The original post was published April 2011. I’ve update the post with new photos and recipe tweaks and republished.
There are a couple of phrases in our American English idiom that stick in my craw. The first it, “It may or may not.” Now, exactly what are you saying when you say something “may or may not” do this, that or the other thing. Of course it “may or may not.” Everything “may or may not.” It either may or it may not. It will or it won’t. So what’s the use of this phrase? Why waste your breath saying something so patently obvious? I’m not fond of “the same difference” either. Isn’t that a redundant way of saying “the same”? Do you need to pair same with difference to articulate your point? If the difference between two...whatevers are alike, that makes them the same. Right? “Six of one and half-dozen of the other” is describing two situations/objects/choices that are the same. The word difference isn’t needed here.
After we made the move 25 years ago from Mobile, AL to Tampa, FL, we never visited Mobile twice in one month. The 500+ mile car ride was not an easy journey. We did, however ,make two trips in March of this year. One trip was to attend a family wedding and the other was a chance for to me run in the Azalea Trail Run. During these back to back visits, same and difference, in close proximity, took on new meaning.
We visited the church that we attended while living in Mobile. Even though twenty-five years had passed, walking in the door of South Brookley United Methodist Church was like coming home. So little changes in twenty-five years. The familiar surroundings and faces were comforting. We were welcomed warmly. The members who attended twenty-five years ago who remained in the area and were still living, sat in the same pews. The choir director, as a teenager, babysat for my children. She greeted us graciously from the pulpit. She now has daughters who are of babysitting age. One day, we will arrange for her daughters to babysit for our grandchildren while visiting Mobile. Even if only for 10 minutes. That establishes another connection to the past and that’s the sort of stuff that keeps my ol’ heart pumpin”. And then we saw Mrs. Fell who has Alzheimer’s Disease. Her daughters warned us that their mother may not recognize us. Mrs. Fell’s face lit up the second we came into her view. We were from her past and that part of her memory bank was functional. She knew exactly who we were and she was tickled to see us. So many consistencies. So many familiar people. Things were the same. I was very happy.
It had been years since I’d been to Dauphin Island, a barrier island off the coast of Mobile. A Sunday afternoon seemed perfect for a drive out to “The Island”. While we were there, I wanted to find a restaurant that served Blue Crab Claws. Sam and I both love them and we just can’t find them in Tampa. So, off we go to the island along with our daughter, Marcia, Sam’s mom and Acy and Aggie who are relatives. Acy wanted us to see the Dauphin Island Fishing Pier. Several generations have fished off that pier including ourselves. We pulled into the fishing pier parking lot and started the walk over the sand dunes to the pier. The sun was exceptionally bright and it seemed that I had a hard time focusing my eyes. It sure looked that fishing pier was built on sand now.
That’s because the fishing pier is built on sand now. The Town of Dauphin Island’s website says this:
“The 850-foot Dauphin Island “Fishing” Pier is now on dry land due to the recent migration of Pelican Island joining the public beach shoreline. (A similar situation occurred in the 1600s and created Pelican Bay, which was one of the reasons the French first settled here). The Pier structure has now been modified to provide sightseeing and picnicking. Steps at the end of the Pier give quick access to the gulf shoreline.”
I haven’t been able to determine when the pier was built but at least two generations before me fished off that pier. Contrast this drastic difference to the sameness of South Brookley United Methodist Church. I have stood near this sign and obeyed the rules. Now, you would be littering a sandy white beach.
If you look beyond the tidal pool, you might notice a slight elevation in the sand. That used to be the shoreline.
Dauphin Island has always had a much more laid back personality than Gulf Shores, AL, a beach community on the other side of Mobile Bay. While Gulf Shores overbuilt and had a solid mass of condos along the beaches, Dauphin Island remained quiet and a home to a few thousand residents but never the tourist attraction of its sister beach community. That still hasn’t changed. We went into four restaurants to ask about Blue Crab Claws. Four times we struck out. Notable was the lack of patrons in all four of these restaurants. Much more sameness. Dauphin Island is still the sleepy little barrier island it’s always been. We still didn’t have crab claws. Someone recommended we try a restaurant on the main road coming into Dauphin Island. That would be restaurant number five.
You’ve got to think twice about going into a restaurant named Topless Oyster. That could have a couple of different meanings. Acy and Aggie had been there before and they assured us the waitress would not be missing part of her uniform. And we could keep on our clothes, too. Every beach community in the United States has a restaurant that looks just like this.
In we go to the Topless Oyster Raw Bar and Grill. We hit pay dirt. They have Blue Crab Claws! Eureka! Finally we get to eat. This makes everyone happy.
And I’m the happiest one of all. This is my dinner.
Blue Crab Claws with a simple breading. So delicious.
The stark difference of the Dauphin Island Fishing Pier sandwiched between the sameness of South Brookley and Dauphin Island has stayed on my mind. I’m sure a philosophical mind would explain it in terms of a metaphor of life or use a beach analogy suggesting a comparison to the changing tides. I’m not able to explain it in those terms. If you come up with something, please write me and let me know. All I know for sure is that I sure loved those crab claws.
Y’all come see us.
West Indies Salad
On the way to Dauphin Island from Mobile, Alabama, you pass a local restaurant called Bayley’s. Bill Bayley, the founder, is credited with inventing the West Indies Salad which is a layered concoction of onions and crab meat marinated in a simple oil and vinegar dressing. Mr. Bayley was very generous with his recipe and it has been published in numerous cookbooks as well as the Mobile Press Register. It is simple to make and simply delicious. I suggest eating West Indies Salad atop fresh salad greens. The salad greens cut the richness of the crab. Also, squeeze on fresh lemon or lime before eating.
1 medium sweet onion, finely diced (I prefer Vidalia)
1 pound fresh crabmeat, I use a combination of lump and claw meat
4 ounces Wesson oil
3 ounces vinegar, mild flavored such a rice or Prosecco
4 ounces ice water
salt and pepper
Spread half of the onion over bottom of large dish. Cover with separated crab lumps, then the remaining onion. Salt and pepper. Mix oil, vinegar and ice water and pour over crab covering all. Cover and marinate for two to twelve hours. Toss lightly before serving.
Make you a salad of fresh greens with a big dollop of West Indies Salad smack dab in the middle. Or, eat it with crackers. Or, make a salad and eat it with crackers. The only thing that could have made this any better is if I had caught the crabs, picked the meat and rushed right in to make the salad.
- On the way to Dauphin Island from Mobile, Alabama, you pass a local restaurant called Bayley's. Bill Bayley, the founder, is credited with inventing the West Indies Salad which is a layered concoction of onions and crab meat marinated in a simple oil and vinegar dressing. Mr. Bayley was very generous with his recipe and it has been published in numerous cookbooks as well as the Mobile Press Register. It is simple to make and simply delicious. I suggest eating West Indies Salad atop fresh salad greens. The salad greens cut the richness of the crab. Also, squeeze on fresh lemon or lime before eating.
- 1 medium sweet onion, finely diced (I prefer Vidalia)
- 1 pound fresh crabmeat, I use a combination of lump and claw meat
- 4 ounces Wesson oil
- 3 ounces vinegar, mild flavored such a rice or Prosecco
- 4 ounces ice water
- salt and pepper
- Spread half of the onion over bottom of large dish. Cover with separated crab lumps, then the remaining onion. Salt and pepper. Mix oil, vinegar and ice water and pour over crab covering all. Cover and marinate for two to twelve hours. Toss lightly before serving.