Bayou Joe's is one of our all time favorite places to go. Usually we haul out the paddle boat and paddle across Massalina Bayou to "dock" at Bayou Joe's. Of course everyone complains about the horrendous wake we make. (Ha!)
Bayou Joe's, once known as "Eat at Joe's," is on the west side of Massalina Bayou down from McKenzie Park and the Bay County courthouse in downtown Panama City. It looks like a hole in the wall, but the food and ambiance make it one of the favorite places in Panama city for locals. It is right on the water and boaters dock and disembark right at their tables. (To come by boat just come down by the Panama City Marina and under the Tarpon Dock draw bridge.)
The first time we brought our 25 foot Chapparall deck boat there, everyone prepared to abandon their tables in fear that we would batter the building and bring everything crashing down and everyone into the water. There was actually applause when we successfully backed away after eating. We took our bow for having provided the entertainment. Part of the fun of that spot other than the beauty of the bayou is watching folks dock their yachts right next to the deck. Talk about skilled captains! But nobody handles a paddle boat like we do!
Our most memorable visit was the first time we brought Miss Lily to Bayou Joe's. She was only 18 months old and were being ever so careful. It was cool and I wore my charcoal grey sweat shirt and pants. But, the best laid plans... Miss Lily was enchanted by the birds and the huge fish that came when we threw the bread crumbs. Since our friend Sally, who sat opposite me at the table next to the water, had the water gun that we aimed at the birds greedily grabbing up the bread crumbs Miss Lily of course wanted to sit with her. But, when the water gun passed to me, Miss Lily decided to favor me with her presence. Sally held onto her as I reached for her. But just at the moment of the pass off, Lily, walking between us, decided to assert her independence and jerked back, losing her balance.
I cannot describe the fear that lanced through my body as I watched that baby fall, cornflower blue eyes filled with shock...and trust...locked with mine. I remember the thoughts that shot through my brain...her falling and spiraling down into the depths of the black waters with the big fish we'd just been feeding. I thought of throwing myself onto the floor and grabbing her arm. But my arms are short, I thought, what if I miss her? Jump in, I decided. But if I jump in too close, I might bring her down with me. I should jump further out and further down and catch her as she comes down so I can push her up where others can get her. And so I jumped. From the depths of the water I looked up and saw light ...but no Lily. I searched around me there in the dark waters. No Lily.
Frantically I swam up. There they told me that Sharon, our favorite waitress, who is blessed with long arms and experience with this having happened before, had immediately flattened herself on the deck and jerked Lily out of the water. Her little arm was still reaching for me, Sharon said.
Other boaters tried to help me. I swam to one of their boats and climbed out on a ladder. I rushed to Lily who by then was swathed in a towel and sitting on Sharon's lap. "Where Mimi," she kept asking. As soon as she saw me she started crying. But so was I. My husband was still trying to process what had happened, it had all happened so fast. He was sitting opposite the water and by the time he realized what was happening I was already in the water.
Lily and I went home immediately and got into a tub of hot water and just held onto each other. Thank goodness we had not come on paddle boat that time. I had nightmares for weeks imagining what would have happened if it had been dark and the water was black and I could not see light or Lily. Horrors.
I learned two things that day. One: When your child (grandchild...there's no difference) is in trouble you do not think twice about doing WHATEVER it takes to save it. Two: That child will tattle immediately to its parents about WHATEVER happens. We were apprehensive about our daughter and son in law's reaction so we thought...maybe we shouldn't tell them. Miss Lily, however, as soon as she saw them, plunked down on her padded pampers and looked up at them pitifully saying, "Fall. Water. Bayou Joe. No go Bayou Joe."
And that was her mantra until she learned to swim.
Now, she loves to go to Bayou Joe's. She sits between us in the paddle boat with her life jacket on and we all enjoy the ride and the climb onto the deck. Of course, she is very special to Sharon who is our hero.
That event was so memorable we had to get Bayou Joe's into the background in
the portrait Panama City artist Victoria Alexander painted of her for us.
Note: Victoria's studio is in downtown St. Andrews and is well worth a visit. She is extremely talented.