Apalachicola

Sunup. I am walking the mostly empty streets of Apalachicola. This is where the mighty Apalachicola River meets the Gulf of Mexico, then spills its unrestricted beauty in all directions.

Apalachicola. Tourists have a hard time saying the name at first. But after a few beers, they eventually get it right.

The town’s name comes from the Apalachicoli Tribe. They were a branch of the lower Creek tribe. Now they are all gone.

I am told their language was never recorded. So nobody knows what they sounded like. Nobody heard the melodies of their voices made.

Once upon a time, this town was the third busiest port in Florida. A lot of money was made here by some very important old men with walrus mustaches and formal hats.

Which is why this town is full of old buildings that are constantly being restored, touched up, retrofitted, renovated, re-bolstered, repainted.

The effect is dazzling. It only takes you three minutes in Apalach to realize this isn’t the Florida you see on TV. This is a history book.

There is nowhere else on the globe like Appalach. Certainly nowhere in the state of Florida.

Florida is a different bird, you see. Out-of-towners don’t understand us. They’ll never understand us.

Florida is the only state wherein the farther north you travel, the further South you go. Florida is the catch-all drawer of the United States.

We have it all here. We are Cubans. We are Georgians. We are Alabamians. We are red and yellow Black and white. We are fun. We are weird. We are slap crazy.

And Apalachicola is one of those Floridian rarities history will never see again. It’s unique unto itself.

It’s shrimp trawlers, faded Queen Anne homes, churches with bells that actually ring, and palm trees older that mud.

I’m walking in silence. Most people aren’t out at this time of morning. Except for a few of us dog-walkers, dutifully marching behind our animals, carrying little warm baggies in our hands.

You will know us by our baggies.

And I am enveloped in a multi-sensory experience. The Florida birds are chuckling. The salt air hits you in the back of your throat.

It’s humid outside, even though it’s October. Which means that if you have curly hair you are—How do I put this?—screwed.

The whole city blossoms with the colors of an autumnal dawn. Oranges and golds everywhere. Beards of moss, hanging from sprawling limbs. People call it “Spanish moss.” Ironically, it’s neither.

This is the kind of sunrise that makes even commonplace things look like Impressionism.

A lone birdbath becomes a Monet. The cemetery, with its antique stone markers, becomes a Renoir.

An old shotgun shack, perched in a weedy lot. Rusted oyster skiffs. Crumbling brick chimneys atop Victorian rooflines.

But it’s the people who make this place shine.

A man drives a dilapidated truck through a canopy of live oaks. The sunlight hits him just right, and it’s an arresting image. His truck was at one time white, but now it’s rust brown. He is smoking a morning Camel.

He gives me the ceremonial two-fingered wave.

There are two Latino men, standing on a scaffold, preparing to paint the old Methodist Episcopal church on Fifth Street.

They’re sanding down the clapboards. I stop to watch them work. Beneath their hands is wood that goes back to 1839. People were still using the Oregon Trail in 1839.

“Buenas,” they say to me.

“Buenas,” I say back.

And I’m remembering when I first got married. We came to Apalach for our first vacation. We came because we had no money, and in Apalach you don’t need money to see beautiful things.

We couldn’t find anywhere to stay but a cheap motel. But it didn’t matter. We had each other. That was enough.

We walked the streets at sunup. The downtown alleyways were empty. We held hands. We talked.

Two young Floridians, taking in the native glory of their homeland. We were only three counties away from our home, but it felt like we were walking through Zion.

It felt like we were the first two people to ever love each other. As though we had found the secret to salvation. And we had, of course. We had found God without even knowing it.

I remember sitting on the bench beside her. The same bench I’m sitting on now as I write this. I remember my wife squeezing my hand.

I remember her saying “I love you, Sean.” And I remember how sacred my own life felt when she said those words.

And this, I’d like to think, is what the language of the Apalachicoli sounded like.

74 comments

  1. Patricia Gibson - October 5, 2022 2:05 pm

    Lovely ❤️

    Reply
  2. Sue Rhodus - October 5, 2022 2:06 pm

    One of my favorite spots….old Florida !!!
    A perfect place for an I love you !!

