When I heard that Panama City Beach would be celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, I got a little nostalgic. One of my favorite pictures of my dad was made there in January 1961—a snapshot taken by my mother during their honeymoon.

For years, our family rarely vacationed anyplace else. We’d usually stay at a little mom-and-pop motel with cinder-block walls, a rectangular swimming pool, and a kitchenette. (My mother always packed her skillet.) Our vehicles didn’t have A.C. back then, so we would head out in the wee hours of the morning, while it was still cool. I got to take along a buddy, my older cousin Kathy. Once the two of us were old enough to walk down the beach all by ourselves, we were instructed to steer clear of The Hangout because “there might be some of those hippies down there.” Of course, the possibility of seeing an actual hippie just made us want to go even more. Occasionally, we’d get brave enough—or curious enough—to sneak over to The Hangout and listen to the Supremes, the Beach Boys, and the Beatles as we watched the older kids do the Swim, the Twist, and the Watusi on that concrete dance floor.

We lived for nighttime rides at the Miracle Strip Amusement Park. And I absolutely loved Petticoat Junction, where you could ride a train into Tombstone Territory—just a tiny, faux-Western town nestled into some Florida scrub pine, but I felt like I had stepped into an episode of Gunsmoke. The train traveled past a fake cemetery, and I still remember the inscription on one of the tombstones: “Here lies Les Moore. Caught a slug from a 44. No Les no more.” I thought that was hilarious.

Many years later, my husband and I rented a high-rise condo with a stunning view of the Gulf and reconnected with the amazing beach that hooked me as a child and never let go. Part of me was a little wistful for the old amusement rides and motor courts, which had given way to swanky resorts and hip restaurants. Then again . . . I didn’t have to pack my skillet.

Here’s to you, PCB.

 

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