For as long as I can remember, my family has vacationed on the white-sand beaches of Fort Morgan, Alabama. The little beach cottage, affectionately dubbed Déjà Vu and destroyed by hurricanes and subsequently rebuilt, has been in my family since the late 70s. In 1988, we celebrated my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary in that house, crammed in like happy sardines in the front room. In 2002, my parents bought the house from my uncle and aunt, who built a gorgeous house on the lot next door. In 2006, I hosted my bridal party at the cottage before heading to our nuptials in Natchez, MS (ten years to the day this Friday). It’s safe to say that this house, and its surrounding coastline, has more sentimental significance to me than most of the things in my own home (people excluded, of course). Most people don’t realize that Alabama has a coastline, (and that’s fine–it’s crowded enough) but with the Hangout Festival held annually in Gulf Shores, our little “Redneck Riviera” is getting more and more popular, evidenced by the gobsmacking Saturday summer traffic on Highway 59. I spent most of my childhood in metropolitan Boston (Brookline, to be exact), went to FSU for college, and then moved to northwestern Montana to follow a guy who had a certain love of hiking. The guy is now my husband, and after four adventurous years in Montana, we decided to seek out a home closer to our East Coast families. That place was Mobile, Alabama, which just so happens to be 50 miles (as the crow flies) from my childhood vacation home. Coincidence? Probably not.
Although we are close enough to the beach house to spend weekends there all year round, the 4th of July at our “compound” (remember, our extended family is next door) is always a raucous family affair. My parents, sister and her husband and two kids come down from Boston, and it’s such a joy to see the cousins play together. Children of all ages run in every direction, and the adults guard the shrimp boil: a gigantic pot of roiling shrimp, sausage, corn, and potatoes, along with a lot of other little things that make a person happy (whole cloves of garlic, for one). When the shrimp are curled and opaque, the potatoes just tender, and the corn succulent, my cousins drain and ceremoniously pour the contents of the pot on my aunt’s and uncle’s newspaper-lined kitchen counter. And man, is it a sight.
I know. Knocks your socks off, doesn’t it? And, to be honest, it probably seems a little daunting to recreate at home. Fear not. I’m missing the legendary boil this year, so this past Saturday, we did a little mini boil right on top of the stove, and it was fantastic.