The ties that bind Alabama and North Florida

October 17, 2018


PANAMA CITY, FL – (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)


To me, the state line that runs between Alabama and the Florida Panhandle has always been blurred.

Being born just about on top of the state line in Florala, Ala. and raised in Pensacola, Fla., I have family on both sides of the line. My folks in the Sunshine State started out in Alabama, but when faced with having to purchase school books for their thirteen children, relocated the family farm to just over the state line in the Oak Grove community to take advantage of Florida’s free books and tuition. The family grew and is spread over the entire panhandle, or as we have come to call it recently, ground zero for hurricane Michael.

The Panhandle residents, who have more in common with Alabamians than they do with those in the Southern part of their own state, have spoken of how they survived the horrible storm and how they’ll rebuild. But even when empty-handed, homeless, hungry and broken hearted, they’ve also talked about how they will help each other. That’s where the overlap of the two states comes together. Determination, love of place, loyalty that can sometimes be mistaken for stubbornness, and overflowing generosity are characteristics of both Alabamians and North Floridians. It isn’t just a shared geographical location, but also a shared belief system.

Almost every one of my fifth grade classmates had grandparents who lived in Alabama. Many families had relocated to Northwest Florida for jobs connected to military bases or Monsanto. It wasn’t unusual to run into friends at the Stuckey’s on I-65 during the holiday breaks as we headed over the river and through the woods. We’d fill their Alabama houses at Christmas, and they’d visit our Florida homes during peak beach months.

In the Panhandle, we’d sit in the boat on Saturday and in a church pew on Sunday. We fed ourselves with seafood we caught and vegetables we’d grown. We were Jimmy Buffett with a side of Bill Gaither. We were pirates and preachers, beach bums and farmers. We owned family beach shacks and small ranch houses in town. Our neighbors were hardworking and wore air brushed T-shirts and flip flops, overalls, or crisp military uniforms and our entertainment was Friday night high school football or watching a squad of F-14s fly-over our own backyards.

It’s no surprise that much of the help pouring into the devastated area is from neighboring Alabama churches, families and civic groups. In my own city about 30 miles from the state line, as soon as roads were cleared, the people of Alabama were on the move with trucks loaded with supplies, headed to Florida and like me, many of them had relatives they were going to check on.

Good people live everywhere, and help will surely come from all over the country, but there’s an undeniable connection between Alabama and the Panhandle. Old maps show unrealized plans for joining the two areas into a new state but it never happened. Even if it was never made official, the drawl of Alabama and the twang of North Florida still meld and you can’t tell the difference amongst friends, family and neighbors.

The similarities that bind us transcend lines on maps, race, religion and (almost) team loyalties. Our families and friendships blend into both states and we are blessed with the ties that bind our hearts in love and healing.


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  • Just dropped off some water at our Fire Station (Venice) that they will take when the next shift goes north to help. It could easily have turned and hit us, so one wants to do at least something.

    • Water is so essential and you were a sweetie to donate! I sent superhero underwear for little boys.

  • I am always so impressed with the human spirit after a tragic storm or fire. I’m sure your heart was heavy with worry as the monster storm approached…I feel like we got so lucky in OB, Fairhope and Mobile…We have a good family friend in the oil business and he loaded up a big truck with diesel fuel and took it to Panama City to help keep generators etc. running. It is so uplifting to see all the help and generous donations flowing in, the American way of helping each other in times of need is truly special indeed…

    • I think especially here along the coast, we’ve all been through so many storms, we really identify. But this time, it was so devastating I think we are all stunned. People are good and shame on the few that want to scam or steal from others during their time of need. You are so right Jenna, our area was blessed this time. So glad your friend was able to help with the fuel for generators. So important!

  • Leslie, although many are currently struggling due to the devastation caused by the hurricane, it is evident the ties that bind many are not the material items this world has provided for them rather the way of life, love of family, and time spent together is the glue that forever holds them as family and friends. When life puts a mountain in front of us, it is up to us to climb and always better when we can climb together.

    • Beautiful. It isn’t material, but that’s hard to realize when you are standing in rubble that was your entire life. You are so right, and time will reveal exactly what you said. Family, time together and love . . . those things can’t be blown away. Thanks so much Beemie.

  • You know, at the age of almost 65, as I look back on my life, I am so thankful to have grown up in old Florida, before the Turnpike, and Mickey (altho I think Disneyworld is a great place) and high rise condos on the beaches. And while I’m from the central east coast, I know the panhandle well and grieve at the devastation I see on the news. And I know what you say Leslie Anne is so true, ghat neighbors will help regardless of differences. I live in Houston now, and saw that same spirit in the aftermath of Harvey last year. I pray we never loose that aspect of community, no matter we are!

    • You hit it exactly right. The spirit of community! Thanks so much Leigh.

  • I lived in Lynn Haven from 1978-1984 and spent summers as a teen working at a restaurant on PCB, Loved the regular influx of Alabama folks who came back to the business season after season, always remembered me! The panhandle is a special place!

    • Such a fun place to have grown up. Glad the Alabama folks treated you well.

  • Ellen Shook says:

    Your words paint a vivid picture of life in that part of the South and evoke the feeling of connectedness better than any map ever could. The devastation is mind-numbing. You are correct that old Florida is now gone with the wind, so to speak, because it will look like Anywhere USA when it is rebuilt. I hardly recognize the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Katrina. We used to visit Ray’s grandmother there, and I am really glad I took a lot of photos back when. I do hope none of your family was injured or worse, and that everyone will be made whole. Or as much as they can be after something like this.

    • That’s exactly right Ellen. Gone with the wind – lots of wind! The world is changing enough without forced change like this, so it’s such a shock. Some of my Dad’s cousins lost their homes but we can’t get in touch with them yet to know the details. Phone service is gone in most places and power won’t be fully restored until the end of the month.

  • You’ve delivered the background of your people here in a way that makes me see them so clearly, the heart and soul and guts of them. I wish I had a way of making this go national. In part, you’ve answered the question that I’ve asked over and over after viewing the television videos. “Where do you even begin? Can it be done, rebuilt?” I don’t know how but I believe that it will be done because of the people who live and love there.

    We rented a house on Cape San Blas a few years ago and drove every few days into Mexico Beach to the Piggly Wiggly and then to Apalachicola for oysters and shrimp and grits for lunch. It was a favorite part of Florida for me, a little step back in time. I’ve hurt for it this week and will cheer the people on, and all those who make it happen.

    • Oh, thank you so much Dewena. I’m so glad you were able to visit this area when it was still “old Florida.” I predict 10 years from now it will be paved over and look very different. Thanks for the prayers. These people will need them.

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