    Reply
  3. Jim Springfield - October 5, 2022 2:08 pm

    Apalachicola is where my wife and I spent our honeymoon. It’s a special place for sure. Last year we stopped on the way back from my sons house and experienced a play that was quite unique. It was the Charles dickens story of Scrooge but there was no theater. We walk in small groups from location to location and actors portrayed characters and told the story was like a progressive dinner. It was progressive play. It was magical.

    Reply
  4. artwimberley - October 5, 2022 2:09 pm

    Apalach is such a wonderful little town to walk. History, architecture, friendly, hard-working people. Several local restaurants that serve up that fresh, local seafood. I can taste it now! For over 40 years we managed to visit the area a couple of times each year and always enjoyed our time there. Port St. Joe, Apalachicola….what is next? Mexico Beach? Wewa? Thanks, Sean, for your views of what is all around us.

    Reply
  5. Penny Carpenter - October 5, 2022 2:12 pm

    Spit on! The next time you go look up the little ice museum where ice was first made.

    Reply
  6. jon mcrae - October 5, 2022 2:12 pm

    Don’t ever change, Sean

    Reply
  7. Anne Arthur - October 5, 2022 2:12 pm

    What a beautiful post! Makes me smile and feel at peace.

    Reply
  8. sjhl7 - October 5, 2022 2:13 pm

    Love this!!!

    Reply
  9. Fred klein - October 5, 2022 2:18 pm

    Simply poetic. Beautiful… Thanks.

    Reply
  10. Ann Thompson - October 5, 2022 2:22 pm

    Beautiful

    Reply
  11. Peggy Slaton - October 5, 2022 2:25 pm

    Beautifully written! I felt the beauty and the love.❤️

    Reply
  12. Pat Patterson - October 5, 2022 2:26 pm

    Thank you for stirring old memories. My wife and I loved to visit this part of Florida with our little camper. Wonderful “laid-back” people and some quite nice restaurants. We especially loved the Thomas Stone State Park. Thanks again.

    Reply
  13. George Ann Peters - October 5, 2022 2:27 pm

    All that part of Florida is magical. I think much is unchanged since my parents passed through on their honeymoon in 1950 on the way to meet Hurricane Easy in St. Augustine. At least that’s what I like to think. It really is old Florida, what a lot of the state was before air conditioning ruined it by making it habitable.

    Reply
  14. JonDragonfly - October 5, 2022 2:30 pm

    Aahh, young love! How beautiful.
    Been there, done that, still basking in it sixty years later.

    Reply
  15. Linda Askey - October 5, 2022 2:33 pm

    “Florida is the only state wherein the farther north you travel, the further South you go.” T-shirt please!

    Reply
  16. Tori Lauritsen - October 5, 2022 2:37 pm

    “ Florida is the only state wherein the farther north you travel, the further South you go.” I just revisited FL for the first time in 20 years. I used to visit Grand Ridge in the summers growing up. This time I was in Orlando and when I tried to order sweet tea they told me they didn’t have it. I was shocked! That’s when I learned the above phrase you mentioned in this story. I definitely miss my “South” northern Florida. ❤️ Thanks for giving me a piece if it every morning in my email.

    Reply
  17. STEVE Moore WATKINS - October 5, 2022 2:38 pm

    I did not see you here.

    Reply
  18. Helen De Prima - October 5, 2022 2:48 pm

    I used to travel by train with my father from Louisville to the Gulf Coast, business trips because of his job with the old L&N RR. We’d arrive in Mobile or New Orleans early morning while the city was just waking up. I remember the smell of flowers and salt water, the musical patois of dark-skinned men unloading the baggage car.

    Reply
  19. Mariah - October 5, 2022 2:51 pm

    I love Apalachicola.

    Reply
  20. David Britnell - October 5, 2022 2:53 pm

    Loved this Sean! Makes me want to visit.

    Reply
  21. Chasity Davis Ritter - October 5, 2022 2:55 pm

    Beautiful……

    Reply
  22. Donna Zaino - October 5, 2022 2:57 pm

    and the best Oysters on earth.

    Reply
  23. Eddy - October 5, 2022 3:03 pm

    Having lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for over 33 years after growing up until early adulthood in the Mississippi Delta, I’ve said the same thing you did. The further north you go in this state the more southern it gets. Lori says “hey” to Y’all!

