown up across the Bay in Mobile, your grandmother knew most of them. Since we were always around, her friends would bring their kids by. Between me and all your aunts and uncles, there was always somebody the right age to play with.
And there was plenty to do.”
“Like what?” my son asks.
“We’d swim in the Bay and fish and build forts and rope swings. Ride in the boat. You know that Stauter I fixed up for you? That used to be mine. It had an old motor that would run most of the time. But sometimes we’d break down or run out of gas.”
“You broke down out there?”
“Sometimes. Part of the fun was getting home. It’s shallow enough to walk your boat in from just about anywhere.”
“But you didn’t have video games, right Dad?”
“No, we didn’t have video games.”
“Man, ” my son sighs.
“Where would everybody sleep?”
“We didn’t have air-conditioning so we spent almost every night of the summer on army cots on the pier.”
“Yes. It was cooler out there.”
“What about mosquitoes?”
“You’d have to get under a sheet if there wasn’t a breeze. Every now and then our friends got scared, and we’d have to come inside.”
“And it was really hot?”
“Sometimes the little kids slept in their underpants on the floor under a ceiling fan.”
“The big ones slept in bathing suits. It was cooler on the floor.”
“What about when the summer was over?”
“People rolled canvas down over their screen porches, they hauled their boats out of the water, and everyone went back to the city. It felt like a big party was over. Then the blustery southwest wind turned into a cool east breeze, and the Bay got real calm. By Halloween, it was so quiet you could hear a screen door slam for a quarter mile. Sometimes a lonely dog barked at night. Ships moaned out in the channel. There was so little traffic on the road that I remember nights lying on my back in the middle of the blacktop, feeling the warm rocks through my shirt. If a car was out, I heard it from a mile away, like a train coming down the tracks.”
I check myself. “But don’t tell your mother I told you that. The road’s a lot more dangerous now than it used to be.”
“Didn’t you get bored?” my daughter asks.
“Your grandmother always said ‘only boring people get bored.’ Even when the cold north wind came in winter and rattled the front windows and the Bay was rough and brown like chocolate milk, we had plenty to do. We had the woods across the road where we built forts out of driftwood. And when it was rainy outside we’d draw and make things. I’d write stories.”
“You never watched television?”
“Sometimes on Sunday nights. But we only had three channels, and the picture was black and white.”
“It wasn’t in color.”
“Was the house real cold, Dad?”
“It was so cold that we had to get dressed in front of a gas heater. We got so close to the flames that the house smelled like burnt hair in the mornings.”
My daughter’s face drooped into sadness. “Sounds like y’all were real poor.”
“No, the house just wasn’t meant to be a year-round house. And not everybody had central heat and air-conditioning like we have now.”
“But one time you told us Aunt Alice sold your toys.”
“Well, yes, but she sold them to us. There were so many kids in our house that she could set up a table just outside the kitchen and sell things to the rest of the family. It was mostly all of our toys that we’d left out. And sometimes, if you bought something from her and left it out again, she’d hide it away. Then you’d have to buy it back from her the next time she opened her store.”
“But it was already yours.”
“It got confusing.”
“I’m glad I didn’t live in the old days, ” my daughter says.
“But there’s lots of good stories, ” my son says. “Tell us about the time you spent the night in Middle Bay Lighthouse and the big storm came.”
“And the time you had to raise all the wild pigs in the yard.”
“And the time you ran away from home and lived on the river.”
“I don’t know if we have time for all that tonight. But I’ll tell you what, y’all get some sleep, and I’ll tell you some more tomorrow.”
text by Watt Key