Writing about “Christmas in July” this week made me think of all the summers I spent at Sunset Beach, NC with my grandparents. For a few summers in my childhood they would rent a house and take my mom, sister and myself along with my aunt and her two boys around our age to the beach. We stayed in “The Laughing Gull”.
It is a wonderfully weather worn rickety house, which seemed to sway with the tide. The house smelt of salt and sea breeze. Built on stilts with parking spaces underneath there was a hammock strung between the house supports by the back steps. We used to play in it after lunch, all piling in and rocking away, waiting for the adults to come out and say we were allowed to go back in the water. The house was a short walk from the beach and had its very own canal “swimming pool” in the back, where we used to wade in and go fishing.
The ride to get there felt like forever and a day. You knew you were getting closer as the Pine trees changed and the smell of the pluff mud wafted into your nostrils. We would usually have to wait in a long line of other vacationer filled cars, for boats to go through the swing bridge and then we were on our way, almost “home”. A group of Preservationists were fighting to keep that swing bridge, but sadly they lost out and a new span bridge is being built. A little memory of mine is being taken away.
We would unpack when we arrived my grandparents had usually beaten us there. My grandmother would make dinner. Sitting on the screened in porch we would eat, at a table just for us. We could see the adults through the windows eating at the big table in the kitchen and they would open up the windows to the porch and pass stuff through to us, we thought that was just the greatest thing! After dinner we would play cards or read before going to bed. There would usually be either one rainy day or one evening after dinner where we would pile into the car and drive into Calabash. We would go to Callahan’s Gift Store and use some of our “vacation pocket money” to buy something. I would always pick something from the giant Holiday store in the back of the building, “St. Nick Nacks”.
It would take me forever to decide which ornament I wanted; on occasion I had to come back because I just couldn’t decide that day. Stopping by the fudge counter on the way out for a treat was a must and after choosing our flavor, we hit the postcard stand to pick up a souvenir, usually one that had pictures of shark teeth on it, so we could identify what the teeth were we had found while scavenger hunting on the beach.
Other nights we would walk up to the beach shop and get ice-cream. One year my sister finally convinced my mom to let her buy hermit crabs. So, on a long trip home, Benny and June sat happily between us in their little traveling case. They lived for many summers, much to the surprise of my parents and the beach shop owner. They even survived an ice storm when the power went out and with all the commotion we forgot to take them with us to the hotel, but they made it!
On Sundays we would get up early and walk down to the beach where a local church would hold a morning service. Once we signed up for a turtle walk, hoping to encounter Caretta Caretta, the Loggerhead sea turtle in our path. We eagerly waited for it to begin with a real “turtle patrol” guide. However, our guide was a replacement and took us to nearby Bird Island to discuss her passion for birds. Not as exciting as the turtles we were all hopping to see. My grandfather thought this was hysterical. Only us!
There exists there today a “Kindred Spirit” mailbox, filled with notepads and pens. Visitors can anonymously write down their thoughts, prayers feelings and leave it for others to discover, I like that idea.
Our days were spent playing at the beach or in the canal behind the house with my Grandpa conducting fishing contests between the four of us. He would sit outside with his t-shirt and suspenders on, his little fishing cap with tickets stapled to it from paying to fish on the pier. He taught me to fish during those summers and he taught me so much more during the rest of the year.
My grandparents would usually have a night out by themselves, and we get to go and play putt-putt at a place in Myrtle Beach. Jungle, Pirates or Dinosaur themes were always favorites. At night after a full day in the sun and salty air we would all lie awake in our rooms listening to our grandparents behind their door. My Nana would laugh and laugh at something Grandpa had said and we would drift off to sleep in a gray swaying house filled with love and happiness.