    Reply
  24. Sara Howland - October 5, 2022 3:06 pm

    You’re usually funny, sometimes sad, sometimes all about spirit, but here you are downright lyrical. Lovely stuff.

    Reply
  25. Linda Holmes - October 5, 2022 3:08 pm

    You have described our happy-place beautifully. It brought tears to my eyes to see Apalach as you painted the picture in words. We visited there first in 2005, staying at the St. George Inn on the island with the same name. This was before the shopping center was built right next door to the inn. Even though there was a red tide, we knew SGI and Apalach were very special. We have not missed a single year since that time. We began taking our grandchildren and renting a house on the island on the odd years and, my husband and I stay in town on the even years (it’s closer to our fav restaurants.) I love it when people say they love it there but then I think, oh no, it may the Remembered Coast.Thank you for being a lover, longer than I.

    Reply
  26. Alice - October 5, 2022 3:13 pm

    I love your stories, history and your compassion for people and of course your sense of humor.

    Reply
  27. Sidney - October 5, 2022 3:23 pm

    We you Sean!

    Reply
  28. Wanda Vincent - October 5, 2022 3:26 pm

    What a wonderful way to share your morning walk, I could imagine myself on the walk seeing everything.

    Reply
  29. Linda Lewis - October 5, 2022 3:40 pm

    Oh, Sean, this is some of your best writing. It is melodic. Keep up the good work. I love reading your column every day.

    Reply
  30. suzi - October 5, 2022 3:49 pm

    Thank you for the short little “get away”

    Reply
  31. Richard - October 5, 2022 4:05 pm

    We have been to Apalachicola twice. The old cemetery in town was amazing. It is nice to sit on those benches and watch the birds.

    Reply
  32. Dean - October 5, 2022 4:09 pm

    Sean, every now and then you hit it on the head. This is one of those times.

    Reply
  33. Ruth - October 5, 2022 4:41 pm

    Lovely, thank you for this beautiful perspective. Helping us appreciate the life around us and beauty in unexpected places and people

    Reply
  34. Susan H Poole - October 5, 2022 4:51 pm

    I experienced actual chills reading your last 2 paragraphs. I believe you’re exactly right. Beautiful.

    Reply
  35. Karen - October 5, 2022 5:07 pm

    I loved going on your morning walk. Now I hope to visit this lovely town. You and Jamie didn’t need a fancy honeymoon. You had each other.

    Reply
  36. mccutchen52 - October 5, 2022 5:11 pm

    You are starting to sound so professional. Almost like a literary savant with a background in impressionist art.

    Reply
  37. McDonald RN - October 5, 2022 5:34 pm

    Sean, these vivid descriptions of familiar places are hauntingly touching.

    It is said two people walking the same path have completely different experiences
    in the 5 and a half inches between their ears. Your writing sir seems to embrace
    much of the shared tangible and intangible experience in the kindest way.

    It’s rare, but there are others able to touch just plain folks, , , like this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaZvZPHucRQ
    APALACHACOLA DOIN’ TIME – Dale Crider

    Reply
  38. Susie, as well - October 5, 2022 5:42 pm

    Lovely! I do believe this was one of your best.

    Reply
  39. Gay - October 5, 2022 6:36 pm

    Love has only one language

    Reply
  40. AlaRedClayGirl - October 5, 2022 6:38 pm

    I am now putting Apalachicola on my bucket list of places to visit!

    Reply
  41. Debbie Taylor - October 5, 2022 6:52 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to Apalachicola, Sean!

    Reply
  42. K. D. K. Jones - October 5, 2022 6:53 pm

    Sean – So beautiful! Thank You! There are so many languages we’ve lost the “sound of” and the meaning of. This is a better than average tracking of those changes.
    Take good care – especially in your new home and state. – D. Kempf Jones

    Reply
  43. Jerry Lassiter - October 5, 2022 7:36 pm

    What a lovely story…..It sound like an amazing place to visit…..I’m glad it brings back fond memories of You and Your wife’s first vacation….

    Reply
  44. Linda+J+Hendrix - October 5, 2022 7:43 pm

    Beautiful! Once again, your writing flows with picturesque beauty, emotion, humor & truth all in one. Apalachicola is just how you describe it. I definitely hope to visit again soon. Thanks for your beautiful story.

