Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pawleys magic

No one will ever say that I do things the easy way. But it took me moving to the middle of the continent to realize things about the place I came from. I had lived almost all my life on the coast of South Carolina with all the ocean, sand, and sea breezes anyone could ever want and it was not until I was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado did I learn to love the ocean more than I could ever imagine. While I was born on an army base in Arizona my dad was stationed at I spent most of my childhood living just a few short miles from Pawleys Island. A place that I still consider very magical and special to me. The best way I can describe the Pawleys Island of my youth was that the place had an out of the way coastal village feel. Even though now urban growth has taken a great deal of the quiet coastal village feel and replaced it with urban yuppie coastal chic I still love going back to it.

Georgetown, the town I lived in and about 15 miles south of Pawleys, in the 60's and 70's was a small, quiet, southern town. You would be hard pressed to find the "higher forms" of culture that other people in bigger cities appreciate about their hometowns. But we did have the beach and you could find many of us heading for the ocean anytime we got the chance. While classical music was in short supply we did have beach music. And while fine restaurants, at that time, were few we did have fresh oysters, shrimp, grits, and some of the best home cooked fried flounder you could ever find.

As the years for me went by I had come to overlook the very magic of the place. So one day in 1986 I left my home and flew far away to Colorado to serve my country. At that point in my life I wanted to see a different part of the country, and to get away from my family. Like many of my age I had come to view their affection as more an interference in my life and I wanted to strike out on my own. I arrived in Colorado in the summer and quickly fell in love with the place. The mountains were awe inspiring and I enjoyed hiking threw the trails in the warm months. But in October the snows began and at first I enjoyed the snow, I had only seen snow about five times my entire life before living in Colorado. When it did snow in South Carolina the snow had the good manners to have melted away within a couple of days after throwing the entire state into a panic. In Colorado it snowed and snowed and when you think it wouldn't, it snowed some more. So this Lowcountry boy began to dread the winters and, no I never learned to ski. By the time snow skiing season had begun I had decided that the best place for me was in my room under four blankets doing research on human hibernation. Except for my duties I was pretty much holed up until spring. Thank God even though there might be five feet of snow of the ground and more still coming the boys and girls at the various pizza joints always got the pizza to me at least warm.

I was on my second year in Colorado when I returned home on leave and realized how badly I missed the ocean. I came home in late September and the cold winds had already started blowing at Fort Carson promising an early winter but the weather at Pawleys Island was still fully entrenched in summer. This was 1988 and most of the tourists had gone home and the locals were busy with their lives. Kids were in school and the great majority of adults were at their day jobs and this was before hurricane Hugo trashed the place when you could still see the "arrogantly shabby" bumper stickers on the cars of people who lived at Pawleys.

I wasn't suppose to have leave that summer. My unit's leadership wanted enough people on hand for any last minute demands for extra bodies any other units in the division might need for their summer field training. The eternal curse of those in air defense units is to be farmed out to other units when they need someone to pull their shit details like good old KP, guard duty, or my favorite driving some gung-ho officer around who at 1:30am wants to go find his buddy in another unit to trade MRE's. This is after you have just gotten in your army fart sack (sleeping bag) after pulling four hours of guard duty. So I was very surprised one fine morning to have my First Sergeant at morning formation call out several names, mine being one of them, wanting us to report to his office. Usually such a call does not mean good news but once the others and I were assembled in his office we were quickly told that we had been approved for leave anytime between now and the middle of October. While this was good news I had no high expectation that I would be able to get a plane ticket back home for the seven days of leave that had popped up for us. But none the less I called and got a great airfare for a flight just three days later. Here is where I should have called and told my family that I was coming home. But some idea popped into my head to fly in and surprise them with a call from me at the Charleston airport.

