JACKSON: The birth of a new Redneck Riviera instiution?

Hardy Jackson, Gone South

The other day, I watched grown women dressed in evening gowns go for a sunset swim in the Gulf of Mexico.

Let me explain, if I can.

If you are one of my regular readers, you may recall that in July my 97-year-old mother had a fall, and after her surgery we relocated her to an excellent rehab facility near Destin, close to our beach cottage. Having just retired, I decided to stay down so I could visit and lift her spirits. Just how much “lifting” I am doing is open to debate. After a few weeks, I remarked that she was getting to see me more now than she did when she was at home. She paused, thoughtfully, and replied, “Well, I brought it on myself.”

I am waiting for one of my less-charitable former colleagues to suggest that I broke my mother’s leg so I could stay down on the coast.

Anyway, she is making slow-but-steady progress, thank you for asking.

Now, back to the swim and the swimmers.

My friend, Art, and I went down to the beach to watch the sunset. As the sky turned red, four women of undetermined age (not young, not old, comfortably “mature”) descended the stairs, with a photographer in tow, and set up about 50 yards west — between us and the sun.

They were wearing dresses one might expect to see at a museum opening soiree or a Mobile garden party. Two were attired in off-white chiffon, one in black with rhinestone accents, and the fourth was stunning in a color Art described as “cherry.” All four ensembles were floor-length and fashionable.

The tide was out and in places the water was shallow, so we assumed that they planned to wade out and, with the hems of their garments touched by the gentle waves, have their pictures made so they could remember “girls’ weekend at the beach.”

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And maybe that was the plan.

But if it was, three things foiled them.

First, the sandy bottom on which they planned to stand was uneven.

Second, the gentle waves were not so gentle.

And third, alcohol was involved.

As we watched, the lady in black was the first to wade out. She stumbled and, caught by a wave, sat down gracefully in the surf, managing, however, not to spill her wine.

Peals of laughter from the others rang across the water, and as the photographer snapped away they all jumped in and, silhouetted by the setting sun, cavorted.

Now, if you know the Gulf you know that sunset is when sharks feed, and even though it was likely that their ladylike cavort would have driven any sharks to deep water, I nevertheless felt it was my Christian duty to warn them.

So, at Art’s urging, I boldly went over.

Once there, my curiosity got the better of me and I asked what inspired this activity.

Happily, they told me they were from Tennessee. They were members of the Tea Party.

And that, in addition to just having fun, there was something called “trashing the dress” involved.

I was familiar with Tennessee and the Tea Party, but “trashing the dress” was new to me. So I asked and they explained how, in some circles and among some people, when a woman gets divorced she “trashes” her wedding dress. With all the cavorting going on, it was never entirely clear to me if one of the party was actually “trashing” her wedding dress, or if a husband back home was in trouble, or if this was a trial run in case one of them anticipated a real “trashing” later on.

As for the reference to the Tea Party, I didn’t ask.

Meanwhile, the photographer continued to take pictures and I suppose I will be in someone’s book of memories back in Tennessee — or someone will be trying to explain to husband or boyfriend how that old guy got mixed up in what was supposed to be a “girls” outing.

As night fell, I took my leave and returned to my house to muse over the meaning of what I had seen.

Was this, I wondered, an indication of the direction the Tea Party is taking? Or was I witnessing the birth of a new coastal “event”?

Since beach weddings have become such a cash cow for locals — renting rent cottages to the guests, arranging the setting, catering the food and drink — why not do the same for divorces?

“Dress trashing” may never rival mullet tossing, but done right, it can leave lasting memories for those involved and turn a tidy profit for beach businesses (especially the wine aisle at Publix).

“We provide everything but the dress” could be the slogan.

Hmmmm, I may be on to something.

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is retired Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: hjackson@jsu.edu.  He is the author of The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera (University of Georgia Press, 2012), which is available at amazon.com