I sleep most nights to the sound of ocean waves … courtesy of Alexa. I hope someday the sound will be real. It has been my dream to live by the sea for as long as I can remember.
My love of the beach grew out of the vacations of my youth. We visited the beach every summer. Windy Hill in North Myrtle Beach was our go-to beach when I was little. The Shorecrest Motel snuggled up to an inlet. On the other side was a campground where my cousins vacationed. They would come up and visit us at the Shorecrest. Slathered in Sea & Ski Suntan Lotion, we would spend all day playing in the surf and the sand, riding waves on floats rented from the closest lifeguard stand and building sandcastles. Mom and Dad would force us to get cleaned up in the late afternoon so they could drive to Calabash, NC for fresh fried seafood. To a kid who was worn out from playing in the sand and surf all day, it seemed hours away. (Imagine my surprise when I made the trip as an adult and found it was only about twelve miles!) In the 1970s, Calabash consisted of only a handful of restaurants, all serving seafood. We usually went to “The Original” down on the Calabash River. The view across the marsh was breathtaking. Often, we would have to stand in line outside in the broiling sun for an hour or more to get in. It was worth it. Mom and Dad would get seafood platters and give me their deviled crab, my favorite. We always left stuffed, but on the way back dad would tease us, saying, “Who wants to stop for ice cream? Hamburgers? Doughnuts?” There were never any takers. Though we had a pool at home from the time I was five years old, we couldn’t wait to get back from Calabash to get into the motel’s pool. The water usually felt like a bathtub at the end of a sunny summer day.
Both of my parents were seashell and shark tooth seekers. We would find ourselves miles down the beach sometimes, not realizing how far we had gone with our heads down looking for the glint of a shark tooth in the edge of the surf and collecting baby’s ears, cockles, and the occasional whelk shell. If I said it once, I must have said “Carry me!” a thousand times in this situation. Mom used to get furious because Dad always managed somehow to be ahead of us on the way back and she had to do the carrying.
Occasionally I could be bribed to leave the sand behind and head for Wacky Golf, a miniature golf course in Windy Hill, or to The Village of the Barefoot Traders (now Barefoot Landing), which in those days was a series of little huts with a glassblower, wind chime dealer, and tee shirt makers, not the full scale shopping experience it is today. Those bribes usually involved Krispy Kreme Doughnuts or bubblegum ice cream, two of my favorite things about the beach. On rainy days, we went to a little two screen theater to catch a movie. I remember waiting in a line that wrapped around the building to see The Biscuit Eater when I was seven years old. On cloudy days, we sometimes headed down to Murrells Inlet and wandered through Brookgreen Gardens, a paradise of beautiful flora and sculptures by Anna Hyatt Huntington and others. I was in love with the ancient Live Oaks, dripping in Spanish Moss.
On particularly good years, we took trips to Florida: Daytona Beach, Cocoa Beach, Fort Walton Beach and Orlando. I suppose what most kids remember about Florida vacations is the trek through Disney World (where I once showed up barefoot and had to wear adult-sized flip flops all day because that was all they had at a nearby drug store). I remember the treasure trove of shells I’d never found in South Carolina and watching the dolphins jump completely out of the water at Sea World in Orlando and then seeing the same thing on the beach at Cocoa Beach. In Daytona we stayed at a motel that had a high dive that must’ve been fifteen feet above the water. Both Curtis and I could not get enough of jumping and diving off that high dive. It was the closest thing I’ve experienced to sky diving. What a thrill! That was in the 1970s. Today, most hotels don’t have a diving board of any kind because of the liability the owners would face if someone got hurt. What a loss! How we loved showing off our flips, swan, and backward dives!
By the time I was in junior high the Shorecrest Motel had become a little rundown, so we found a new home base down the beach in South Myrtle at the Ocean Reef. I always begged to take a friend along on our trips and Angie or Charlene and I would try to catch the eye of any cute boys in residence at the hotel that week. We slathered ourselves in Hawaiian Tropics and worked on getting as tanned as possible. If we begged long enough, we’d be allowed to walk the half mile or so to The Pavilion Amusement Park where we’d blow $10.00 on Skee Ball, then cash in the tickets we won for a $3.00 stuffed animal. We’d gorge ourselves on cotton candy and marble slab fudge, then feel sick riding the Corkscrew Rollercoaster or the Mind Scrambler.
We usually found ourselves in the game room above the Ocean Reef’s indoor pool or the one next-door at the Holiday Inn at night, playing air hockey, foosball, and pinball. Rainy days were spent shopping at Myrtle Square Mall or The Gay Dolphin Gift Cove.
When I was in 10th grade, my mom decided we would try something different and she rented a house at Holden Beach, NC from a work colleague. Though it is one of my top five favorite beaches now, I absolutely hated it as a teenager. Ironically, for the same reason I love it now. It was deserted, with no amusement park, no restaurants, no game rooms, no mini golf, no teenage boys …. nothing. I’d taken along a new best friend, Terri, and we spent the days on the beach, complaining about the dearth of teenage boys, and in the canal behind the house using raw chicken as bait to catch the abundance of crabs. Though the crabs were good eatin’, they didn’t make up for the lack of guys our age.
