Tonya and Don Boyd had a special connection to Mexico Beach, one made more heartbreaking by the powerful blow the hurricane delivered to the small fishing community last week.
“You always just felt like home there,” said Tonya, via phone from her Tuskegee, Alabama home. “It always felt like a second home.”
The couple vacationed at least twice a year in Mexico Beach, about a four-hour drive from their residence outside of Auburn, during the three years they have been together, staying at the El Governor Motel on each trip.
When Don and Tonya became engaged five months ago, a destination wedding to Mexico Beach was the obvious choice.
“We wanted to have a beach wedding,” said Tonya, 42. “I hate to say it but until a couple years ago I had never seen a beach sunset.”
During one of their stays at the El Governor they walked next door and checked out the wedding chapel at the Driftwood Inn, the perfect setting as far as they were concerned.
The couple was put in touch with Mexico Beach resident “Marryin’ ” Jack Mullen to preside over the wedding and the date was set.
And so, at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 6, Mullen joined the Boyds in wedlock and after the ceremony, it was down to the beach for photos.
“We could not have asked for more beautiful weather or a more beautiful sunset,” Tonya said.
Michael, in a few days changed all that, rendering Mexico Beach a debris pile at the center of the storm.
The Driftwood, like so many structures in Mexico Beach, was destroyed.
That has made the Boyds the last couple to be married at the Driftwood Inn, at least for the foreseeable future.
“It will never be the same,” Tonya said, of the Driftwood. “It will be a long time, if it comes back. I don’t know how long they’ve been marrying there, or how many couples, but we were the last.
“That gives (the wedding setting) more meaning.”
But two significant pieces of this wedding portrait have yet to fit into place.
One, Mullen was to formally file the marriage license on Monday before the storm. Tonya has been unable to contact Mullen as communication across the area has been impacted by Michael’s winds, which downed cell towers and power lines with abandon.
The same factors inhibit her ability to reach the Bay County Courthouse records office, so while they were married, Tonya and Don have yet to have it officially sanctioned.
Secondly, Tonya has yet to receive her wedding photos, shot by a professional out of Tallahassee.
Those photos will hew a tad to the bittersweet: They will highlight a happy couple in love as well as some of the last images of the Driftwood inn as it has stood for decades.
“We took one shot that include the entire back of the inn,” Tonya said. “We just hope they all come out. They are certainly keepsakes now even more.”