NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — The year was 1960. Mom told me that during the Chatham summer vacation week we were going to the beach. What’s a beach, I thought. I was 4 years old.
We’d have to pack up some clothes, she said, and we’d have to leave very early. Mom wondered aloud what to do for breakfast on the road. They’d never had to pack a kid for a trip before.
In the dead of night she spread a blanket for me in the Chevy’s back seat and encouraged me to go to sleep. Not much chance of that, not with the start of my first big adventure.
It didn’t take me long to take to the beach. I loved the water and more play sand than I had ever seen in my short life and the colorful and noisy carnival across from the old Myrtle Beach Pavilion. What a time, what a trip.
Now, as the sun rises over the Cherry Grove pier, I’m back on the beach, one last time. Happy memories parade across my mind. From 1960 to age 60, I’ve come to a bittersweet moment. I confront my age and the thought that this is my last trip here. I have no plans or inclination to come back.
I chuckle at the stony silence after I told a couple of the kids a few days prior that we were coming here. I don’t know if it was because the beach is for young folks only, or if we aren’t supposed to be off like this alone, or if the kids were waiting to be invited along. They’ll get over it.
Mom and Dad spent their honeymoon here. Only after their passing did I note on their marriage license that they got married in York County, S.C., on their way here. Not until that moment did I realize that they had eloped. No wonder they loved this place.
On the way down here I stopped along Highway 21 in York County to fill up with cheap South Carolina gas. As I pumped I almost could see Dad and Mom in his old, black, ‘52 Chevy rushing down the highway.
Nothing remains here from the days of my youth except Peaches Corner. And a new facade that does not have the Reeves Theater-like, flashing lights makes the corner look different, makes me feel out of place.
Back home much remains the same. The home place, downtown Elkin and State Road, and many but not all of the people remain.
But here the beach town is so transient. You come and go on visits, the beach buildings come and go, the attractions come and go. Each time I came back here I noted something that had been torn down or converted in my absence. In good time I’ll pass on as well.
I still feel a punch in the gut when I pass the empty, grassed lot that once held the Pavilion. I replay in my mind the poignant Kenny Chesney music video, “Anything But Mine,” filmed at the Pavilion just three years before its demolition in ‘07.
I came here several times as a kid, then did not come as a teenager. I still grin when I remember the summer when I signed up to work at the mill during Chatham vacation week, then Mom and Dad took advantage and up and ran away for a week here, leaving me back in the hometown.
After my teen absence I came back here in my mid-20s for a weekend outdoor concert. On the way out we stopped by the Pavilion for a half-hour on a sunny Sunday afternoon and stood at the boardwalk guardrail. I mourned my teen years that knew no beach.
I was in my mid-30s when I took my first motorcycle trip here and cruised Ocean Boulevard, wearing no helmet on the streets for the first time and feeling the wind in my hair. (You could do that then but not now.) I was too old to feel young and too young to feel old.
Other firsts here: roller coaster ride, dipped ice cream cone, batting cage swings, buying a gold necklace for a girl.
And dozens of other memories parade by.
You always remember your first love. Nothing else ever makes you feel quite the same. I’m a lucky guy to be able to linger here one final time at ocean’s edge and savor the first-love charm of this place that feels so magical for me and for many of you.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.