We were free children and wild spirits on the bay

June 13, 2021
7 557 16
We were free children and wild spirits on the bay

We were free children and wild spirits on the bay

“I was born in 1930. I grew up in Point Clear, south of Zundel’s Wharf. Someone made me this crown from a crab trap from my 90th birthday. I’ve been in this house in Fairhope overlooking Mobile Bay since 1965. My flower bed is a friendship bed, and the flowers were given to me by friends and family. There are lilies, gloriosas and hydrangeas. I sit out here and watch the water and remember the good times. We were free children and wild spirits on the bay. It’s breathtaking to know that I have seen this beautiful world for so long.

My family made it through the Depression because my father and his brothers fished and oystered. They bartered with farmers for potatoes, vegetables and meat. It gave all of us a better diet. Black and white folks grew up together and shared what we had. We even helped deliver each other’s babies. We knew there was a difference between us, but there wasn’t hate.

My great-grandfather came from Spain. He jumped ship in Mobile, then camped under an oak tree in Point Clear. The oak tree is still there, and the land is still in our family. His brother, Louis, also came over. They built a grocery store and the Blue Goose Saloon. They had a good business. One night two men got into a fight in the saloon. Louis tried to break it up and was killed. They closed the Blue Goose for good. My grandfather later used a team of oxen to move their house to the bay in Point Clear. They raised their family there and it was a gathering place.

My grandfather took care of lighthouses and stayed in a little camp in Bon Secour during the week. I can still see him rowing up the bay, dipping those oars to come home. He didn’t like it when they tried to put a motor on his boat. Dad built beautiful boats out of cypress. He also built beautiful chandeliers for the Grand Hotel. Dad painted and did carpentry work on the summer homes of families from Mobile.

My grandmother was a midwife and came down from Iowa. She wasn’t part of the Single Tax Colony, but they came down to rent farmland because of the colony. They didn’t have the money to buy the land, but you could rent it and prosper. My family is buried at the Confederate Cemetery.

We were late getting electricity in Point Clear, but it wasn’t a bad life reading by lamps. We watched the tides and barometers to know a hurricane was coming, then we played cards and rode it out. We didn’t go to Fairhope often. Brodbeck and Zundel general store in Point Clear had everything we needed. I went to the Little Point Clear School for six years. There were three grades, divided by rows, in one room with one teacher. When I finished my work, I heard the lessons for the higher grades and learned more. The school was still in great shape until someone set it afire a few years ago.

The bay has fed many generations of Poses, and the recipes for gumbo and crab cakes were passed down. Granny and I loved going soft crabbing. The full moon was beautiful rising on us. I lived by the moon and the tide. The tide went out, and we saw the humps of soft crabs underneath the beds of seaweed. We had an oyster bed off our pier. I was good at casting a net for shrimping–I did it so much that I began to think like a shrimp. There is something about throwing a net and feeling the bump of shrimp hitting it. The bumps feel like they are talking to me. I keep records of the shrimp I catch. Some years I caught 600-900 pounds. I once caught 24 pounds of shrimp in one cast. I thought I hit the jackpot. Jesus, you can take me right now.

I wish the bay was clear like it used to be. We would wade in waist-deep water looking for flounder. The water was so clear that you could see your toenails. I was a great swimmer and could go a long way in one breath. I swam with my eyes open to see the fish and to look through the beds of seaweed and ribbon grass. The water was blue-green, the porpoises always came in, and you could feel God all around. I loved watching my kids be on the water all day. I rang the bell to call them home. The harder I rang the bell, the faster they needed to get home. They could hear it way out there.

The bay has changed. There is so much construction, and the beaches aren’t where they used to be. Man has done a good job destroying what we had.

I collect pelicans. Daddy told us never to shoot a pelican because you may be shooting your grandpa or uncle. He said fishermen never die, they come back as pelicans. The pelicans that fly over are my friends and family, and I salute them as they pass. I told my kids and grandkids that when I die, look up and wave when they see a pelican. That will be me flying by.”

Patsy Miller

7 comments on “We were free children and wild spirits on the bay”

  1. Mary Short says:

    Wonderful article! This should be captured in a history book and stored in the library.
    Thank you Mrs Miller!

  2. Jo Anne Keller says:

    Oh my goodness!! I remember the good times at the bay also. Lynn and I would stay out on the water all day. I have such wonderful memories of growing up in old Fairhope. I learned to ski by being dragged through the seaweed. I thought a see monster was going to get me so I got up on the ski. . Thank you Patsy for bringing back visions of the “way it was” on Mobile Bay

  3. Brian says:

    Beautiful memories from a beautiful person. She can really make the past come alive and has so many stories which she can recall in vivid detail. I really appreciate her sharing these memories and for Lynn and Our Southern Souls taking on the task of putting them in print.

  4. Sharon Pinkert says:

    What a great article! Beautiful memories brought to life for others to enjoy. Patsy is a special friend, but I learned even more about what made her who she is today. So happy she shared her wonderful memories. Thank you so much! ❤️

  5. Melissa Pershina says:

    I’ve spent thousands of hours talking to Patsy, since even before I married her son Johnny in 1984, and had never heard some of these details. Even more wonderful than I’d previously realized. Thank you, Patsy, for sharing these memories! I wish I could live in your brain for even an hour. I would understand life so much better! You are a blessing to everyone who’s been lucky enough to be a part of your life. I love pelicans, but don’t you even think about becoming one yet! This essay shows that the gifts we love so much are only the tip of the iceberg!

  6. Melissa Pershina says:

    I’ve spent thousands of hours talking to Patsy, since even before I married her son Johnny in 1984, and had never heard some of these details. Even more wonderful than I’d previously realized. Thank you, Patsy, for sharing these memories! I wish I could live in your brain for even an hour. I would understand life so much better! You are a blessing to everyone who’s been lucky enough to be a part of your life. I love pelicans, but don’t you even think about becoming one yet! This essay shows that the gifts we love so much are only the tip of the iceberg!

  7. Alec Armbrecht says:

    What a great story of growing up on the bay.

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