    Reply
  45. Gene grantham - October 5, 2022 7:51 pm

    Sean,
    I’m 76 and was born in Apalach at home in one of the old “shotgun” houses behind the school that use to reside on the Main Street. I remember things like my dad who was a Jaycee member, dressing up as Santa, greeting all the poor kids in town, and passing out the penny bags, filled with an orange, a peppermint stick candy, two cookies, and an apple. I remember the old “tent factory” owned and run by my uncle’s father-in-law, Corey Henriksen, and learning to drive in an old army Jeep on St. George island, when there was no bridge (only a ferry) to get there, and there was no “The Cut”, the channel that now cuts the island into two parts……… and much more memories.
    If you would like to meet, I can “fill your ears with a lot more” of Apalach and its people and times that I remember.
    My wife, Rose, reads your editorials and loves them.
    Jesse (Gene) Grantham. 251-622-8209. BAMASALTWATER@hotmail.com

    Reply
    • Edward Scott - October 15, 2022 8:47 pm

      I’m 69 and was born there also. It is a beautiful place but it is changing. I remember before the cut and fishing off the seawall on the field with my grandfather George Butler. Lots of oysters to pick up on oyster bars that are gone now. Locals tried to tell engineers they would kill the bay if they opened the cut and it has happened. Big money moving in and changing everything. Go enjoy it now before it’s gone. My parents retired there to the old home place and are still there. We go down often and enjoy it often.

      Reply
  46. Stan Ingram - October 5, 2022 8:06 pm

    A wonderfully beautiful town! We are on St. George Island and it is another huge slice of heaven (with a Piggly Wiggly express). God bless and keep you!

    Reply
  47. MAM - October 5, 2022 8:27 pm

    Sean, you are truly an amazing, wonderful, readable writer. How you manage always to tie things up in a sturdy knot at the end of your story each day lies beyond my skill. Thanks for your message every day!

    Reply
  48. Dawn Hockenberry - October 5, 2022 8:46 pm

    I’ve been to Apalachicola and Cape San Blas. I swam in the Gulf and fished off a kayak in St Joe’s Bay. I ate my first fried oyster in Apalach. I walked the streets and gawked at the houses. Beautiful. It was my first vacation without my husband. He died of cancer. My girls were small. During that trip was the first time I remember thinking “we’re gonna be okay”. We are.

    Reply
  49. Debbie - October 5, 2022 8:48 pm

    Sweet, Sean.

    Reply
  50. Tink - October 5, 2022 9:38 pm

    As I say- once you pass Gainesville, headed south, you are in the north. Miami also has pockets of Cuba, etc. Went in Publix, could not order at deli., I don’t speak Spanish.

    Reply
  51. Dawn - October 5, 2022 10:24 pm

    My children and I visited Apalachicola and Cape San Blas several years ago the summer after my husband died. He was 38. We were lost without him. Functioning. Breathing. Numb. We swam in the Gulf. I fished off a kayak on St Joe’s Bay. We walked the streets, visited little shops and ate fried Apalach oysters. It was calm, peaceful and restful. It was the first time I thought, “We’re going to be okay. Thirteen years have passed. We are okay. Thank you sharing and stirring memories.

    Reply
  52. Judy O'Casey - October 6, 2022 12:07 am

    Loved this. Had to look the church up on my phone map app!

    Reply
  53. Duane Shelley - October 6, 2022 12:26 am

    I am familiar with the 2 finger wave, also the one finger wave if you don’t know the people you are waving to.

    Reply
  54. Alicia Archibald - October 6, 2022 1:00 am

    Sounds like a lovely place! I will have to put it on my ‘must visit’ list. Thank you for sharing your impressions of it.

    Reply
  55. Melynda Brown - October 6, 2022 2:54 am

    Apalachicola is one of my favorite places on this earth. Thank you for writing about this beautiful southern city. For those that have not been there, they are definitely missing out on some magic. Oh yeah, and I love the tupelo Honey that comes from there. It’s the Cadillac!

    Reply
    • Duffy Grove - October 16, 2022 11:59 pm

      Apalach is beautiful, mysterious, definitely a lady. I fell in love with her soul, my husband, the fishing. I scroll through my photos often, and can take myself right back to the bay. Scipio Creek a favorite. Because of age, health we are making our last visit this coming spring.

