Monday, July 30, 2012

Cheese Burger in Paradise

My view for the afternoon has been one of gazing upon an expanse of silver water and grey sky which are briefly interrupted by a thin slip of green way off in the distance, separating the two beings. Two massive thunderstorms coming in off the coast of the Florida and Alabama coastal area have set the stage and provided the entertainment of watching nature release it powerful energy and it has set both sky and water in an unsettled swirl of motion. It has melded them into a mercurial wash of pale blues, gunmetal grays, and polished silvers with touches of a warm purple in the deepest hues of the heaviest clouds. Massive lightening bolts have sliced the sky from top to bottom and rolling thunder echoed with reverb under the canopy of these dark clouds.
Its a good setting for contemplating drifting off into an afternoon nap after a lunch time fill of the world famous and impossibly messy hamburgers, fries and onion rings from Pirates Cove all washed down with a few chilly Heinikens.  The lapping waves and rolling distant thunder combine as steady and gentle lullabies and there is nothing better to do than repose for a while.
Before I nod into that nap, justice must be made to this place and fare of which I speak, Pirate’s Cove, if that is remotely possible. I can only describe what I have known about the place and what I have heard. It is a unique establishment, but probably not unlike thousands just like it all around the world, tiny joints set in gorgeous lagoons under a huge sky surrounded by warm gulf water, and hot white sand. Its the place that all of the “locals” know and go to, and its the place where folks can go to feel like they really are a “local” even if they only visit there occasionally. Flip flops, sandals, and bare feet are accepted, bathing suits are the basic, shirts optional. It’s a happy place, a place to leave it all behind and be a wanna be beach bum for a few deliriously happy moments. Whether one rides in on a yacht or drives in in a beat up pick up, all are equal here and are afforded the same chance at both gastronomical pleasure and to be in the moment of that child like place of discovery and wonder and open for surprise.
There is a sign posted at the door that says clearly “If you don’t like dogs, go away!” This is telling because there is always an amazing pack of mutts that roam freely around the patrons who perch where ever they can, usually on a shared picnic table or on the railing of the deck. These dogs some how manage to get along, as fighting is not allowed, but begging is, and these dogs are the best in the world at it. 

There is a monstrously huge Mastiff who holds court there now, a buckskin with black points, almost as large a good sized pony. Mostly he lays on the deck floor and lets the servers and guests walk over him as he snoozes, until hunger awakens him and he slowly ambles through the crowd to assess who is nearly done with their meal and who might be good for a hand out. Crowd navigated and stomach satisfied, its back to sleep. Little kids take turns using this beast as a sofa and climb all over him with no problem. I’m just thinking that maybe he has reached his highest enlightened stage in his life’s journey and path. Life in the moment, pure and simple and just another day in paradise.
There is also a brindle Boxer with pretty white paws who works the crowd and who has learned to lay its head on the bench next to your leg and look you straight in the eyes with its large liquid brown orbs, beseeching you for just a mere morsel. French fries are politely declined but burgers are gratefully accepted. There are few real recognizable breeds here and those two are the exception. Most are the blending of the diversity of the canine gene pool, their origins unknown, and ownership is not known or questioned. 
The burgers of course must be mentioned as well. They are famous, for both their quality and uniqueness. Legend has it that the singer Jimmy Buffet was singing about them in his song “Cheese burger in Paradise”, and if not he should have been. I have been told that the origin was from a Mrs. Meulher who was the owner and cook back years ago. It was her recipe for the sauce that remains the lure for the continuing generations of folks who still come to dine here. The secret lies somewhere in the combination of vodka, mustard, and lots of black pepper slathered on top of a good beef burger and topped with onion, lettuce, and tomato. The fries and the golden onion rings are always crispy and hot. I think they might serve other stuff but in my years going there I have never wavered from my standard order, and don’t plan to. 
To order, one passes through two ancient squeeky wooden screened doors into the dark of the bar/restaurant. If you look down, you can see the sand below the decking floor boards. A few pinball machines grace the wall to the right and a bank of t-shirts and hats emblazoned with the logo for the place are next to them. (I would love to know roughly how many of these memorabilia items have been sold over the years, probably thousands and thousands.)
Anyway one bellys up to the bar on the left, orders, pays and gives a name, then armed with a consoling beverage, the trick is to find a seat, hopefully in the shade and in the breeze, outside on the deck overlooking the water, and waits. And, waits. As the now passed on former owner Paul, once said to an impatient customer, “If you want fast service, go to McDonalds”, and he meant it literally. Some things are worth it, and the burgers and the whole experience here is worth it, and then some.
The building itself is a rough wooden structure that time is amazingly holding together, under the silver metal hipped roof that is a visible landmark from miles away across Perdido Bay. It sits on a sandy point, the front roped off for swimmers, a dock for tied up boats, and in back is a place to refuel your boat. It has stood the test of many a hurricane and has shown little change in the decades I have visited here, a new deck addition here or there, but it is a place where time stands still and the certainty of having a shoulder dropping, endorphin releasing, smile inducing, stomach and psych satisfaction, is guaranteed. 
When my parents’ lake place was no more, my father was searching for the next place for a vacation/family compound thinking mountains as possible, or another lake cabin. Somewhere there was another mecca. Having been introduced to this place by a friend, we suggested the beach area and took my dad to Pirate’s Cove for his first time there.  He was totally hooked by its chaotic charm, found the new cabin close by, and he quickly became a regular at the place. There are few times I remember him as happy as him smiling into the breezes on the front porch of that place, waiting on that slow burger to be brought out by some kid hollering out his name “Folmar!”.  We raised a toast to him and wished he was there, and, I think he was.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sirens in July

