Friday Night Lights

Long before the football players ever take the field under the stadium lights, the team takes the town. Early in the morning, at gas stations and coffee shops and grocery stores, people are sporting “Pace High School Football” tee shirts. There is an unspoken understanding that the game is a common destination later that evening.

Pace-Milton game

The stands are always packed for the annual Pace-Milton crosstown rivalry in late October.

The summer sun is still high and the concrete bleachers are still hot as we pass through the gates and hand our tickets to the cheerful, efficient booster club members. Lines are already long at the concession stands as fans load up on icy beverages and nachos dripping orange cheese sauce. The big grills are fired up and the scent of hamburgers drifts through the stadium.

The bleachers fill quickly with enthusiastic fans. It’s a reunion of sorts, with people of all ages finding their place among friends and family. Many moms sport large pins bearing the grinning face of their son and favorite player. The backs of their tee shirts typically read “Dylan’s Mom” or “#42 rules!”

The sound system belts out favorite country tunes from a local radio station until game time gets closer. As the time clock counts down, the high school’s junior reserve officers, crisp in their uniforms and motions, march to the sidelines carrying the flags. Marching bands for both sides arrive, and we measure the caliber of our opponents by the number of tubas in their band. May sound funny, but one year we were seriously challenged by a team whose band sported 13 tubas!

We stand as the colors are presented mid-field, and then the national anthem echoes from one side of the stadium to the other. The other team is introduced and the home fans are conspicuously silent. Many make their way onto the field to form a “spirit line” welcoming the home team.

“And heeeeeeere coooooooome the Paaaaaaatriots!” As the players charge through the spirit line and colorful paper banners, exploding onto the field, fireworks soar behind the scoreboard and the crowd leaps to its feet, erupting in cheers for their hometown sons and brothers. On Friday nights in Pace, Florida, everybody’s a Patriot!

A beautifully executed play at Pace High.

A beautifully executed play at Pace High.


Playing Possum

An unassuming metal building just east of Milton houses one of the area’s best-kept secrets – The Copper Possum antique shop. More than two dozen dealers gather under a single roof to showcase their treasures.

A stand of old live oak trees graces the grounds at Copper Possum.

A stand of old live oak trees graces the grounds at Copper Possum.

What sets this apart from other “antique malls” is the vision of the shop’s owner, Kim McCarthy. She selects her dealers carefully and keeps a close eye on not only what they’re selling, but how things are displayed. Each booth showcases its eclectic offerings in a pleasing, stylish vignette.

An inviting array of vintage textiles begs exploration.

An inviting array of vintage textiles begs exploration.

What buyer can resist stepping into a tiny room furnished entirely in shades of Rachel Ashwell’s “shabby chic” whites and pastels? One spot, charmingly fitted with log siding, showcases vintage tools, buckets and primitive wood furniture. Lamps, books, artwork, linens, and toys tempt buyers’ memories and wallets.

Look at that gorgeous white lawn dress. Right out of Downtown Abbey!

Look at that gorgeous white lawn dress. Right out of Downton Abbey!

In a shop filled floor to ceiling with ever-changing items, one of the most reliable things about Copper Possum is the rate at which items turn over – while the quality is consistent and the selection generous, things don’t tend to stay around long, so if you find the perfect porch quilt or a vintage twig rocker, you’d better pay for it today, because it’ll probably be gone tomorrow.

Treasures as far as the eye can see...

Treasures as far as the eye can see…

I don’t typically go in there looking for anything in particular. Instead, I prefer to go in and let something find me. For instance, just this week I determined to pass through Copper Possum in search of two vintage-looking counter stools for my kitchen. (I sold the ones I had in the garage sale fever that gripped me recently. Turns out I probably should have held on to those until I had replacements ready.) I came out with a vintage European grain sack that will be so perfect stuffed with a down-filled pillow and perched on the weathered old bent cypress chair on my front porch…also a Copper Possum find. Was I looking for the feed sack? Well, no. Does it bring me joy? Why yes it does! And so this is how I go to Copper Possum looking for one thing and end up being found by something completely different.

P.S. I’ll post a porch picture once it’s all together, I promise.

Apple Market Musings

I found a store yesterday worthy of being featured in a story somewhere, sometime. It’s called the Apple Market and it’s on Scenic Highway in Pensacola. It’s tiny, independently and locally owned, and it carries a lot of things either made locally or associated with this immediate area. Instead of SUV-sized shopping carts, they have little contraptions that look like one hand-carried basket on a shelf above another one underneath. The aisles are narrow, the architecture and lighting is a throwback to the 1970s, and the shelves are crammed with things that at first glance almost feel visually overwhelming. And then you start reading labels and looking at packages and thinking…”hmmm, this pasta looks delicious, and it’s in the refrigerator with a hand-written date on the label.” Right next to it on a shelf is a row of mouth-watering herb-seasoned marinara sauces with an ingredient list like something out of a Moosewood Restaurant cookbook. Fully cooked ribs from a legendary local restaurant are vacuum-sealed and resting in the freezer. Pickles that rival anything a beloved relative could concoct in her summer kitchen…whole bean coffee from New Orleans, the kind with chicory in it…ciabatta olive bread from a downtown French bakery…salad dressings and flavored syrups and mopping sauces and lovely crackers and hummus dip and salads and sandwiches at a little take-it-and-run deli…this is the kind of place where you walk in and ask the owner, “What’s good today?” and he calls you by name and recommends the scallops and fresh-baked crusty bread and perhaps a nice bottle of Chardonnay and you buy the whole meal just based on his recommendation, because you trust him and you know if you stop by tomorrow he’ll be interested in how you cooked the scallops and how good they were served on your deck while watching the sun set over the bay…this is the shopping experience I want to associate with living on the Gulf Coast. It is, if I moved away and came back for a visit, the first place I would go, and I’d let them pack me up a week’s worth of food just based on what I told them my plans were while I was in the area. Imagine being able to tell someone, “I don’t know, some seafood maybe, but mostly just comfort food” and having them get your order exactly right, supplying you with all the ingredients to make all your favorite recipes and meals, even if the meal is just bread dipped in flavored olive oil and a big leafy salad.

This photo by local photographer Brian Butler captures the Apple Market experience beautifully.

This photo by local photographer Brian Butler captures the Apple Market experience beautifully.

You would love this place. I don’t dare share these impressions to this extent with my family; they would look at me and say, “It was a grocery store, mother, pricey and overcrowded. Twenty dollars for ribs! Even if they were from Dreamland. That’s too much.” But how do you put a price tag on the experience of eating Dreamland ribs, elbow to elbow with people you enjoy being with, sopping up their incredible sauce with thick slices of white Bunny Bread, indulging in their better-than-anything banana puddin’ while marinating yourself in the whisper of woodsmoke and perfectly cooked ribs that wafts around the restaurant and drags you nose-first over to the giant open smoke pit? When I buy their ribs at Apple Market, that’s what I’m buying. I’m just sayin’, okay?