FREEPORT—Nick’s Seafood Restaurant sits on the Choctawhatchee Bay. I am eating steamed blue crabs with butter sauce, and I am wearing half the meal on my shirt.
Most people know this joint as “Nick’s in the Sticks.” Namely, those who remember what Walton County was like before it turned into a giant cruise ship.
Our area has changed considerably over the years. For example, long ago you could buy live bait at the grocery store. Those days are gone. Today, you go to the store and you see out-of-town fraternity boys surfing atop shopping carts.
But Nick’s hasn’t changed. The seafood place still has fishing boats out front, chickens roaming the parking lot, and views of the Choctawhatchee.
My mother sits across from me. We are eating seafood, looking at the bay. And we talk about the old days. This is what families do. We talk. It’s a shame that there are so many things I can’t remember.
My memory is getting worse the older I get. I suppose this happens to everyone sooner or later.
One day you’re sharp as a bread knife; the next day you’re driving through traffic, radio blaring, and you notice the drive-thru bank deposit tube lying in your passenger seat.
A few days ago, I asked my friend’s elderly mother about this problem of forgetting things. She is a tough woman who has survived a lot in her life. She buried three husbands, and two of them were just napping.
“Being forgetful ain’t all that bad,” she said. “Means you’re an old person. Learn to love it ‘cause if you’re not getting older then you‘re dead.”
Well, I have already started forgetting big things. Like certain people I grew up with. I just ran into one such man a few days ago. We weren’t close, but we knew each other. He was talking about the time when five of us went fishing.
“I don’t remember that,” I said.
“It was definitely you,” he said. “Remember, you were dating that weird girl who was really into politics?”
I had no recollection of it. I was thinking that this guy’s antenna wasn’t picking up all the channels.
Until later that night, when he texted a photo. And sure enough, I was in the picture, standing before a lake.
I guess you can’t pick and choose the memories you keep. And that’s exactly what I’m thinking about while eating blue crab. I am thinking about how little I can recall. And I’m trying to remember as much as I can.
How did my sister do in her school play? Did I ever see the aforementioned play? Was it a good play? Do I even have a sister?
What was my favorite song when I was eighteen? Was it “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry?” Or was it “Boy Named Sue?”
And didn’t I used to drive my truck along the dirt roads in Freeport, blaring those exact songs, and once I got pulled over by a very grumpy policeman for running a stop sign because I was singing with the radio? Yes, I think I did.
And who was the old man at work who always bought me a hamburger for lunch? He never let me pay for anything. Once, he stole my truck when I was busy working. He returned my truck before I ever knew he was gone.
The next day, I figured out that he had filled my tank with gas. How could I forget his name?
My mother smiles at me from the other side of the table. She pats my hand and says, “It’s part of getting older, don’t worry about forgetting. Your brain remembers the important stuff.”
I suppose it does. After all, I remember her. She and I sort of raised each other.
At this stage of my life, it’s hard for me to believe how much she went through when my father left this world. And it occurs to me, this very moment, that I am about the same age she was when it happened.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like as a young mother, living through hell. But she did it. And unlike me, she isn’t lucky enough to forget things. She has a sharp memory, and remembers everything. Both good and bad.
But you’d never know she suffered during her prime years. She sits across from me, wearing a sundress, eating fried okra. She’s grinning.
“The bay looks pretty,” my mother says. “Doesn’t it?”
“It never gets old, does it?”
I look at the bay outside the window. The gray water has been a focal point in our lives. Every year I keep getting older, but the bay doesn’t age a bit.
And it reminds me of my whole life. I’m thinking about good dogs, blue crab, nice people, and anyone who has ever been careless enough to truly love me. I’m remembering my young mother, long-haired, lean, and beautiful, holding me on her hip. Smiling.
I’m remembering the days when you could buy live bait at the grocery store, and most of all…
I’ve forgotten what I was talking about.
Ann - July 24, 2019 7:53 am
I think if you could see back in time you would see the bay has aged, but has made it no less beautiful. Why? Because it keeps on doing what God placed it here to do…….and so do you! Thankyou for your words of
encouragement and helping me remember the South as I knew it!!!
An 83 year old!!!!
Jim Sturges - July 24, 2019 10:28 am
I’ve been wondering how many people are like I am in that they read the obits, big news, and then your essay for that day. Thanks for being there for us.
Jack - July 24, 2019 12:04 pm
Count me in that group!
Martha Owens - July 24, 2019 10:57 am
Welcome to the club! Maybe forgetting some things is a blessing in disguise.
Elizabeth - July 24, 2019 11:00 am
I was going to tell you something, but I forgot what! Great story!
Joe Patterson - July 24, 2019 11:17 am
I am with you brother my mom was the rock thank God for her he must have been her rock because she raised us three kids after Dad left and we all are fine a little crazy at times but fine.Enjoy your mom mine is gone and all of us miss her ,but the memories of her are always with me .Keep writing it makes the start of every day better.