I flew into Charleston late one morning and hustled over to the military lounge to call my family and eat all the taxpayer provided free food and drink all the free sodas I could while I waited for them to automatically drop whatever they were doing and joyfully drive the sixty miles south to pick up their grandson, nephew, or cousin. After several hours of calling and getting absolutely no one I started to get worried. I had even begun to entertain the thought of renting a car when I finally reached Uncle Paul at his house. I quickly learned that my grandparents, Uncle George, and his wife were on vacation at Cherokee, North Carolina and would not be back for at least the entire week I would be on leave. Uncle Paul, Lady Einstein, and their son Neo were themselves but a few hours away from driving down to Miami to board a Carnival Cruise ship and seven days in the Caribbean. I had somehow picked the very moment that month when the entire family was just not busy but away for the entire time I was scheduled to be home. Uncle Paul explained that since I had called several months before saying that it didn't look like I would make it home everyone had made other plans. Renting a car was looking like my only option to make it home, which would blow my budget for just about the entire trip. Uncle Paul told me to hang on and call him back in one hour. When I did he he told me that my honorary uncle Surferdude was on the way to pick me up and would take me back to Charleston the next week. Uncle Paul told me to hang out at his house and that the place was mine along with his car. True to his word SurferDude showed up a little over an hour later and dropped me off at Uncle Paul's beach house. My luck continued to hold out as bad when SurferDude told me he had to go back home and get ready for work the next day.

So after SurferDude left I walked a lonely beach with a salty breeze blowing around my head and warm ocean water around my feet. I could hear the seagulls circling around knowing that they were looking for their food. That day the ocean water was so clear and clean it almost looked like water from the Caribbean. I could see many small bait fish swimming around in the shallow areas. More than likely that was what had the gulls in such an uproar. I walked over to the creek side and smelled the marsh at low tide. Some have compared that smell to something bad but to me it's a smell that signifies life. It was there that I meet a beautiful young lady, who for the sake of clarity I will call Sharon, who had also come home from living elsewhere. She was taking a semester break from attending college in Tennessee. Being about the same age and for the most part alone Sharon and I hit it off rather quickly and began to hang out together. A couple of days went by as we walked the beach, saw some movies, and played in the water. After she realized I probably wasn't a complete nut we had dinner at her house and watched the stars come out that night. We talked about our love of Pawleys Island and wondered why we had left such a place. It turned out that she also felt that her family was interfering to much in her life and that moving away would give her some independence. As the night went on a summer rain shower moved in and we went to her room and listened to a Van Morrison album call "Moondance" as the rain fell outside. That morning we walked the beach and watched the sunrise. We spent a couple more days with each other before we both returned to our separate lives. As fate would have it we wrote each other for a few months and slowly drifted away. She had returned to school and I had my duties as a soldier.

It was just a few months later that I was pulling guard duty at place called Pinon Canyon in southeastern Colorado. It was on the plains in a bad snow storm and I was in a foxhole, very cold watching the blowing snow. I was enthralled by the patterns the snowflakes made as they came down but at the same time I knew this place was alien to me. That I did not belong there and that I should return home as soon as possible. Which was of course problematic, I had almost two more years on my enlistment and Uncle Sam was not about to release me. So I did what I had to do and finished my enlistment. I left Colorado in 1990 and returned home to the place I should have never left. I spent the following two years attending college myself and working to shape my adult life. Which looking back to that period now, maybe I should have done a few more things differently. But a real comfort to me has been just strolling down that sandy little island letting the water wash over my feet. It has always has brought be back to some sort of peace and let my mind settle whatever problem I may have had.

Yes, I think of that lovely lady often. After stumbling over "Moondance" at a used CD store years later I bought it and to this day it brings back Sharon and our time together like it was yesterday. I never saw her again, I figure she is happily married having yuppies and raising puppies, as Jimmy Buffett would say. I wonder if she ever thinks of me?


Vigilante said...

I knew it! I knew it! I knew if I kept reading, Sharon would appear! (Only I thought her name would be Ravenhair!)

Beach, this wonderful piece has special meaning for me, of course (as you know) as I grew up as a neighbor of Ft. Carson. The current denizens of Colorado Springs thinks God lives with them. But both of us know She is a beach-dweller.

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

Amen, Vigilante...she IS a beach dweller! :)

I bet Sharon DOES think of you. :)

I don't know that I could EVER live somewhere if it didn't have a beach. My entire life has been spent within an hours drive from an ocean (or the Gulf of Mexico).

