Posts Tagged ‘Childhood memories’

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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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