On our trip to the Low Country, we woke up on a Sunday morning in a cold parking lot. Our first order of business was to get coffee and a biscuit at McDonald’s. That took much longer than it should have. How do you allow four coffee urns to go dry?
I’ve already written about the gut punch we got driving by our old home in Conway only to discover that it, and most of the houses in the immediate area, had been demolished following Hurricane Ian in 2018. We also drove several neighborhoods in town, went by our old church, and the downtown business district. Maybe we were in a funk from the shock of our street, but most of our conversations were about friends who had passed away or moved away in the fifteen years since we had also moved away. At some point, Jenni said “I can’t take this. Let’s get out of here.” I headed toward Myrtle Beach.
I wanted to drive by my old office which was probably another mistake. The company I had once worked for had since relocated their corporate offices, I suppose following the real estate crash of 2008-2009. Seeing “my” corner office started to bring Jenni to tears and it wasn’t giving me a pleasant feeling either. I then cruised down Ocean Boulevard by the old Pavilion Amusement Park. It represented bulldozed memories for thousands of people in the Carolinas. Just keep driving.
We turned into Myrtle Beach State Park. Living near the beach for ten years you would think we had visited it frequently, but I had never been there and Jenni had not been since she was a teenager. We parked near the sand dunes and took Annie out for a walk. She immediately went off the walk into a patch of grass spurs and froze. After I brushed her off she was much more careful about where she walked. We strolled down the beach a hundred yards, crossed the dunes, and explored a little of the tree line with its oaks stunted and permanently bent by the constant ocean winds. We could have stayed longer but we were anxious to reach our favorite beach area.
Huntington Beach State Park was the go-to beach destination for our family when we lived in the area. Sunday evenings were a perfect time to visit. All the tourists had either checked out of their hotels at 11 AM to drive back to Ohio and New Jersey or they had just arrived for a 3 PM check-in and were now looking for a place to eat their first all-you-can-eat seafood buffet of the week. The beach was always deserted on Sunday evenings. Years ago, the four of us spent hours collecting shells, building sand castles, and helping starfish back into the ocean or tidal pools. Huntington Beach was full of memories. In the year after my mother’s death, my father made his first and only trip to our home in Conway thanks to my brother and his family. One of our outings in a rented van was the ten of us driving to this beach. It was the first time in my life I had ever seen my father in swim trunks. He was 82 years-old at the time.
On this Sunday afternoon, Jenni and I wanted to walk through Atalaya Castle, a previous home of sculptress Anna Hyatt Huntington, located in the state park. Things had changed over the years and they now charged admission. Our memories told us it wasn’t worth paying an admission to see the empty rooms so we passed. (A few days later when I read our park pass more closely I saw that we should have been granted access with our pass.)
I walked to the beach but did not see any starfish needing to be rescued. As we drove across the causeway back to the mainland, we looked for alligators (which always seemed abundant and a favorite of our sons) but did not find any. We continued south, making a stop at the Pawley’s Island Chapel that has withstood numerous hurricanes but suffered significant interior damage from floodwaters in 2018. A woman coming out the door vowed it would be operational by summer.
We had intel on a few possible overnight sleeping spots in Georgetown using city parking lots. We checked each one for noise and flatness and walked several blocks of the waterfront. Ultimately, we agreed we would rather take our chances on another possible camping spot in the Francis Marion National Forest a half hour away. It promised the kind of quiet we preferred.