I can't agree with you on the "should've never left home" thing. I think you need to go away so you can appreciate home even more when you get back.

That's something I never did....and I regret it to this day. If I would have to do it all over again, I would've joined the military straight out of high school, saw a little bit of the world then come back home.

Anyway, great post...:)

Tequila Mockingbird said...

i grew up on the beach too, it was in fla, but ohhh i miss it terribly. you take it for granted when you grow up with it. lakes just arent the same

Beach Bum said...

Vigil: Sadly, "Sharon" and Ravenhair are two separate people. While I never mentioned it in my post concerning my uncle's passing as it might be expected given how close our little tribe is I did see honorary uncle Easyrider's daughter BikerBabe. She did make a point to tell me privately that Ravenhair does ask about me when the two go out doing girlie stuff. I do have hopes to see Ravenhair again at some point.
BikerBabe also, for reasons I can't really fathom, made sure my wife knew how close she and I were in the past. No, Dragonwife and Bikerbabe had never met before.
I have very fond memories of the Colorado Springs and Fort Carson area and the people there. And while I'm sure God visits I do agree that she is a beach-dweller never straying far from where she started creation.

Stacy: The funny thing is that the lady I wrote as "Sharon" (I change ALL the names of people I write about)said she was a local girl and went to the same high school as me during the same time. Not only had I never saw her around school I did not know her family though her last name is a common one so I may have and just confused it with another family. I will admit that the first couple of months after our time together the old fashion letters flew many times between Colorado and Tennessee but it was easy to tell when both of us being pushed in different direction started to drift apart. There has been times when I did think that only a few things different and we could have ended up together.
Yes, you are right about seeing the world. I did visit see Europe, namely West Germany. Take a trip to Honduras, but mainly tried to avoid the howler monkeys from throwing their poop. And blow A LOT of cash while living with Uncle Sammy and eating his food.
When I moved to the midlands to get married I never realized how just a three hour drive to the coast would become such a logistical nightmare preventing me from going back as much as I would have liked.

Tequila: Tell me about it, if I ever win the lotto I have told Dragonwife that I will own a house no more than a mile from the beach before she ever knows about "our" winnings. I'm not one to waste no more than a couple of bucks on lotto at any one time but I have to have some daydream material so I can at least dream about it. Given how the coast of insurance is sending many longtime coastal residents inland it is about the only way it will happen.

Vigilante said...

We are joined at the hip, Beach. I do $2 a week on the lotto, too. My right hand desk drawer is over flowing with unexamined lotto tickets. Because ...

Because the most important part of going fishing is not the catching, cooking and eating, but the baiting of the hook and casting of the line.

lime said...

clicking your combat boots and whispering, 'there's no place like home..."

in all seriousness, terrific post. sometimes we have to loose a thing for a while to realize how dear it is to us.

Beach Bum said...

Vigil: The Powerball lottery is 236 million right now. Got to my my two numbers tomorrow. While there is no good way to ask this if you win can I borrow some money? If I win tell Trophy wife to expect a tall goofy looking Southern coming for a visit.

Lime: I found myself sitting in the very cold snow many more times before my enlistment was up. Now I find myself back in a similar situation. With the demands of family life, both very bad and good, it almost as hard to make it down to the coast.

Simply Curious said...

Ah...born and raised right on the coast, in California, and lived in NY for a spell. I've ALWAYS been close to the beach. I moved to Missouri for a couple, and thought I was going to die. I can't say I've ever taken the beach for granted, though. Not ever... For years I lived by a pier and as a child, ran around naked having the tide chase my feet.

This was a really beautiful piece. Thank you for writing it.

Mike said...

I pretty much feel that way about the Great Lakes here in Michigan. I love other parts of the country and have lived in some of them, but there's just something I love about this state.

Although living by the ocean would be nice. I think.

Beach Bum said...

Simply Curious: By chance if you get down my way running naked in the tide sounds fun. Been to California several times for Uncle Sam and never have gotten to see the Pacific Ocean. Would love to see the sunset on the ocean once instead of a sunrise.

