Monday, February 3, 2014

Ensconced

Saturday I left New Paltz for a month in the above cottage. There was one reason in my mind, and one alone: To escape the weather.

But I know that often the reason in one's mind is not the actual reason, and it takes time, sometimes years, to discover that. At the moment I'm basking in temperatures of 60° rather than those in the 30s. Tomorrow it will be 70° here and the high in New Paltz is predicted to be about 20. It's easy to say that I simply had to get out of the brutal winter we were enduring in the Northeast. The terrible freeze hit this part of the country too last week, taking with it many beautiful blossoms and driving the locals to distraction--but was nothing like the single-digits for weeks on end that gave me impetus simply to get the hell out.

I'm still ambivalent about my hometown, a scenic enclave with artistic pretensions, on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. That being said, it's my default go-to when I have to leave the cold. The ambivalence prevails because the town I grew up in is not in evidence any more. It was a funky, somewhat bohemian getaway for many in those days, not entirely unlike New Paltz today. There was an air of intellectual counterculture and conflict in a plain, parched utopia. Today that has been papered over and in its place is an upscale tourist and retirement destination, where the city changes floral designs on every street corner on a regular basis and new caf├ęs and boutiques spring up like jonquils after the first frost. Everybody smiles way too much, in an almost-Stepford-wife kind of way, and tells you how blessed they are to live in such a beautiful place. Every day they post pictures of the sunset on Facebook, as if there are no sunsets anywhere else. There is a great deal of rhapsodizing about ordinary things.

It brings out the curmudgeon in me. I should be so happy myself, I suppose. Maybe I don't want to be, I don't know. I like it here, but what I like is what I know to be under the surface--the reminders to me of people who lived here in years past, of situations long resolved but once crucial. I am one of the few who knows that there was once a large old live oak tree in the middle of Oak Street--literally in the middle of the street--and a vote was held whether to remove it. Cornie and Margaret Gaston, a normally contented couple of old-time Fairhope citizens, were divided on the subject. She wanted to keep the oak and he agreed with the side who found it a traffic hazard. Margaret and the oak lost, and Fairhope lost a possible tourist attraction for the future. That comes to me whenever I drive or walk down Oak Street.

Stories like that haunt me as I walk through Fairhope. I guess I'll never be rid of them, no matter how many sushi restaurants, Italian restaurants, or other fantasy establishments appear. If I come here once a year I see a town transformed, bit by bit, into something totally different from the place I know so well. I am resigned to it, and I do my best to like it as well as I possibly can. I have relatives and friends I love who live here, and they do their best not to tell me how blessed they feel just to be here for the sunsets. Some of them sigh and agree with me. I keep hoping to meet kindred spirits, and before I leave at the end of the month, to return to what will surely be a chilly and dank March, I hope the weather and the welcome here will have thawed me out.

9 comments:

  1. I'm guessing the oak-in-the middle-of-the-road would now be a treasured local spot, and possibly a kind of tourist attraction. People love--with good reason--oddities & eccentricities. Rather I should say some people. Is Oak Street a busy road now?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree. Oak Street is off the beaten track, in a very pleasant residential area. The son of the couple told me he remembered one of the only times he saw his parents in conflict was over that oak, and, although he didn't really understand what they were so excited about, today he would side with his mother to keep the oak in the street.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Excellent description of Fairhope...I feel the same way!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I totally understand how you feel - same for me when I go back to the MS coast. All those new people though know the joy that is Fairhope today and don't know what they've never experienced. There is good in both versions. I enjoy the history - but also enjoy the present incarnation.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I understand your feelings, having returned to live here after 35 years. But one must live somewhere and this is a pretty good place. I doubt there is any place that hasn't lost the charm it once had. I just feel lucky to have had my childhood here and the memories. What year was the Oak removed?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Probably about 1946--before our time, Chuck!

    ReplyDelete
  7. "They" say you can't go back home. Maybe "they" are from Fairhope?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Fairhope FunforallFebruary 4, 2014 at 5:32 PM

    One could make an argument that with time the way we look at people and ideas change too. It's a very interesting notion. I think of how much I've changed since my twenties or thirties. People I used to love hearing their thoughts and ideas that are not interesting to me now in the least. Just a thought.

    ReplyDelete
  9. No one has ever framed that story about the live oak ("live oak" is a particular species of oak native to the Gulf coast) that lived in the middle of Oak Ave (they renamed it Oak Ave, no longer street) as well as you have done it here. There's a lesson in this story. Thanks for this post, Mary Lois.

    ReplyDelete