Its funny how sounds and smells bring back memories. Today after running a few errands and attending an honor awards for my daughter I decided to write on the beach. Now that I live 15 minutes from the coast I feel like I should take advantage when I can, so on a warm January day I roll up my pants, switch my nicer shoes for a pair of sandals and find a place to park. From the street through the path of myrtles I can’t see the ocean but I can smell the salty air and I can hear the roar of waves. Immediately I feel the excitement and I remember the excitement I used to feel in the summers when we would vacation at the coast.
I remember sitting in the band room on the last day of middle school, goofing off with my friends. Our music had been turned in, instruments were put away, and we were just chatting. All I could think about was the beach, the waves, warm sunshine. The next morning my brother and I and my grandparents loaded up their Buick, and off we drove along highway 74 through Monroe, Pageland and the dry South Carolina countryside. Granddaddy always pointed out the cotton fields, as if it was the first time we had seen cotton plants. They were dry and brittle, but a few missed puffs of white still could be seen scattered across the plants, a southern snow.
We always stopped at a lone picnic table under a large oak tree. This was not a rest top like you see on highways; this was a picnic table and a trashcan by the side of an old two-lane road. And in contrast my grandma’s idea of a picnic was a little nicer than the peanut butter sandwiches I provide for my children when we travel. My grandparents, my brother and I would sit around that old wooden table and eat fried chicken, potato salad, coleslaw and biscuits and drink sweet tea. We would finish the meal with grandma’s homemade cake, a cake made early that morning and placed on the floor between grandma’s feet.
Granddaddy always made us run around, get out the wiggles, and then off we would go through more small towns and dried fields of cotton. When we could detect the decaying seaweed smell of the ocean, my brother and I would start yelling, jumping up and down in the backseat. Granddaddy always had car contests for any trip we took. We were encouraged to watch carefully on any trip, trying to be the first to see whatever landmark he had chosen. On this trip we were watching for the drawbridge. At least until the bridge appeared we were entertained. Sometimes we had to wait on the drawbridge, and to us that only made the trip more exciting, as if we were crossing the moat to a castle. We would drive across the bridge that only moments before had been separated, the two sides pointing to the sky. The beach I am writing from today still has a drawbridge, although it works a little differently with a lift and a twist. Maybe that small tie to my childhood beach trips is part of why this Island is my favorite in the area.
My aunt used to own a small family motel on the beach, and that was where we always stayed. The lobby had a sign in the window saying No Pets, and almost always Aunt Day Day’s cat would be watching us, her face just above that sign. Check in was hard because all I could think about was my bare feet on the sand. I could hear the ocean from the lobby, the hot parking lot, and while we carried our luggage to our rooms. Finally we were free to toss off our shoes, cross the soft white burning sand, drop our things and run screaming into the ocean.
Granddaddy would set up the chairs and watch us, while Grandma took a nap. I never understood at the time how Grandma would want to pass up her first afternoon at the beach for a nap. I never thought about the fact that she got up at 4 a.m. to cook our picnic lunch, bake a cake from scratch and frosting, all before I rolled out of bed, but I loved those picnic lunches under an oak tree with the soft breezes. Great memories. I only wish I had a picture of my aunt’s hotel, The Windjammer, to go with this post.