Just imagine if everyone got a whole week off. Not merely a holiday with just a day or two off. But a whole week. For everyone.
You could do whatever you wanted, go wherever you wanted, as long as you made it back home by the beginning of the next work week. That’s nine days to let your hair down.
They used to have that here in the hometown. It was called Chatham vacation week, and by the time I came along it took place during the third week of July.
Because so many people used to work at the old Chatham mill here during its heyday, when the mill’s summer vacation week came along and they closed down the plant it seemed about everybody in town was off.
And it seemed as if they about closed downtown Elkin, too. I remember when I was young a store clerk commented one time about how empty downtown was during Chatham vacation week.
For a little boy that week was the highlight of the year. It meant a trip to the beach, the only trip we’d take all year since we stayed home during the mill’s Christmas vacation week.
Chatham vacation week in summer meant playing in the water, riding in amusement parks and eating treats like dipped ice cream cones. The carnivals that would come to Elkin later in the year and set up beside Crater Park could not begin to produce the thrills generated by the trips to the beach.
Chances were during Chatham vacation week you’d meet somebody else from Elkin down at Myrtle Beach, S.C. One year we met up with my uncle and his family. Another summer it was one of Dad’s co-workers and his family; the two families decided to go to an amusement park together the next afternoon.
Those memories came flooding back when a cousin mentioned that she still had a funny photo of her brothers, Dad and me at the beach. I happen to have my copy, too. It’s one of those novelty photos of us in the Myrtle Beach Jail, actually a prop in the old Pavilion there.
I was 4, and the photo shows me staring seriously at the camera shirtless and with a funny beret we picked up somewhere that was tipped to one side of my head with my old, GI-style short hair. I remember thinking at the time I shouldn’t smile if I was in jail.
By the time of my first trip to Myrtle Beach the resort had been rebuilt from the devastation left by Hurricane Hazel in 1954, a stronger storm than Hugo in 1989, if you can believe that. (Hazel, 140 mph winds in Little River; Hugo, 135 mph winds in Charleston, S.C.)
At the dawn of the 1960s the Myrtle Beach resort area was confined to a stretch from about the Gay Dolphin novelty store to the north past the Pavilion area to Grand Strand Amusement Park, now Family Kingdom, to the south, and to about three blocks up from the beach.
Almost all of that old beach resort area I remember from my childhood has been swept away by modern redevelopment. I hardly recognize the place today. About the only thing remaining is the Peaches Corner block and the Diplomat hotel.
The old strip was tiny compared to the sprawling complex beachgoers find there today.
Back in the day, with so many of us packed into such a confined area, you were bound to bump into somebody you knew. I remember hearing more than once a comment from someone at the beach that everybody from Elkin must be here.
Back then there were no glitzy shows, golf resorts or shopping outlets. So what did we do at the beach?
We’d spend daylight hours out on the beach, with little me playing in the breakers, Dad in the deeper water and Mom on a towel on the sand. She did not care for the water.
Mom would call me in from the ocean and try to talk me into a break or even going back to the motel so I wouldn’t “get too much sun.” I never did.
After a quick supper we’d spend evenings at the Pavilion, which had an old beachfront arcade that had survived Hazel and an amusement park across the street.
My favorite park attraction was a little rail line through the park on which you could ride a modified tricycle, with the home stretch passing in front of the famous Baden Band Organ from the 1900 Paris Expo. It was a self-playing pipe organ, and when I was a kid they illuminated it with spotlights that would make a little guy riding by feel like a star.
I got a chance to drop by the Pavilion in the fall of 2006 just after it had closed but before it got torn down.
I sat on a bench on the familiar patio overlooking Ocean Boulevard and imagined one excited little boy running up to the ice cream counter below and to the right, then with cone in hand walking with Mom and Dad across the street for the amusement-park rides. I sat there alone in my thoughts for a long time.
Back in the day many of us thought of that place as our home away from home. Bet some of you still do.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.