Ben Hardaway spent many a summer as a youngster near Indian Pass.
Having not seen the area in some 50 years, Hardaway, 94, was in town this week reliving the carefree days of youth.
“It was good to get back down here,” Hardaway said Monday over lunch with his family while recounting memories of the area with Betty McNeill, whose late husband Jimmy lived on Indian Pass since well before World War II.
“I haven’t been here in a long time. I was raised up and down this area.”
Hardaways’ ancestors made an impact in the area.
His grandparents owned one of the first homes built at Camp Palms, which is roughly 1-1.5 miles from Indian Pass, between the Pass and St. Joseph Peninsula.
Originally established as a fish camp, and named for eponymous trees that populated, Camp Palms would become something of a resort.
Hardaways’ ancestors – his daddy and granddaddy were building contractors – built the bridge spanning Apalachicola Bay that links Apalachicola with Eastpoint.
“My daddy liked his boats and you could always tell how well my daddy was doing by the size of his boat,” Hardaway.
He lived much of the year on the family’s tobacco farm near Quincy, but the summers were spent on the peninsula, where you could see St. Joseph Bay and the Gulf of Mexico at the right spot.
It was a youth spent largely in the wild, Hardaway said, whether on the water or on land, where cattle and pigs grazed lazily.
And he even learned how to raise pigs after a sow gave birth to eight piglets in a shed on his family’s property.
“I once saw a deer run past the house on the beach and run on to Indian Pass and go to St. Vincent Island,” Hardaway said. “We fished for everything and I pretty much spent the summer barefoot and in shorts.
“It was wonderful. I don’t think I wore shoes until I moved to Columbus, Ga.”
At the end of the summer, the owner of the mother, Jimmy McNeill, gave one of the pigs to Hardaway for his good work feeding and caring for the eight young pigs all summer.
Hardaway still lives near Columbus, in Midland. He told the story of his grandmother, who also had a home near Warm Springs, GA and was a friend – as Hardaway told it, a bit of a cocktail companion – to a young governor from New York named Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“When his wife was around, he didn’t drink, but when she wasn’t, he loved to drink and talk to my grandmother,” Hardaway said. “He could charm a bud out of a tree.”
Hardaway visited Camp Palms throughout the 1920s and 1930s before heading off to college at the Virginia Military Institute and the ensuing outbreak of world war sent his life on another path.
His last trip, Hardaway recalled, came while he was stationed at the Pensacola Air Base just before World War II.
On Monday, he regaled his family and McNeill with photos from an old scrapbook that provided picture to the words that spilled, lucidly and vigorously, from his mouth, though McNeill noted the memories came from a different era altogether.
“We didn’t enjoy Indian Pass the way y’all did,” McNeill said with a laugh. “We were always too busy trying to make a living.”
Hardaway recalled the beginnings of Cape Palms, his grandparents living next door to a former governor of Alabama.
He remembered the bountiful fishing and in particular the day his daddy snagged a huge tarpon that became a permanent fixture over the fireplace.
He recalled his family bringing laborers from the tobacco farm to Camp Palms to glimpse the ocean for the first time, recalling the wonder in one man’s voice as he breathlessly told Hardaway’s father that, “He couldn’t see the other shore.”
And he remembered St. Vincent Island and the menagerie of animals that various owners brought to the island – bears, Sambar deer from India, even zebras, though not, apparently, an elephant.
“That was a fascinating island,” Hardaway said. “They imported these animals.”
The manager of the island for years was a man named George Cameron, who also worked for Hardaway’s daddy at one time.
“He taught us how to fish, he taught us how to dance,” Hardaway said. “He was a real character.”
The place Hardaway described seemed far removed from today, with few houses and a natural beauty lending a bit of nirvana to a man in his youth.
“This is pretty country, it was very wild back then,” Hardaway recalled.