Needless to say, we were back at South Myrtle for the rest of my school days, by this time at the Sea Mist Resort, a huge complex with many different pools, a mini golf course, a playground, and its own small grocery and ABC store. There were guys galore and I have fond memories of me and my friends flirting the days and nights away on the beach, in the pools and on the swings at the playground. By then, I knew my veins were filled with as much saltwater as blood and I was happiest with my toes in the sand. I was thrilled when I found out that my high school journalism class would get to go to the The Southern Interscholastic Press Association (SIPA) convention at Myrtle Beach my junior year. Though I was the editor of our high school newspaper, I don’t remember making it to too many of the learning sessions. Scott, our newspaper photographer and one of my best friends, and I spent our time walking on the beach and taking pictures instead.
As graduation neared, I began working on my mom, knowing it was going to be next to impossible to get her permission to go to “Senior Week at the Beach”. I had gotten to go my sophomore year because I went with my friend Jonna, her parents, and her entire church youth group. We had stayed off the beach a few rows, sort of removed from the action, but we had had a blast (by my standards). My mom had always been very overprotective. (Thanks, Curtis … I have a feeling you being five years ahead of me had something to do with that.) I was that kid who could only go out on a date one night a week and had to be home by eleven. Mom had to know where I was going, who I was going to be with, and what we were planning to do. As predicted, when I first broached the subject of going to Myrtle Beach for graduation, she shut it down immediately. No way. No how. I pouted, I cried, I begged and, finally, I wrote her a letter outlining what a good girl I was and making a million promises about what I would and would not do while I was at the beach. I was shocked and elated when she relented and allowed me to go with Terri, as long as I called when I got there (there were no cell phones in those days) and checked in every day while I was gone.
Though we had fun, there were moments I thoroughly understood her reticence to let me go and sometimes I wished I hadn’t. I was usually the oldest person in our crowd as far as maturity went. I was the “Mom” of our group, always cautioning others about things they were doing or contemplating doing. I was always afraid of doing anything that would cause my mother to be disappointed or would get me in trouble in any way. My entire childhood I was a teacher’s pet and the example parent’s held up as a good kid. I’d never been around people who were just cutting loose, drinking until they passed out, and partying all night, nor did I have any desire to be. I distinctly remember calling down to the front desk at 3:00 in the morning and asking them to make the people above us quiet down. In the middle of our trip, we drove down to Calabash for seafood (because that’s what you do when you are at the beach, that’s my idea of a good time … LOL!). When we got back, there were about three inches of water covering the entire floor of our room. The lady from the front desk was waiting for us. She explained that the morons above us had given their key to some drunk they met out on the beach so he could come up and use their bathroom. While he was in the room, he had picked up a baseball bat they had in their room (who knows why they had a baseball bat) and smashed their toilet bowl with it. They literally had to run a pump to drain the water that had run down through the ceiling and down the wall into our room and then run several fans to dry out the carpet. The same day another moron had used the pool for a bathroom and they had had to close it. Needless to say, my idea of a good time at the beach (walking, wave riding, looking for shells, eating good seafood) and most everyone else’s my age were really far apart. That may have been the only time I was glad to leave the beach.
Surprisingly, when I got married at age twenty, we did not honeymoon at a beach. We did go to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, though, and I have often described the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area as “Myrtle Beach in the mountains.” That decision had more to do with the fact that we could trade my mom and dad’s timeshare for a condo there for free than any real desire to spend a week in the mountains. If it tells you anything, it took us until our fifteenth anniversary to return there for a long weekend.
Nearly every week-long vacation since our honeymoon Darryl has asked, “What beach do you want to go to for vacation this year?” He knows me well. Together, we have found our sweet spots: Destin, Florida; Boca Grande, Florida; Holden Beach, North Carolina; Salvo, North Carolina; Nags Head, North Carolina; Cape San Blas, Florida; Anna Maria Island, Florida; Southwest Harbor, Maine; and Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada.
Luckily, I married a man who loves to fish, to walk the tideline looking for shark’s teeth and shells, and to sit on the shore and listen to the waves roll in. He shares my dream of living on the coast … someday. I cannot wait. I’ll smell like Neutrogena Sunscreen instead of Hawaiian Tropics, since my tanning days are long over. I’ll get up in the morning before anyone else, walk the beach in solitude as the sun rises, and sit on the deck and watch it set. In between, I’ll read the thousand books I own that I call my retirement plan with my toes in the sand. And I will go to sleep at night to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore.
* My title is taken from one of my favorite poems, Exiled, by Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Here is the first stanza. No other passage I’ve ever read fits my true self like this verse:
Searching my heart for its true sorrow
this is the thing I find to be:
that I am weary of words and people,
sick of the city, wanting the sea;
wanting the sticky, salty sweetness
of the strong wind and shattered spray,
wanting the loud sound and the soft sound
of the big surf that breaks all day.