Saturday, July 21, 2012

How to Feel at Home on the Gulf Coast

For a little more than a fortnight, Alabama has been my home. I spent a week unpacking, a week working, and then, a week entertaining guests. Last Sunday I took a two-hour Megabus ride from Mobile to New Orleans. There I met up with my aunt, uncle, and one of my cousins from Houston. We spent a few days exploring the Big Easy, including its abundance of beignets, pralines, and gumbo. We wandered the French Quarter, tried on Venetian masks, toured a plantation, and (my favorite) saw the sculpture garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Beignets at Cafe Du Monde

New Orleans Museum of Art

From New Orleans, we drove back to Mobile.  I was a little concerned about how comfortably four people could inhabit my wee flat, but having so many guests helped me feel at home in some surprising ways. Here are some things I learned--or was reminded--during their visit:

1. Taking the back roads is (almost) always better

Returning from New Orleans, we abandoned I-10 for Hwy 90, which runs within sight of the Gulf for most of its course through Mississippi. We stopped several times along this road, enjoying houses, train depots, and coffee shops that looked nothing like the shops and buildings I know from Indiana, Texas, or Tennessee. Old roads tend to go through the hearts of towns and cities, to challenge hurried and harried travel, to veer away from homogenous chains and obnoxious billboards.

Being touristy in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Within Mobile, we also ventured off the main roads several times.  Not all of these routes actually took us to our destinations, but they did give me glimpses of the city I might not otherwise have seen, such as the railroad yards and docks that help me see what it means to live in a true port city.

2. Wandering is wonderful

I prefer to do my wandering on foot, but my apartment location doesn't really allow that. However, my aunt and uncle were more than happy to drive all around my neighborhood and city to see what there is to see. Thanks to them, I discovered that the grocery store down the road sells boiled peanuts, a Southern treat I had never tried. We also found a little restaurant across the bay that serves delicious shrimp and grits, a dish I am now determined to learn to cook.

Enjoying "the South's favorite snack" with my uncle

3. Hospitality is home-making

My aunt kept saying, "We're making such a mess of your clean apartment!" but I was happy to see dishes in the sink, leftovers in the fridge, and unfamiliar shoes on the doormat. Of course I like to keep things clean, but hosting my family was my first chance to really use most of my space, cookware, towels, and more. Watching beloved people move through my rooms, I seemed to hear them say, "This is your place, your home. Otherwise, how could we be here with such ease?" I'm so thankful they came, and I cannot wait until my next guests arrive.  Could it be you?

How do you make yourself at home in a new place? And when are you coming to visit me in Mobile?


  1. You know you're at home when you are comfortable taking the back roads by yourself. It's something I'm remembering as I spend a good chunk of my summer in and around the small, Midwest town in which I grew up. As I drive my family around familiar (to me) back roads and shortcuts, my oldest daughter sometimes says "None of this looks familiar..." in a worried tone of voice. I assure her that, yes, I know where we are and where we're going.

    To get the full effect of the back roads around Mobile, you have to take them with Doug.

  2. Bethany, I absolutely love the shrimp and grits from the Flying Biscuit cafe here in Atlanta. Google "creamy dreamy grits Fly biscuit" and the recipe will come up. It's one of my favorite dishes to fix!!!

    1. Thanks, Lauren! I'll have to try that!