My family lives in a small town on the Gulf Coast. Orange Beach, Alabama boasts a population of only 4,000 people and we love it here. In 2004, when Hurricane Ivan destroyed our house and those of many of our friends, we were constantly asked, “Isn’t there anywhere else you want to live?”
I understood the point. After all, Polly and I had been to places we thought were more beautiful. We had experienced locations more temperate. Frankly, there was more to do almost anywhere else.
Still to this day, however, we’ve never been to a place that feels quite like Orange Beach.
Why? Three reasons:
1. Kevin is Here
And Brian and Pat and Sandy and Joe and Alan and the Gibbons and the Haynes and the Martins. Uncle Bob vacations here in the summer. SB lives here. And PC and the Woo. Tommie, Jerry and Katrina, Art and Donna, Greta and Greg, Ted and Kathryn, and the Romanos. Debbie and Steve are back with Eli and Bailey Grace after having lived for three years in Washington, D.C. Mr. Dave and Miss Mary are back.
Louisiana is fine, but it isn’t Orange Beach.
Pat, Claudia, Hunter, and Shelby live right across the street. And Joey and Elizabeth are here. (I continue to love them despite the fact that they sent my boys home with TWO kittens.)
These are just a sampling of the awesome friends who live near us. And most of the other people here are just like them.
There is something special about these folks and this area.
When Hurricane Ivan blasted through Wolf Bay Lodge (one of our favorite places to eat), some of the things that blew away in the storm were the more than 10,000 one-dollar bills that had been signed and stapled to the ceiling throughout the past 20 years.
No one knows how many were lost at sea, but of the bills that were spread over 30 miles of coastline, 7,500 of them were returned.
That's right. More than 7,500 one-dollar bills were returned by people who said, "We saw the bill was signed, so we knew it belonged to you.”
2. We Get Help Raising Our Kids.
I have two sons—a 13-year-old, Austin, and an 11-year-old, Adam. I love these monkeys more than anything in the world. But I know it’s going to take more than just their mama and their daddy to shape them into the men they have the potential to become.
That’s where the people in Orange Beach come in.
We know the people in our church.
We know the people in the grocery store and the bank.
We know the Little League coaches and umpires.
We know everybody. And we’ve made sure they know how we want our boys to be raised.
Polly and I have given everyone in town permission to correct our sons when they say “no” instead of “no sir” or “no ma’am.” We’ve given them permission to make our boys shake their hands firmly and with a smile.
The fact is, we live in a town where the mayor still pulls his car over to ask a group of teenagers why they aren’t in school when it’s two o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon.
The amazing part is that he does this without fear of reproach from the kids’ parents.
3. My History is Here.
I read somewhere that almost 90% of us feel strong ties to a specific city or state.
I certainly do.
My parents honeymooned on the Alabama coast in 1957 and took a week's vacation here every year until they died.
My sister, Kristi, and I went on all those vacations and in a way, we grew up here.
I see things that remind me of them every day. Many of the restaurants and the businesses and churches are in the same place.
Daddy took me to Frith's bait shop to buy our live shrimp when I was a little boy.
Soon after Mama and Daddy died, I worked there for a while, selling those shrimp by the dozen under the watchful eye of Mr. Frith.
Now, I take my little boys in to buy shrimp from Mr. Frith's son, Butch. I could catch them myself, but Butch shakes their hands and teases them about the size of the fish in the stories they tell.
It's worth whatever I have to pay to feel that sense of my daddy in that shop watching the grandsons he never got to meet.
Polly and I lived in a small condo when we got married, but we have only owned one house.
It is the same one we live in today.
It is where our boys have always lived. It is where I write. It is the place we have laughed most often, cried occasionally, and come to know ourselves. More than a house, it is our home.
So that is why we live in this small town of 4,000 people, Orange Beach, Alabama.
They might not be the greatest reasons, but they are our reasons. And even through the stressful years after Ivan—even though we swore if it ever happened again, we would move—I suspect we might be here for a long time still.
No matter what.