PANAMA CITY — My wife and I watched a setting sun from the second floor balcony above Gracie Rae’s Bar & Grill last Saturday evening. The deck on the back of the Shrimpboat Restaurant building faces St. Andrew Bay, and the view of the water is gorgeous.
A sailboat moved into St. Andrews Marina under power as schools of fish churned the surface near a pier. An egret waded by the rocks at the entrance to the smaller marina feeding into Lake Ware, and a duck dipped under water to chase fish.
The breeze off the water was cool, promising autumn weather still to come. The sun was neon red and yellow, and its light limned the tree line, the condo shapes and the low clouds to the west, casting the whole sky and the bay beneath it in shades of crimson, gold and lilac.
I turned to speak to two gentlemen on the deck, and when I looked again, the sun was gone — its light muted, only the clouds alive with color as darkness spread across the sky and the water. It was like someone had leaned in and blown out the candles on a massive cake.
Sunsets are like life itself, I thought. They seem to take forever until you blink, and then it’s suddenly over.
Directly below us, folks enjoyed their suppers. One fellow explained to his date what certain wins and losses would mean to favorite football teams.
Behind us, inside the Magnolia Room, a family and their friends gathered to celebrate the 80th birthday of their matriarch. Children circulated with slips of paper for everyone to inscribe and hang on the “Wishes Tree.” People posed for photos, sang “Happy Birthday,” ate cake and sipped champagne.
The husband of one of the hostesses nursed a beer and quoted Ben Franklin, for whom the very existence of beer was proof of God’s love for humanity. I spoke with the mother of a friend, who told me all about her daughter’s surprising love for the rainy northwest.
Outside, the fall of night was complete. Stars began to pierce the city’s glare, and we could see flames rising from the pit on the front deck at Uncle Ernies. Now a sense of autumn had truly arrived.
Prompted by her daughter, the birthday girl shared with me a story about how someone had thought she started going senile 10 or 15 years ago, and she had let them continue under that misconception. One time, she had spoken to me at a Books Alive event, offering condolences for my daughter’s cat; her companion made apologies, thinking she was confused, but I had written about the loss of the pet and knew just what she meant.
“Keep’em guessing,” I said as the birthday girl patted my hand.