When I was six years old, we were awakened in the wee morning hours one summer night to the sound of car horns blowing and people yelling from their car windows — “jubilee.” Fairhope was awake and everyone was headed to the bay. I thought it was a dream.
The Fairhope, Alabama area on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay is one of two places in the world that experiences a natural phenomenon known as a “jubilee.” Due to unusual atmospheric conditions and a reduction in oxygen levels in the water, bottom-type fish and crustaceans are forced towards the shore into shallow water. They arrive in droves.
Everyone heads towards the bay as quickly as they can, grabbing cast nets, scoop nets, flounder gigs, and buckets, as we did that morning. The family piled into the station wagon with our aunt, uncle, and cousins, who picked us up on the way to the Orange Street pier.
Gigging flounder with a sharp pointed gig was so exciting, probably because we weren’t normally allowed to use a gig. When we got home with as much seafood as we could carry, Mom started a huge cooking pot on the stove. As she dumped a bucket-full of blue crab, with pincers clacking, into that boiling water, we squealed with horror and delight!
When I eat hot crab dip, crab bisque, and especially fried crab claws, I can see those crabs entering the water. A sense of excitement comes rushing back. I can see the steam rising and still can’t believe how brave Mom was to drop the live creatures in!
Fairhope is a picturesque little town with lots of eclectic shops and eateries. The downtown area still has the small-town look and feel that I remember growing up there in the 1960’s and 70’s. It is known for its artisans and hosts one of the best-known Arts and Crafts festivals in the South in March each year. It has gained notoriety as one of the top places to retire in the U.S.
The municipal pier is wide and clean, perfect for walking, with a gorgeous rose garden in the center parking area. As teenagers in the 70’s, there was not a lot to do, except to simply drive around and around the circular parking lot of the “big pier” with a carload of kids. If it was very late, the occasional policeman would tell us to be careful, drive safely.
I remember seeing my little brother in the bay at sunset, flipping in and out of his two-man raft. Watching the sun set into Mobile Bay is one of my favorite things to do in the world. Looking out at the horizon brings an even keel to the most tumultuous of days.
The quiet lapping of the tide against the shore, the occasional flip of a fish, most likely mullet, and the cry of a seagull are all such peaceful sounds. The sand seems to stay cool except in the hottest summer months.
Joggers and walkers enjoy sidewalks all along the bay front, while looking up at the huge old live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. Sculptures of metal and wood adorn the cliffs and marina areas, indicating Fairhope’s focus on artwork. The sailing community is active, and watching or participating in regattas is a favorite pastime.
When I tell people where I’m from, they always say “Oh, I love Fairhope.”
I smile and nod and say, “Yes, I do too.” I know they have no way of knowing what races through my mind. People who get to call Fairhope their hometown know. They’re lucky enough to be living the dream.
My Top 10 Things to Do in Fairhope (visit http://beautifulfairhope.com/):
- Fairhope Municipal Pier: Walk to the end of the pier, have a drink in the restaurant on the pier, go to the picnic and beach area to the right of the pier
- Walk along the bluff of the Municipal Pier and view the sculptures. Watch the sunset
- Fairhope Museum of History: Watch the 30-minute video of the unique history of the single tax colony and early settlement. The Fairhope Information Center is next door
- Shops on Fairhope Avenue: Visit the Page and Palette Bookstore one block over.
- Arts and Crafts Festival in March: 2018 dates are March 16, 17, 18
- Punta Clara Kitchen: A handmade candies shop in Point Clear in a historic house
- Tom Jones Pottery: A renowned potter with shop open Mon.-Sat., 10:00- 5:00
- Restaurant: Fly Creek Marina: Casual with wonderful outdoor dining
- Restaurant: Gambino’s: Family owned, great Italian fare; excellent seafood
- The Grand Hotel Marriott: a lovely resort hotel; the Birdcage Lounge is open to the public, a must visit