When we drove out of the driveway onto our narrow rural road which leads onward to a slightly larger road which would eventually give way to our final destination, a smallish black snack slithered across the black pavement in front of us. It made its way off into the brush on the side of the road, but as it did so, it looked like a heat wave, a mirage made from the heat coming off of hot roads that I always thought looked like evaporating pools of water. It was hot, the roads were hot, the poor snake was probably hot, and we were heading to the lake to cool off for the day.
Lake Martin, the fountainhead of so many memories for me, and for my family and the many friends connected to this body of water. My father had a cabin here for many years and we summered there for the years before I graduated from high school. After that it became the go to place for us all, a mutual meeting ground for the family to gather and relax. “Progress” at the lake finally forced the end of the lease for my dad at this cabin and those days are gone, but before we had that cabin, we occasionally went to Uncle Jimmy’s place on the lake, and that was where we were heading now to visit my cousin and his family.
We rode along after passing through Wetumpka using the Old Georgia Road, a narrow two lane with many sharp turns and undulations, requiring steady attention to driving it. This was my learning to drive road as a fifteen year old, as I would drive my dad up from town on the weekends and it was a very good road for that purpose. It was a fun road to get in the groove with and it did make me stay focused on it. There were so many who did not make the turn at Dead man’s Curve that they finally corrected the road to avoid all of the wrecks that landed in the grave yard there.
There was one place that we passed by that brought a funny memory back to mind. At the top of a hill one could see along way ahead as you passed the crest. Once at the bottom there was very short sight ahead and double lines indicating that it wasn’t a good place to pass, then it was up the hill to more open view of the road ahead. I was driving my dad one day at this very spot, his head was down deep in reading the newspaper, and there was a very annoying, very slow moving beat up truck in front of me making me very impatient. At the top of the hill I could see that for a long way in front of me there were no on coming cars so I took it as an opportunity to get this fellow out of my way and I began revving up the engine of dad’s cadillac. Dad looked up from his paper to see us at the bottom of the hill, double stripes and I am racing up a blind hill on the wrong side of the road onto who knew whatever might be heading our way. I think it was the only time in my life I saw my dad scared, and I had to chuckle at remembering the look of terror and disbelief on his face back then.
We passed along the rural scenery, passed Eclectic, Cotton’s Barbeque, Mr Holly’s old dog trot house, countless abandoned dark wooden houses and barns, the turnoff to our old cabin, the Kowaliga Goodtime Bar now a garden store,  and finally made it to the marina where we wanted to buy a boat coat for the grand daughter. Mark went inside to see what he could find and I got out to let Gracie have a pit stop under the tall pines that shade the roof of the Church in the Pines, an open air sanctuary that sits beside the water, a lovely place, but unfortunately, not one of my favorite places. 

