Return to Sand Island


For me, growing up in Alabama, the waters of the Gulf always held a certain charm. My family vacationed regularly on Dauphin Island, Alabama’s large barrier island not too far from the Mississippi state line. Once part of “New France,” the island was named after the heir apparent (“dauphin”) to the Sun King, Louis XIV. Despite its regal beginnings, we knew perfectly well that this was not Malibu; it wasn’t even the upscale white-sand beaches of the Florida panhandle. This was beachgoing in Alabama and that meant a certain grit: rundown motels with their blue-collar, fishing clientele; a waterscape pocked with remnants of piers ruined by hurricanes; sticky, salty, delicious air; water always a bit cloudy from the tangle of brackish rivers that pour into Mobile Bay from the Mobile-Tensaw Delta; shrimpers with their sun-baked skin, Miller Lite, and cigarettes; brown pelicans preying on unsuspecting mullet; and afternoon downpours announced well in advance by dark clouds galloping across the horizon.

Then there was small Sand Island, a barrier island to a barrier island. Called “Pelican Island” on older maps, it rose enigmatically from the Gulf, a lonesome patch of windswept sand. You could get there only by boat, and once you had arrived, there wasn’t much to do but size up...

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About the Author

Thomas Albert Howard teaches history and directs the honors program at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. His most recent book, God and the Atlantic: America, Europe, and the Religious Divide, will be published by Oxford University Press in 2011.