Present day Tang-O-Mar is a Destin area neighborhood of thirty-two homes, extending south of U.S. Hwy. 98 to the Gulf of Mexico. It is about 500 yards in length and three lots deep. It has always been a shell and gravel road, maintained privately by the homeowners. Only a few owners are year-round residents; most homes are rented seasonally and are used part-time by their owners. Second and third generations of the original owners come to enjoy the beaches and the quiet life, for although it is just a half mile from the Silver Sands Factory Stores and Sandestin Resort, it is nicely removed from the hustle and bustle of the area. A procession of golf carts heading beachward is usually the greatest activity by far.
Tang-O-Mar history goes back to the days immediately following World War II, when the Windes Family purchased the parcel, partly with down payment money my father earned playing poker when he wasn’t fighting the enemy in the Pacific. The property cost $4,000.00, which was a large sum in those days. My grandfather coined the name Tang-O-Mar, explaining
it meant “taste of the sea.” He had arrived with his wife and three sons in the thirties, after being laid off during the Depression from his professor’s job at the University of Virginia. They built a home where Silver Sands is now, and lived in a tent and their car for a year until the home was livable. The boys trapped small animals and sent the skins off to Sears, Roebuck, which paid them by return mail. They shot wild hogs on what is now Sandestin Resort. The family raised chickens and gardened. Chickens and eggs were sold to what was then Valparaiso Army Air Station. The weekly order arrived via biplane and was dropped at the family homestead. The order was then delivered to Valparaiso by car.
Daddy built our three bedroom concrete block house after work and on weekends. He had a construction job and ran a party fishing boat part-time. We were the only house on Tang-O-Mar for some time, and the road came to be used by military pilots as a marker toward their landing field at the Army Air Station. Mother called more than once to complain to the base commander that his planes kept waking up her babies. Over the years the Windeses sold off lots to help raise their families, and my Dad built several of the houses. We were poor, but didn’t know it, as there were always things to do—a wonderful beach, freshwater lakes (but be careful of the water moccasins!), hunting, building forts, and beach buggy riding. In those days there were no rules about driving on the beach, and all our old cars were stripped down for going full tilt on the Gulf beach. My brothers pulled water skiers and bicycles behind the car—it’s a wonder all five of us kids survived! We were always allowed far afield and were only forbidden to swim in the lakes because of gators or snakes. That rule was followed “most of the time.”
As a small girl of five or six, I remember walking to the beach and peeking over the sand dunes to see whether there were cows or bulls in the water. Cattle had free range then, and when the biting dogflies were pushed south by the fall winds the cattle would head for the water and immerse themselves up to their noses to avoid those flies. And they weren’t in a very good mood, either, especially the bulls. We did not venture onto the beach when we saw a bull nearby.
Our closest neighbors were a mile away and we would walk or bike to each other’s houses to play. We had no television until I was twelve. In the early years we had a Coke box instead of a refrigerator. The ice man and milkman made regular stops. Schooling was interesting: Mother home-schooled me for kindergarten, as it wasn’t offered at public school. I rode to a two room schoolhouse with my teacher for grades one and two; grades three and four were at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Ft. Walton. We weren’t Catholic, but it was the best school in the area. My brother and I rode the Trailways Bus, which stopped at Tang-O-Mar for us. The school was a mile from the bus station, so we walked unless it rained, in which case the bus manager called a taxi for us. Mother paid up at the end of the month. She was at school to pick us up every day. Fifth and sixth grades were at Destin Elementary, another two-room schoolhouse. Once when I was in sixth grade and the lower grades teacher was sick, the principal (the grades four, five and six teacher) asked me to substitute teach. I did, for two days, and was paid $4.00 per day. You had to be self-reliant, enterprising and hands- on to make things work in the early days; conveniences were few and far between. It was good for all of us.
There were few vacationers to our area when I was growing up. No one knew Destin, Florida, when I went to Syracuse University in the 60’s. Now everybody knows Destin, and they come regularly to visit. And we love it. It’s given many of us a good living, and a chance to stay in our favorite area of the world. In addition, when you’re sitting on the beach looking at the incomparably beautiful water, nothing has changed at all. May it continue, and come visit a slice of Old Florida, Tang-O-Mar.
Holly Windes Marcell
Ocean Reef's Head of Housekeeping (Retired)