My father had a rather loose policy on partying by us kids up there on the weekends but, by golly, on Sunday morning we were, with no exceptions and no excuses, dragged to this place for the service and then on to breakfast of powder dried scrambled eggs and greasy bacon at the restaurant at Kowaliga. There were more than a few bleary eyes watching the preacher on occasions and some very reluctant partakers of the breakfast buffet menu. Revisiting this place did not evoke fond memories, and once Mark’s mission was accomplished we headed to the boat ramp to launch the Dixie Lily.      
Meeting us there was our daughter, her husband, and their seven month old daughter. Once the baby was trussed up in the new boat coat and slathered with sunscreen, we began our trek across the blue water to Uncle Jimmy’s cabin on the north and eastern side of the lake. The Lily made its way past familiar islands and landmarks but once out from under the Kowaliga Bridge the evidence of last year’s horrific tornado attack here showed just how huge of a swath it had made. Looking south there was a huge expanse of green grass now where before had been a solid mass of trees and a shoreline dotted with cabins and piers, a line of nothingness now. Then looking back in the line of travel we were heading you could see the continued path of the monster storm as it headed across the open water and hit landfall again where it wiped trees, cabins, piers, and anything in its way, totally away. I had seen photos of the aftermath soon after, so I had some idea of the havoc it wroth, but it was painful to see in person. Nature will heal itself with time and now the green grasses have filled in the vacant cabin sites and eventually there will be trees to shade the ground again.
We passed the Russell place, the family who owns the part of the lake cabins that are or were leased, such as my dad’s was, and the very folks who had said that progress would never affect our lease....I tossed a not so nice thought in the direction of their house and moved on to Cocktail Slue where Uncle Jimmy’s cabin lay amazingly unscathed by the tornado. 
One could never miss Jimmy’s cabin because the boat house and dock were landmarks that were visible from long distances. We pulled up and docked. Then greetings and salutations were made with John, his wife Nicole, their son Jimmy, and an old high school friend of Nicole’s, DeAnna, and her daughter, Evynn. We lunched on ribs and chicken salad and various yummy stuff all spread out on the huge table with a lazy susan that John’s grandmother H.C. had put up there to serve the many mouths over many years.
It had been a very long time since I had been in the cabin and it was great to look around and remember what had happened where in the room, and to see what had changed and what had not. It was great to be with friends and family enjoying a summer day while baby Margaret explored the floor pulling up onto anything she found, including the cheese straws. Gracie did clean up.

 Lunch done, we were serenaded on the porch by Nicole, DeAnna, and Evynn by their guitars and their combined lovely voices. They have now been unofficially coined the Lake Martin Sirens. Little Margaret stood and danced and we all were mesmerized by their song as it floated over the July day out over the yard and across the water. It was a good day.

Thanks to DeAnna for the last two shots.. and for the songs 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hot Dog

The weather ap on my cell tells me that the temps today should reach the triple digit thing, again. I somehow just don’t really need a cell phone to restate the obvious. It is now officially, Hot. I am sitting on the front porch, under the whirling noise of the welcome fans overhead, and ponder whether the grass really needs to be cut today or not. The shrubbery lining the front of the porch begs for trimming, and I want to do that cause it looks so straggly. I, however, refrain from doing so because I am watching a steady stream of wasps float in and out of the deep green leaves, tending to their unseen nest within the darkness, for which they will defend, and have already done so once. They win, for now.
 A blue tailed lizard basks in the sun hitting the front steps and thinks the weather is fine. I think not. Gracie lays beside me, her sugar buzz from her morning snack of a scavenged ear of corn left by the marauding group of raccoons who have invaded my barn and my garden, is finally spent. More on them later, but for now an update on life with Gracie so far. 
The phrase about the kid wanting the puppy and the classic “It won‘t get very big” as justification for adopting a puppy rings quite true with her. When I first got her she weighed in at a whopping 2.8 lbs at three months old or so. Her recent visit to the vet for her life alteration/spaying said she had ballooned up to 3.7 lbs, which really is quite a monstrous jump proportionally if you think about it. Her weight gain over the past few months would be similar to a 125 lb person adding on about 50 plus lbs or so in a few month’s time, a not insignificant amount, but she still remains a very tiny dog. Just don’t tell her.
After her life change surgery I was to take her back in for her stitches to be taken out. We are talking about the removal of tiny stitches, nearly invisible little knots, and to remove them under the best of situations and bravest of doggies is one thing. Then there is the bantam weight Gracie, who was decidedly not interested in anyone pulling on those strings with scissors to cut the knots on her oh so delicate belly. In the final outcome it took four assistants to hold an almost 4 lb dog still enough to complete the task. It was agreed that a 90 lb German Shepherd was infinitely easier to restrain for such veterinary maneuvers than this mighty terrier.

