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Remembering Blanche’s Courtyard

September 13, 2010

Now that I am quickly, all too quickly, approaching fifty-years old, I guess it’s natural for me to look around for reminders of my youth.  Having been away from St. Simons for a number of years much has changed and there are certainly more people, but reminders are around; I only had to look.

There are the obvious reminders, Fort Frederica, the lighthouse, Christ Church, and all the wonderful old live oaks.  They remind me of summer days running barefoot with a freedom children just do not have today.  Of course, East Beach is there and each walk reminds me of my teenage days chasing the girls from Macon and Atlanta, down for the summer, and trying to talk them into going to the Saturday night dances at Sea Island.  Those reminders are nice.  Still, they only remind me of life in general, I had to look a little deeper for something that held a bit more meaning for me.

Our old house at Gould’s Inlet is gone, replaced by something large and modern that already looks in disrepair.  If you’ve lived here a good while, you will remember it as the “Pizza Hut” house.  It was pure joy waking up each morning to watch the sunrise.  While progress does make changes, I was sure sad to see my old home replaced with something that has less character.  Just being where the house once stood was enough to remind me where we grow up is like a member of the family, no matter how long you are apart, you’re still connected.  I know I will always be connected to that beach.

It was hard to find any comfort with a house that was so important to me being replaced, but at least I know that new families will build new memories of growing up on that special spot of beach.  Maybe that’s why visiting the old family business was so hard for me, it is  hard to see it, with the wonder it once held, in its current state.  The business, of course, was Blanche’s Courtyard.  Kirk Watson of Hodnett Cooper Real Estate was kind enough to let me look over her boarded-up remains, as the building has been dormant for some time now and only hints suggest her former glory.  Standing there, it was that former glory that came to mind.

I had the advantage of growing up in a family where the parents divorced before I really remember.  The result being four wonderful adults to guide me.  Blanche’s was a labor of love for my father and step-mother, Pat.  Of course, the most asked question regarding the restaurant was “Where is Blanche?”  To answer that requires going back to the beginning.  When Pat and Dad decided to open a restaurant, they knew better than to dive in to something without proper assistance, so they looked for a partner.  That partner was a man named Bill.  If you’ve lived on St. Simons for a very long time, you might remember him.  He owned Bill’s Pit Barbeque. This is back in the day when Brogan’s was Higdon’s Bait and Tackle Shop and Maxwell’s department store sold hot Spanish peanuts.  You could get a bag and a small Coke for about a quarter.

Anyway, back to Bill; his wife was Blanche. The original plan was for her to do the cooking.  Now, I was pretty young so I don’t really know the details but Bill and Blanche decided to end the partnership leaving the restaurant without a cook for its grand opening.  Having survived the opening, Pat was in New Orleans and found that wonderful picture that lived behind the bar, the lady’s name happened to be Blanche.  Be it luck or fate, she became the Blanche of Blanche’s Courtyard.  It became a running joke when “guests with reservations” we seemed to have lost, swore they made them with Blanche or they are good friends with her and not sure she would put up with that sort of thing.

There I was, standing on the basket weave brick floor where the Good Ol’ Boys Band played every Friday and Saturday night.  The bar now sits where the bandstand was but the old Victorian porch we used for it is now the bar’s ceiling.  Looking out one of the few places not covered with plywood, the courtyard bricks reminded me of a time when my brother Stephen and I spent days and days placing our share of the 250,000 bricks it took to complete.

Gone are the wonderful smells of dinners being prepared and the ever-present din of kitchen activity.  Now, the air is moist, dank and moldy from neglect and silence fills the air.  I should not expect a bank to really care about the history of the place; they simply want to sell it for whatever end someone wants.  Given the damage, there might be little hope the building will survive at all.  Still, for me it was sad to see the old girl rundown so.  Yet, the glimpses are there, the etched-glass window saying “Blanches,” old doors from an island hotel, and the decorative brick on the wall where the bathtub full of goldfish use to be.

When I think of all the work and effort to convert that old auto garage with a dirt floor into a restaurant, it really was nothing more than a barn when we started, it’s more a wonder it ever had success and not met this end years before.  Blanches was a success through the efforts of Pat, my dad, Jack Pommerening, Mr. Goodman, Cepheus Walker, Sue Anderson and countless staff over the years.  While the physical walls might be worse for ware, the memories of the life these people breathed into Blanches will never diminish.

