Gulfport, Mississippi.

So, I didn’t actually close on my property on February 28, as I had hoped.  No, that buyer got some weird ideas and went away, but often things work out for the best, which is certainly the case this time.  Instead, we had another offer shortly thereafter and thus closed this last Friday, to a kind, elegant couple who personified graciousness.  They have even offered to keep me in the loop on the construction of the modest cottage they intend to build, just to help a little with emotional closure on the loss of our house.  And strangely, they were right to think that I would need that:  it actually felt a bit emotional to be letting go of something that happened nearly 13 years ago!  It was our first house, after all, and it was a historic preservation buff’s dream come true, and our daughter was born there.  I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to feel a little teary eyed at letting it go.

But, mostly what I felt was a profound sense of relief.  Relief that the lot was going to someone so good, but also relief that it doesn’t belong to me anymore.  I don’t have to remember to pay the taxes or keep it mowed before I get a nasty letter from the city letting me know that I have ten days before I get fined. I don’t have to worry anymore about whether the market is coming back or what insurance companies are doing.  I can go visit the Gulf Coast, if I am thus inclined, without feeling like there is something I am forgetting to take care of!

And the Gulf Coast, by the way, is indeed a lovely place to visit.  I wish that the day that I was there had brought better weather, but even in the rain, it was beautiful.  Heartbreaking in some ways, seeing what still hasn’t come back even 12+ years later, but beautiful nonetheless.  I flew into New Orleans and rented a car (there is a perfectly good airport in Gulfport, but I fly standby and there are LOTS more flights into New Orleans) and drove the hour and a half down I-10, across Lake Pontchartrain and lots of wetland areas, but I didn’t stay on I-10 like my phone said I should.  Instead, I turned off the interstate just past Stennis Space Center and headed toward Bay St.  Louis so that I could drive the remaining distance along the beach, and so that I could get coffee and a little something for breakfast along the way.

I was surprised and delighted by what I found: Bay St. Louis has come back beautifully, y’all!  Some of our favorite places to eat back when we lived there were even still around, like Trapani’s Eatery, right back on the beach where it used to be.  Do you know how happy that makes me?  And the Bay Town Inn!  Rebuilt!  Of course, it’s not the old Queen Anne mansion that it used to be- Katrina took care of that, for sure.  Our friends used to own it, but we lost touch long ago. I don’t know who owns it now, but it looks lovely, and I intend to get myself back down and stay for a bit so that I can spend more time checking out all the art galleries that have popped up.  Oh, and back to that breakfast I was seeking:  I stopped in at a place called Sonny’s Cypress Cafe–  this place is located in the historic City Hall building and I adore adaptive reuse of old buildings, so I had to check it out.  They were between meal service (my body clock was a little confused) but  let me buy one of that morning’s biscuits from them, and let me say here that it was one of the best biscuits I’ve ever eaten.  I can’t speak to the rest of the menu, but if it’s anything like that biscuit it’s going to be good.

Moving on down the coast was of course like moving down memory lane for me.  Now, Mississippi doesn’t have the best beaches, or possibly even good beaches.  They aren’t the Florida sugar sand with blue water that you want to swim in, not at all. But they have pelicans, which make up for a lot in my world, and you can see the shrimp boats coming in or going out and doing their thing, and then you can eat that shrimp which I of course did at one of another of our old favorites which has come back.  But before I could get to Chimney’s Restaurant in Gulfport, I had to go through Pass Christian and Long Beach, which were… sad.  All those old live oaks gone, all those old houses, gone.  Some of the oaks are finally filling back in, but some are gone forever, as are, apparently, some of the houses.  Admittedly, I only drove through on Beach Road in the rain so I may not have seen everything, but so much was missing.  One of my favorite little cafes in Pass Christian, where the shrimp was so good and so fresh that it was like candy, was nowhere to be seen.

But upon arrival in Gulfport, I was heartened to see that our old street, historic Second Street, was coming back nicely.  Now, the canopy from the live oaks that used to form a tunnel of green down the street still isn’t back, but the live oak on our property was alive and well and healthy. And while a handful of historic houses were not destroyed and a handful of people rebuilt a while back, there are many more people who are beginning to build, and they appear to be doing it in a way that is thoughtful and appropriate and respectful of the architecture that used to be here.

Of course, Chimney’s Restaurant is still right where it used to be.  Like the Baytown Inn, it’s no longer in an old Queen Anne mansion, but it is lovely nonetheless, and the food was just as good as I remembered it to be.  Chimney’s was such a part of our lives when we lived there- we could walk to it from our house, and often we did just that, as we were newlywed and childless and earning two incomes (a lifetime ago!).  We often brought family here when they were visiting because the food was so good and the service so wonderful.  We ate here the night I went into labor with our daughter- not kidding, I started feeling less than great while dining here (and it had NOTHING to do with the food!) and had a baby girl the next day.  We ate here with our little girl in tow after she was born.  This was our favorite place, and not just because it was so close by.  There’s just something about it, with its sweeping front yard filled with oaks and its front porch and the view of the water.  And then, of course, there’s the food.  Last Friday, I needed fried shrimp.  At Chimney’s, I got fried shrimp.  They did not disappoint- remember that bit about my favorite cafe in Pass Christian whose shrimp were like candy?  That’s what fresh shrimp are like, and Chimney’s does them right.

And then after lunch I sold our property and drove to New Orleans and got back on a plane.

But seriously, I will go back to the Gulf Coast sometime soon, this time not by myself but with my husband and kids as well.  We will stay at the Bay Town Inn, and eat at Trapani’s and get biscuits at Sonny’s Cypress Cafe, and then we will make time to do all the things I couldn’t do in the pouring rain when I had to round trip it from Atlanta in a day.  We will make it all the way to Ocean Springs to visit the Walter Anderson museum, and see if TatoNut is till making their amazing donuts, and visit Shearwater Pottery, and ride the ferry out to Ship Island.  Maybe we will make our way over to New Orleans for some beignets and crawfish étouffée and spend a day or two there.  Or over to Florida for blue water and fresh fish. I don’t know, but I do know that we will go.  Our kids need to see this place that was such a part of us, and that has been central to such a long, long journey for us.

But more importantly, they just need to have some shrimp at Chimney’s and enjoy seeing some pelicans, because it’s time to look forward, and letting go of that empty lot on the beach is a huge part of allowing us to finally do so.

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