Gracie’s karma was not to be a pampered city pooch. Hers was to have landed in this incarnation on a farm, a farm that is full of potential dangers and misadventures, but I think she prefers these risks to the option of being a sedentary lap dog with painted toe nails and bows in her hair. She has now  met a fairly benign Spotted King snake who gave her the body language and threats to show her that messing with “no-necks” is risky business. She understands that horses have big feet that could cover her with one step, but she is reverent of them and they seem to think she is no treat to them and tolerate her as she darts in their stalls to steal spilt pellets of their feed.
 Yorkies were bred to be critter killers and their idea of playtime is practicing skills to kill, maim, and pluck whatever they can find to chase. My hands seem to be a favorite pretend varmint and Gracie chases my fingers as I scurry them across the floor. She will rear up and then pounce on my hand and bite my fingers until they are dead. Like a cat, she prefers toys like mice that squeak and such, toilet paper rolls which are shredded until unrecognizable. Then her favorite, until the shepherd played a bit too hard with it, was the infamous Flying Monkey that shrieked and screamed as it flew across the living room followed by an earnest little velociraptor, and killed.
Gracie also plays a game of messing with Sasquatch, running circles around her large stoic German Shepherd friend and occasionally coming close enough to touch a paw or Heidi’s tail, just testing. This drives the big dog nuts, but I think at some point Heidi is glad to have another canine to hang with despite the disparity in their sizes. They do speak the same language, and it is pretty funny to watch the old dog lead the way around the farm, with a happy little midget dog trotting on her heals panting as they go.
Today’s heat kept us inside for the most of the day and one thing leading to another, boredom set in for Gracie, that, and along with the heat, lead her to another of her favorite activities, playing in the water bowl. She had done this once before on such a day and returned to it with unbridled enthusiasm. Couldn’t blame her and a beach towel on the floor kept the splashed out water from spilling into the back door closet. I just sat back in amusement, enchanted by the antics of a silly puppy. It is good to have a puppy in life, sometimes more so than at others, but pretty much things just go better when one is around. I defy anyone to watch this video with a straight face.
As to the afore mentioned coon family that has discovered my peaches, my corn, and my tomatoes, the war is on. Gardening has always been a source of relaxation, hard work but good for the soul and the stomach, a rewarding way of creating food from little seeds to big healthy plants and veggies that turn into dinner. This year, however, the whole process has been hell.
 A late start on it proved to be the kiss of horror in getting it started. From viruses leftover from last season, a bumper crop of hungry bugs, mysterious causes for the young plants wilting, browning, or worse being stripped of all their leaves with no trace of the villains (thought the finger is pointing to coons and deer), it has been torture. I replanted the beans three times before they got going, the squash the same thing. that the plants are beginning to put out produce, and the young corn is tender with silks, to walk into the garden to find half eaten ears of corn laying on the ground and the stalks pulled over so that the fat little ring tailed, masked fur balls can reach them, is infuriating to say the least. Mark just came home with a few cans of sardines that we are hoping to lure these masked robbers into traps, so they can find a new home, on a new astral plane.       (written this weekend)
Monday am...It was really now time for the lawn to be brought back to order despite the heat. I hit the barn with a quick check on my raccoon count, zilch again, and then noticed there was not a single ear of corn left of the early corn and the Silver Queen was beginning to get messed with. Crap, what a nice way to start off a week I thought,  grumbling about all that work for nothing.  I went about feeding horses and as I opened a door to the feed room at the little barn, which I do everyday to no real ill effect, a wasp came out of no where and tagged me on the back of my neck. Crap again.
After downing my benadryl the yard finally got trimmed, the hedges partly done using caution to avoid more mad wasps, and the remaining corn is surrounded by new hot wire, high and low. For now, a glass of wine is poured, the bird in the oven is almost done, and this day, and me, is toast. Tomorrow is another day.