Fairhope, Alabama sits on the Mobile Bay, along a small section of waterfront property that some vacationers pass through on their way to Florida. Mobile is famous for the tunnel through which beachgoers must drive. But Fairhope is the kind of mannered Southern town where baskets hanging from awnings overflow with flowers — begonias bloom beyond their normal capacity. It could be the walkable, bikeable small town of Vada Sultenfuss’s youth in the 1991 movie My Girl.
I arrive in Fairhope, crossing out of Eastern time into Central, at 3:30 CST. I am staying here for a night on the way home to Jackson from Tallahassee for wedding. I have until 5:00, when I meet up with my friend, to walk the downtown and the bayfront paths, in the depths of the southern heat that is like a second layer of ocean above sea level.
I begin at the surf shop that my college friend and one-time sorority president, Ashley, manages — Adrenaline. They sell boogie boards, skateboards and helmets, sundresses, Patagonia. The shop smells like clean leather of Rainbow brand sandals, the rubber of Teva sandals. I walk down Fairhope Avenue to the edge of town that meets the bay. I pass law offices, and walk beneath the widest live oak tree I have ever seen. At an out-of-place apartment complex that advertises “1-br. furnished & unfurnished,” a long-haired guy with a fit body and a sunny complexion paces the second floor balcony.
I pass a park, whose clean, wood-carved sign promises to “always” be there for “Fairhopians.” Down a slope, the bay and an open sky rise in front of me. The water is light brown like most open water that touches the base of Mississippi and Alabama. The park is silent and green, with trash cans and a paved path. A pier stretches out and an oyster restaurant juts out from the right of it, a siren song to the hungry to come out onto the shallow bay water.
An elderly man gets out of a car with a dog that appears trapped inside the fur of a panda, frozen with depression at the sight of the small park. The man surprises me and jerks the leash, shocking the beautiful creature forward. I pass a rack of ten paddleboards and a motorcycle — abandoned in parking spaces. The only other people walk off in random directions looking into the backs of their sunglasses.
I walk out onto the pier, into mildly deafening wind from the water. Benches line each side of the wide pier, and the walk becomes an homage to the dead who spent their final years on this bay. The wind sings their music, keeping bugs off of me, preventing my feeling whatever late afternoon sunburn is coming to my high forehead.
Carved into the benches are compositions of remembrances, forming some poem as I walk:
BELOVED husband father brother
God’s gravy maker
Lie beneath the reef
The good life since 1990
May all your sunsets be spectacular
In loving memory
Untill [sic] Jesus comes.
Halfway down the pier at the oyster bar, a coed group of thirteen year olds rings a bell for service. They order soft drinks and pay in cash, green dollars that seem foreign in their smooth hands. I continue walking to the end, where the pier makes a T and a man — wearing one of the fishing shirts that Ashley sells in the surf shop — bows over the railing with his hands joined. His two fishing poles are also bowed against the railing on either side of him, the two lines in the water shivering in the wind and surf.
Originally written in June of 2016.