Bobbie - July 24, 2019 11:21 am
Your Mom said it best…you remember the important things. I am 83 like your reader, Ann. There’s no way our brains are capable of sooo much memory! I remember more than I would like at times, then there are the times I stand at the fridge or pantry for the longest, trying to remember why I’m there. Goes with the territory I guess. Thanks again, Sean for your insight on aging…and for taking time to have lunch with your sweet Mama?. You’re a good man.
Pam - July 24, 2019 12:02 pm
My family has been vacationing in Grayton Beach for 20 years. Part of our tradition is eating lunch at Nick’s on the way down. That I remember! I just discovered you and really enjoy reading your daily posts.
T.C. - July 24, 2019 12:41 pm
My grandma used to say it was because your brain done got too full…
Connie Havard Ryland - July 24, 2019 12:55 pm
I like what your mom said – we remember the important stuff. Our brains blur the edges, I think, so we can live with the bad memories and still be willing to make new ones. Life is hard, and beautiful, and full of so many minutes that there’s no way to remember everything. Love and hugs.
Melanie - July 24, 2019 1:06 pm
Maybe it is nature’s or God’s way of telling us to focus on the here and now and maybe the future. With many decades behind us we owe ourselves the gift of stopping to smell the roses more often and cherishing the truly important things – like water, dirt roads, dogs and pickup trucks. ❤️
MaryBeth - July 24, 2019 1:35 pm
Is this the same Nick that used to be on Blue Mountain beach?
Linda Moon - July 24, 2019 3:04 pm
“This is what families do”….such a beautiful and familiar phrase. Another one I frequently use is “Grow old or die young.” I’m thankfully in the first category. As to the songs, it would impossible to choose between those two immortal classics. Unfortunately, I probably understand the hell your mother went through. I wish I COULD forget the hell of another mother who suffered the unthinkable. And, thanks for reminding me to check on that napping husband of mine. I’m not ready for the husband and his naps to become just a memory!!
Karen Hazel - July 24, 2019 3:10 pm
I used to live at Choctaw Beach in the Sixties. My father was stationed at Elgin. We went to Freeport School. Took a run down bus to school. Nick’s was there even back then. I remember a girl named Connie Nicks. Choctaw Beach was a beautiful place. We lived across the street from the beach with a swamp in our back yard. I have terrified of my father. He didn’t die soon enough for me.
Shelton A. - July 24, 2019 3:26 pm
Tell the stories of your youth to yourself in your head…you remember them that way. As for why you walked to the kitchen and your mind is blank, nothing you can do about that except go back to the room you were in before the senior moment. If you’re lucky, you’ll figure it out.
Janet Mary Lee - July 24, 2019 4:35 pm
It is not too bad forgetting if you can get together and share time. The older you get, the more a few minutes of sharing means! I love that you spend time appreciating the important things and being with your Mom. I had told myself I would always remember sitting on a warm pillar top at my grandma’s front porch letting the sun warm me. Staying there was bliss. Lots of neat nooks and crannies of the sort that have also passed with time. I was only 3 or 4, and I still remember. Pretty good for a 66 year old with a couple of head injuries! We were meant to walk slowly and meaningfully thru life!! Glad you do!! Enjoy!!!!
Linda Southern - July 24, 2019 11:25 pm
My sister lives in Freeport. I hope to run into you one day at Nicks when I am visiting her. She moved there when Freeport only had one grocery store. We called it “The Stinky Store” but boy did they have good hand cut thick bacon ?. Keep up the good writing. I read my Bible first thing in the morning and then your column. Great way to start my day. And by the way, I get you…..
Anita - July 25, 2019 4:06 pm
I was sitting at the Freeport Cafe waiting for my hamburger when your column popped up! Read it to the table.
Robert Chiles - July 25, 2019 4:19 pm
My wife swears that we went to Niagra falls when we were first married (even has a photo of us having lunch at the falls) but I don’t remember that at all.
Estelle - July 25, 2019 8:20 pm
My memory is like an old file cabinet with one bent drawer. When you want to get something out of it you tug and tug. Sometimes you can get it open and sometimes it won’t give an inch. The a few hours or even days the drawer springs open with the answer. I remember very little of my childhood but fortunately my sister remembers it all.
However when I read your column your memories bring some of my old memories come to light. Thanks for the memories. ?
throughmyeyesusa - July 27, 2019 6:51 pm
This is a wonderful analogy! You must be a writer as well.
Thank you! May I steal it for my own use?
throughmyeyesusa - July 27, 2019 7:07 pm
This is another wonderful column, and we all have these blanks in memories of our youth. But watching a spouse as his memory – everyday memory – begins to fail, as everyday tasks become more difficult, computer skills vanish, and where things belong becomes a challenge . . . . This is a reality in which the “file cabinet” is becoming increasingly harder to tug open and the effort more and more discouraging. The memories within are not just precious but vital to our daily lives.
It’s not a subject for a column, Sean, but it’s a very real and a grimmer side of the lighthearted picture you paint of the common failings of memory we all experience.
Steve Maynard - July 28, 2019 7:26 pm
Use to eat at Nick’s a lot. Love the place. Hadn’t eaten there in years. I’m in Destin. Going there for sure on this visit. Nothing changes at the Bay or at Nick’s. Thanks for the reminder.