As for Pat and Dad, Daddy passed away several years ago but Pat is still going strong.  She still operates the place they restored in Blue Mountain Lake, NY.  In the off-season, she volunteers as a paramedic making 911 calls.  The Energizer bunny has nothing on her.  For me, I’m happy to be back on the island and look forward to my next walk down the beach I love.

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23 comments

  1. Worked for Pat also, lovely lady. Miss Mr. Ceaphus and Ms. Ophelia. Run into them now and again. Ophelia sings with the McIntosh Shouters who usually perform during the Darien Fallfest in November. Did Blanches ever publish a cookbook…cause people ask me all the time about the (Crab stew) etc. I bet you could sell quite a few round here.


    • My aunt and uncle moved to SSI in the mid 80s just before I started law school at the University of Missouri, Columbia. They suggested I come down from to look for a summer job as I had lots of restaurant experience . By chance fortune Pat signed me on. I wound up spending my next several summers, and some college breaks, going down to SSI. Would also run up to Highlands with Pat and spend some time up there. She had me training and supervising the front of the house at both locations. She took good care of me and helped finance my education. I went back to see her at SSI and Highlands on many occasions. Her daughter Kathy and i became the best of friends. Kathy and I have kept in touch sporadically over the years…last saw her August 2010 when I went through Asheville on my way home to Roanoke, VA from where I know live in St. Louis. Highlands has changed so much. Hope Kathy is well. She has not returned my calls for quite some time. Managed to track down Pat’s number in upstate New York a few years ago and gave her a call to thank her for all she did for me during those years I was in school. She has truly been one of the mentors in my life. I remember well her sister Francine and other family members. Tend to believe I met you Mike. I was online tonight looking up info on where to stay and eat these days on SSI. I am thinking about a possible long weekend vacation in April or, more likely, in the fall. But, I want to get up to New York to see Pat as well. My biggest fear is that SSI will be so much changed…things start to seem that way in our early 50s. My years at Blanches were great. Everyone was a big family…and yes, there was some drama from time to time. But, it was good drama. Mike if you talk to Pat much, tell Attorney David Keesee from St. Louis sends her regards.


      • Thanks David, I sure will pass on your well wishes. St. Simons has changed a whole lot. Sadly, Blanche’s old building is gone but better for that than to see the old gal in such disrepair.


  2. Mike,

    Thanks for all the memories. We have been coming to SSI for almost 30 years, in fact we bought a 2nd home on SSI about 2 years ago.
    Blanche’s was by far the best restaurant on the island. We ate there almost everynight when we came down several times a year. Now the big question? How can I get the recipe for the famous cajun shrimp entree? It was by far the best I’ve ever
    had. I’ve never seen anything that even comes close and we eat lots of shrimp dishes.

    Ray


    • Ray,

      Sue is still with Pat at her place in the Adirondacks called The Hedges on Blue Mountain Lake. Here is the website: http://www.thehedges.com/ You can try to pry the recipe from her but I am betting on Sue. I am happy that Pat and Dad’s hard work holds a special meaning to you and your family.

      Michael


  3. Your post pulls my heart strings. I will be headed to the island soon for much of the same reason. Do you happen to have the address where Blanche’s was? I remember always asking to sit by the goldfish when my grandparents & I ate there. I’ll be looking for Craft’s motel & the old coast guard house as well.

    Jenn


    • It was at 440 Kings Way. The goldfish tub was a hit with all the kids. As a joke from time to time we would put “Sauteed Goldfish (catch your own)” on the menu above the tub.


  4. Thank you so much for sharing your memories. I worked at Blanche’s one summer and had a blast!- even to changing clothes in the walk-in so we could sing with the band! I will always remember Pat removing sutures from my chin (bicycle accident) while I laid on top of the bar one afternoon.


  5. What wonderful memories you have, Michael! And, thanks to Pat and Rip, I have wonderful memories of Blanche’s too. Blanche’s was sooo much fun and Paul and I loved to go there…we spent many a New Year’s Eve and special occasions (birthdays, etc.) there because it was such a special place! The “Good Ole Boys” were delightful, the food delicious, and Rip and Pat’s company just made the evening complete!

