Monday, March 10, 2014

Myrtle Beach in the Seventies

Myrtle Beach, the Beidler's beach, is one of the sweetest memories I have from childhood. Later in life, our family vacationed at The Princess resort in Bermuda, and I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton in Cancun. Neither experience compares to my memories of Myrtle Beach. I'd rather stay in a campground, or a run-down beach rental complete with ants in the kitchen and lumpy beds, than stay at five-star accommodations somewhere else. There's just something about Myrtle Beach.

Danny, Denise, Eric & Natalie
Some of our traditions began when the four Beidler kids were growing up in the seventies. Daddy and Jackie packed up our pop-up tent trailer, and the Jennings family loaded their Airstream, and both families piled into the cars for the grueling 8 hour trip from Virginia to South Carolina. Grueling because there were four kids in our car, and a dad who loved vacations, but seemed to have little patience for getting there. "Are we almost there?" began early on in the trip. Bored feet would kick the back of the driver's seat, and as the oldest, I felt it fell to me to manage the youngers, so as not to disturb the elders. "Don't kick Daddy's seat." "Shhh. Don't talk too loud." "Let's play a game. How about 'I Spy'?" The drive seemed interminable.

Once we arrived at Lake Arrowhead Campground, all of the Jennings and Beidler kids would pour out of the cars, and explore the camp store while the dads took care of our registration. I have no idea how early in the year they made our reservations, but we always had the campsites closest to the beach, and on the edge of the Lake Arrowhead property so that we had no campsites on one side of us. Our spot did have, however, the walking path to the beach, so there was a constant parade of beach combers and sun worshipers marching past our picnic tables. It was all part of the ambience, friendly greetings between fellow campers.

Once we had paid our fees, we would drive slowly through the campground, checking out everyone else's campsite, noticing the newest, fanciest motorhomes, the travel trailers, and the tents. The bathhouse was situated about a block from our campsite, which seemed very far away to a youngster who had put off answering nature's call a little too long, not wanting to interrupt having fun! 

The cars barely pulled to a stop, and all of the doors flew open, and we kids took off for the ocean. Most of us wore our swimsuits under our clothes because no one wanted to be bothered with waiting one more moment before diving into the ocean. The damp ocean air took us into its warm embrace, and held us gently in its arms for the duration of our stay. The smell of salt and fish filled our nostrils. It felt like coming home.

"Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!" our voices yelped in staccato as we crossed the dry, hot sand. No one wore our flip-flops because none of us wanted to keep track of them once we were in the water. As soon as our poor reddened feet hit the coolness of the damp sand, all memory of our trek across the heated beach was forgotten.  The air was hot; the ocean was not, just the way a beach should be. The heat and humidity would drive us into the water throughout our week-long stay. 

While the kids took off for the beach, the adults stayed behind, parking and balancing the trailers, and starting dinner. Betty Jennings had shared her chili recipe with Jackie, which they each made at home, and carried in coolers to have an easy meal that simply needed to be reheated on the Coleman stove once we were ready for dinner. The soft beach winds usually saw to it that there was a little bit of grit in each of our meals, but no one seemed to complain.

Every day, a station wagon would drive through the campground, selling fresh, glazed Krispy Kreme donuts. We caught on to their schedule quickly, and always made sure to let out parents know the donut wagon was on its way. Even though donuts hold no appeal to me as an adult, the sweet memories evoked by Krispy Kremes make my mouth water with just the thought.

Another frequent occurrence at the campground was the regular appearance of the mosquito truck. This service seemed to have an uncanny knack for taking place during our suppertime. We would scramble to cover our food with an extra paper plate, and more often than not, the kids would jump up from the picnic tables, and make a mad dash for the road. We would dance in the fog of malathion left in the wake of the slowly passing truck. Yes, it smelled funny, and we knew we didn't want it to taint our food, but we had no concern for our lungs as we played in the fumes of insecticide each time they sprayed the campground to keep the mosquito population under control.

Sunscreen was not something we worried about in the seventies. Many a teen-aged girl slathered her body with baby oil to capitalize on the tanning. After the first day, most of us were sporting blistered noses, and bright red skin. We peeled for days, and by the time we left a week or two later, we were proud of our bronzed skin, competing for the honor of the darkest tan. 

One year Daddy won the prize for the worst sunburn ever. He had spent the day under the shade of our camper's awning; well, most of his body did. Unfortunately, he was unaware that his outstretched feet and shins were exposed to the elements all. day. long. That night, his angry flesh bubbled up in blisters which were extremely painful. 

My Grammy had come with us on this particular trip, and she knew just what to do for her boy. She had some lotion from the hospital, Dermassage, which she laboriously rubbed over his second degree burns. His poor skin was extremely sensitive to touch, and the blisters burst with the friction. Add to that the lotion, which contained menthol, and he was pushed over the edge. Shortly after that, the predictable beach winds kicked up, and added a coating of sand to his legs. "Let me brush that off for you," his mother offered. Wiping sand across his blisters with a beach towel was the final straw. Grammy was only trying to help, but angry words ensued, and the kids stayed clear of my dad for the rest of that evening.

Our families didn't bring our dogs on these trips. I'm sure our parents had enough to worry about with the eight kids, and a couple of extra teenagers who accompanied the older kids to keep them happy. Many campers did have canines, though, and each year, I was the one who made friends with at least one family who brought their dog.

There were certain things we came to expect on our Myrtle Beach vacations. The Jennings-Beidler crew always spent an evening at the Ocean Drive Pavilion where we rode the old wooden roller coaster, and the ferris wheel that overlooked the Atlantic. To break up the long, hot days, our dads would take us to the air-conditioned movie theater to see the latest James Bond movie, and one evening, we dressed up in more than swimsuits and flip-flops, and enjoyed the fresh shrimp and seafood offered by the local restaurants.

Myrtle Beach will always be the best beach, in my mind. One of our family's favorite songs is "Myrtle Beach Days."

"Myrtle Beach Days; we'll have some fun in the waves. I don't care what the west coast says, but I love those Myrtle Beach, love those Myrtle Beach days..." 


  1. Replies
    1. Fun to remember; fun to write. Thanks, Carol!

  2. Just the short vacation I needed from this day. Lovely writing. This was fun.

    1. Thank you, Tonia. It was fun to recall those memories.


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