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A Safe Harbor

“When I was in school at Bon Secour, we didn’t have a bus to ride.  We walked.  It took us oh I’d say about thirty minutes to walk to Swift School, but we liked it.  That was in the late twenties and there weren’t any paved roads.  Just dirt.  

One day your Uncle and George and I were walking along the road to school.  Up ahead of us about thirty feet or so George spotted what looked to be the most beautiful cat he had ever seen.  It had the prettiest tail.  Well, we walked up close to the cat because we wanted to pet it.  As soon as we got close enough it quickly hopped several feet in front of us, lifted it’s tail and then sprayed what we thought to be urine right at us and then scurried off into the bushes.  I remember it was chilly that day and I had on my red sweater.  George and I kept walking to school.  We went in the classroom building and to our seats as usual.  Before class was started our teacher walked down the aisle to go shut the front door of the school house.  As she walked past George and I she stopped dead in her tracks and began sniffing and smelling into the air.  She looked down at us and immediately told us to walk outside.  She asked what we had been doing on our way to school and George immediately told her ‘All we wanted to do was pet the cat.’  She quickly understood.  ‘That was no cat, you’ve crossed the path of a skunk!’  She sent us home and told us to go immediately and tell Mama what happened.  When we got home and walked up to Mama she smelled us and knew what had transpired.  We took off all of our clothes and were made to wash them immediately.  We used an old fashioned wash board and took turns scrubbing our clothing, most importantly my red sweater.  The stinch never left those clothes and as badly as Mama wanted to salvage my good sweater, we couldn’t even keep it in the house.  Mama had to bury it in order to get rid of the smell that loomed.  I’ll never forget it as long as I live.  But that was my childhood in Bon Secour.  We walked everywhere we went.  And you know, they’ve named a little place down there ‘Skunk Bayou.’  It’s quite fitting I suppose.”  

My grandmother, Margaret Wenzel Wilson giggled as she retold this story.  She told this story to my sister, my brother, and myself every time she put us to sleep when we stayed with her.  We loved to hear her tell of the skunk.  We always asked questions and wanted to know more about growing up back when you had to walk to school.  Today, Swift School still stands in the heart of Bon Secour.  It is home to grades Kindergarten through fifth grade.  The old school house still stands although additions and new buildings have been added.  Bon Secour, AL lives on and even though most of the roads are paved, the same eclectic river community of old still exists.  

Nestled along the banks of the Bon Secour River you will find several fresh seafood markets.  In fact, Bon Secour Fisheries, the largest, is a leader in the Southeast’s seafood industry sending trucks of fresh seafood out daily to multiple states.  You’ll also find Safe Harbor Seafood, Billy’s Seafood, and Aquilla all open daily with boats that bring in fresh catch fish & shrimp daily.  Bon Secour is French for “Safe Harbor” and during times of old boats used to take refuge up river during major storms when they could not maintain in the Gulf.  

Another local favorite is The Tin Top Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar.  Bob & Patty Hallmark have truly captured the essence of this fishing village with their glorious dishes that pay homage to everything seafood in Bon Secour.  Their oysters come fresh from Bon Secour Fisheries almost daily & every Wednesday night they offer an “All You Can Eat” fried Mullet special.  The mullet is delivered by Safe Harbor Seafood and comes fresh from the water the very day it is served!

To share your old story of Coastal Alabama email me at or contact me at!

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