Mike: Understand about living around the Great Lakes. Army buddy was from Michigan and he told me some of the stories about living on Lake Superior. Only problems with living close to the ocean are yuppies and hurricanes. Yuppies are the worse.

Vigilante said...

Beach, Trophy Wife says that if a tall goofy-looking freshly-flushed a Southern boy arrives out here on our door step he should bring some cash. She's wanting to sell you a boat (or two) because if you win the lotto, you're going to need one on each coast.

The Zombieslayer said...

I hope she does.

There was one girl at the same time as Mrs. Z. Turns out for the best though because she was both anti-gun and anti-meat and unfortunately, she'll probably be zombie food. But I'll always think of her fondly anyways because she was neat.

See, the good thing about leaving is sometimes, you have to leave to appreciate it.

I miss Chico, California. It's the last place I felt was really "home."

Utah Savage said...

Hi Beach Bum! I too have a spiritual beach lust and God, She does live there. My place is Hendry's Beach in Santa Barbara, CA. I live there in a guest house on Lord and Lady Robertson's estate in Yankee Farm in a converted horse barn in the middle of a citrus grove. Every morning the the fog bank would roll in and just when the sun came out there would be this brilliant dripping mist full of the heady scent of orange blossom. Illness sent me back to the family home in Utah. I arrived in late February to the dead landscape of a Utah winter.

Your piece is really beautiful. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Vigilante said...

RedOct, my late Dobie, prowled that beach weekly, Utah.

Colonel Colonel said...

Growing up in eastern Mass. we were always within a drive of the ocean and harbors, but little real beach. My wife's family has a place we go in the summer that is within a few moments of the beach, and that's always a great time.

That was a great post, I could smell the tide and see the snow. Of course, to see snow I can also look out my window...

Beach Bum said...

Vigil: Its a deal but it will have to wait at least to the next drawing. Didn't even get one number Saturday night.

Slayer: Sharon and I did actually talk quite a bit and I found that she was raised around weapons. So when the ghouls start to roam I know at least she will be okay. Whether she remembers me there are times I figure she does and times when I figure she hooked up with and married some doctor or attorney and wouldn't know me if I passed her on the street.

Utah Savage: Welcome, and I will add you to my link list. I hope your health gets better so you can soon return to Hendry's Beach. I'll be by your site in a minute to visit.

Colonel: Always wanted to see Cape Cod going all the way to the coast of Maine. Strangely, for me, far too many people just can't seem to understand my love of the marsh. If I get to heaven that smell would be a part of it.

Utah Savage said...

I'm so honored that you have come to visit me. I look for inspiration from your site. I spent twenty years writing a novel--I became the most obsessive editor of my own work and never thought I could write a blog--something quick and passionate without all the agonizing for the right word. Now the book awaits a real editor and I blog away. Thanks for sharing your world and passions with us. Come visit me often, and when I'm full of shit feel free to tell me.

Utah Savage said...

Vigil, Really, you too? Arroyo Burro Beach or as the locals call it Hendrys Beach. My mother took a photo of the creek flowing under the road and bisecting the beach from above on the Mesa side and from high up there it looks like a whale fluke one side headed toward the town, the other up coast toward toward the village where UCSB is located. Gorgeous campus. I Miss the ocean more than anything. But I won't fly anymore. Not since they all but started strip searching me. I want to go to Paris and spend a couple of weeks, but I'd have to take a ship. Train from here to the east coast........ Sorry, just dreaming.

So Vigil, what were you doing in Santa Barbara? And do you have a new Dobie? Or is that way too much information for me to ask?

Vigilante said...

Utah, I haven't been to Hendry's Beach since The Brown Pelican lost its lease. And I don't think I can go back without RedOct beside me. It's just too ... hard.

Tequila Mockingbird said...

happy st paddys day!

Beach Bum said...

Enjoyed that one - looks like Van Morrison, a beach and nostalgia work as powerfully for you as me.

Anonymous said...

I pretty much feel that way about the Great Lakes here in Michigan. I love other parts of the country and have lived in some of them, but there's just something I love about this state....

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