    They can tear down the building but our memories remain!

    I’m so very sorry to hear of Rip’s death…he was a fun, interesting guy. Love to Pat. I hope I run into you!

    Lynn Warwick


  6. Several of us at my office were talking about Blanche’s today & how much we loved the place. My wife & I used to spend the Ga/Fla weekend on Jekyl every year, but would always give up the free Friday night meal at our hotel to eat at Blanche’s. We both have very fond memories of the great meals and times we had there. I am so sorry to hear of it’s current state. Wouldn’t it be great if someone would come along and restore it and re-open it. We would make the trip from Atlanta to eat there in a heartbeat if that were to happen.
    Tnanks for the website, I enjoyed reading your story!


    • It’s good to hear people speak well of the ol’ gal. I would love to put her back to her former glory but shy just might be too far gone. Anyway, thanks for the kind word.

      Michael

      PS: sorry about the delay in responding. I was without a computer for a bit.


  7. Michael, well done. I loved it.


    • Thanks Rose Ann,

      It does my heart good to write about the old memories.


  8. Ahhh yes. Those were the good old days. ” You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone… “,

    It was a unique group of characters that wore many hats with one goal in mind. That was to get the sometimes overwhelming job done. All the while Pat and Rip right by our side, peeling shrimp, washing pots, whatever it took. Looking back, I developed alot of positive work ethics during my days at Blanche’s. Just one of so many things I appreciate about that time in my life.

    Another memory of those days, Michael, is the great Sunday’s we always ended up spening together as a group. The restaurant was closed, but we somehow ended up there for one chore or another. Always followed by dinner, either there or at your place on East Beach. Usually taking in the latest movie playing at the Brunswick Mall afterwards. Then there were those “class trips”. Blanche’s would close for a long weekend at the end of the summer. We would all pile in the extra long van and enjoy a few days on the road. All compliments of Pat and Rip.

    They may all be just memories now but they are cherished ones that will never change.

    Aloha, Jack


    • Pat always has a way of talking people into things beyond what they normally would be willing to do. With her, it just seems the thing to do. Maybe it has something to do with her willingness to jump right into the worst of problems right along with everyone.

      Jack, about the end of season trips – shhh!! remember, what happens on a road trip, stay on the road trip, but they were great fun to say the least.


  9. It was nice finally knowing the history of such a wonderful place. I’m only *cough*34*cough* but even I have some fond memories of it…especially, literally, of the courtyard. It was a great place to sit with friends with a drink & good food, while listening to good, live music. I was sad the first time I went home after she had been boarded up.


    • If only the walls could talk, of course if that were the case a fortune could be made in hush money I’m sure. I guess is places like Blanche’s were common, they would not hold the appeal they do. We just need to enjoy them when we find them.


  10. Michael, thanks for sharing such wonderful memories. I had the pleasure of playing guitar with “The Good Old Boys and Jenny” shortly before the restaurant closed. It was a heck of a lot of fun and I was really disappointed to see it go. I have another Blanche’s connection through my friend and fellow musician Scott Bachman, whose father was a member of the Good Old Boys back in the day.


    • I remember Sim Bachman well. Please give his son my best. I’m sure you had fun, it was always an adventure when the band played.


  11. WOW Michael! What a trip down memory lane! You know it is sad…Blanche’s is where we held our reception almost 28 years ago in December. We celebrated our 1st anniversary there with the cake top and all, but….glad you have made it back to the island!


    • Your welcome Gennene,

      Even though it’s mostly gone, I am very glad so many people have great memories of Blanche’s. Dad put a large portion of his life into it and having it remembered keeps him remembered too.

      You know, Pat still has that picture of Blanche.


  12. Thank you so much for the wonderful “walk down memory lane” My grandparents lived directly behind Blanches on Lord Avenue and I loved listening to that Rag Time Band through my youth.

    Great Memories!!! Thanks for the reminder of how good things used to be before the greed set in.


    • Thank you Sue,

      The Good Ol’ Boys might have been a bit cheesy even in the day but I did enjoy hearing them. Of course, some of the neighbors might have exhausted their good will about 11:30 on Saturday nights.



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