      Reply
  56. Nancy Swider - October 6, 2022 3:13 am

    I only live 25 minutes from Apalach and you’ve captured the feeling exactly. Down alleys, dirt streets, and past all the painted Victorian ladies, it is a feast for the eyes and for the soul. Walking those streets is an immersion in bygone days, and the fortunate residents know a lifestyle that’s been lost to many other communities. It may sound harsh, but please, don’t visit, this town needs to stay undiscovered.

    Reply
  57. Melanie - October 6, 2022 5:26 am

    So beautiful. Makes my heart ache.

    Reply
  58. Te - October 6, 2022 11:13 am

    Some places have a magic that can’t be described, and yet you have done it. Now I want to visit this forgotten corner of Florida — and I’m not a Florida fan. I could see it all clearly as if I was renting space in your head.

    Reply
  59. Pam Powell - October 6, 2022 11:53 am

    Apalachicola…the hometown of my heart. If I could live anywhere in the US it would be there.

    Reply
  60. Cherie Roberson - October 6, 2022 12:12 pm

    I love this line 💜
    And I remember how sacred my own life felt when she said those words

    Reply
  61. Trent - October 6, 2022 12:54 pm

    Ahhh Apalach – John Gorrie – A/C – ICE – Oysters – Tom T. Hall/Redneck Riviera…Guif Shores up through Apalachicola…

    Reply
  62. James Payne - October 6, 2022 1:00 pm

    You captured it

    Reply
  63. Deacon Nick - October 6, 2022 3:45 pm

    In 1704, Antonio Cuipa (an Apalacha leader) and almost 100 Apalacha and other faithful mere martyred for their Catholic Faith during the birth of our nation. Unlike our history books — who insisted they were forced to come Catholic — there is incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, and these martyrs have been Beatified (called Servants of God), the first step to becoming Saints in the Church. Part of La Florida, the Spanish brought the Faith to most of the Panhandle — all the way to Jacksonville as they spread the Faith for at least 200 years leading to those martyrdoms. You can visit the grounds of these Martyrs at Mission San Louis in Tallahassee. In fact, these are the earliest known Native America Martyrs in the United States. Antonio Cuipa & Companions, pray for us!!

    Reply
  64. Nancy Driver - October 6, 2022 7:35 pm

    I love Apalach …. We had a house on St. George Island for years …. What a wonderful place and wonderful people …❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
  65. Susan A. Royal - October 7, 2022 2:00 pm

    My husband and I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on vacations, Visiting little out of the way places like these was our alternative. Touring old cemeteries, Wandering through falling down houses, eating at cafes with good food and friendly people, walking down cobblestone streets in old towns. To us it was as exciting as visiting New York. He’s gone now, but on days when I really miss him I close my eyes and those days come back again in technicolor.

    Reply
  66. suefullmerSue - October 7, 2022 2:08 pm

    Love your everyday tone Sean. I relate. ❤️👍

    Reply
  67. Charlotte Kirkland - October 7, 2022 7:28 pm

    Love this. Apalachicola is probably my favorite place in Florida, except maybe for St. George Island.

    Reply
  68. Larry Grainger - October 7, 2022 8:24 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for writing about the oyster capitol of the world, at least that’s what we called it when I was growing up in Panama City. And the greatest line I’ve ever read (Florida is the only state wherein the farther north you travel, the further South you go), I’ve always told people where I grew up was really lower Alabama. I remember when I was a kid and would go visit relatives in Miami, the locals would ridicule my southern accent; which, geographically speaking, never made sense to me. I’ll sound a little like Bob Hope here, but thanks for the memories.

    Reply
  69. Larry Wall - October 7, 2022 9:31 pm

    Sean – I an usually lengthy in my comments about your better columns but on this one I am reduced to just “Wow.” Just superb writing.

    Reply
  70. Billie - October 8, 2022 7:19 am

    Sean, to give all the reasons why I love this column would be like adding an unnecessary sauce to a perfectly-grilled filet mignon. I will print and keep!

    Reply
  71. Patricia Stanfield - October 19, 2022 12:27 pm

    Ain’t love grand?!

    Reply
  72. Dorothy Robinson - October 24, 2022 12:02 pm

    This is so beautifully written and expressed. It brought tears to my eyes. I felt I was there.

    Reply

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