Autumn was approaching, and with it the start of my daughter’s freshman year of college and my son’s first year of high school. With so much change on the horizon, our annual family beach vacation to the South Carolina coast was instilled with new meaning. My wife and I had both vacationed with our parents in North Myrtle Beach since we were kids. The tradition had grown to include our children, too. This year wouldn’t be the last, but certainly the last of an era.
“Where are we staying?” my son asked, as we were packing up the car.
“I rented a house in Cherry Grove, just off the beach,” I said. “You’ll love it.”
One of the things I loved about North Myrtle Beach was that, while close to all of the restaurants and attractions that have made Myrtle Beach famous, the beaches of North Myrtle still felt like the classic South Carolina coast I’d grown up on – miles of natural coastline where nature, not buildings, are the focus. Shrimp boats still slowly trawl along the horizon. And folks are friendly, casually waving at anyone who passes by.
We spent our first day relaxing on one of those signature North Myrtle beaches, wide, pristine, with plenty of room to play and relax. Three generations of my family played paddleball, flew kites, and swam in the warm ocean waters. Floating on my back, I watched a pelican fly overhead, and sent up a little word of thank you for this time with the ones I love most.
When evening came, we all gathered around a table on the back porch, covered with newspaper. My dad instructed my daughter on how to shuck oysters, a skill any Southerner is proud to possess.
“I’ll have to buy you an oyster shucker for your birthday,” he teased.
“Just what I always wanted!” my daughter laughed, reaching for some fresh shrimp we had bought from the seafood shack down the street. After supper, we relaxed on the porch swing, listening to the waves crash and watching the Palmetto trees sway.
The next day, we made our way down to the marina for the afternoon Voyager Dolphin Cruise for another family tradition. Our tour boat eased past fishing boats and up to a dolphin feeding area. The kids on board squealed with delight as a dozen Atlantic bottlenose dolphins splashed by, happy to have an audience for their play.
Later, we ate signature South Carolina foods while enjoying a waterfront view. Shrimp and grits, sweet potato fries, and, of course, fried shrimp. In an effort to work off the aforementioned dishes, we walked the length of Cherry Grove Pier, letting the breeze off the ocean cool us as we walked.
On our last day, we lived it up on Ocean Drive, the birth place of beach music, shag dancing, and the entertainment epicenter of North Myrtle Beach for generations. We spent the afternoon at the Pavilion Amusement Park, riding just about every ride there was. Sitting in the Ferris Wheel car, holding my wife’s hand just as we had done so many years ago as boyfriend and girlfriend, I saw my nearly grown daughter and son a few cars down, laughing and enjoying themselves.
“We’ve come a long way since we first rode this Ferris Wheel,” I said to my wife.
“We really have,” my wife said. “You’re not nearly as nervous holding my hand!”
Cuttin’ a rug
That evening, at the urging of my parents, we headed to the OD Arcade & Lounge, to enjoy music and dancing.
“I remember you two dancing the shag in the kitchen when we were little,” I said to my parents.
“Ha, I can’t imagine you guys dancing,” my son said with a chuckle.
“Well, we did!” my mom maintained, “In fact, we used to dance the night away right here on Ocean Drive back in the 1950s. That was when the Carolina Shag was new school,” she said.
“It was invented right here in North Myrtle Beach,” my dad chimed in.
“Wait until we get inside, and your grandpa and I will show you how it’s done.”
Straight away once inside, my mom took my son by the hand and spun him around the dance floor. For the first song, it looked like he was trying to calculate nuclear fission with his concentration on the footwork, but by the second song, they were laughing and flowing with the rhythm.
I think my wife and I invented a new dance with all our missteps, but had a blast nonetheless!
It was nearly time to call it a night and head back to the beach house, when I heard the familiar opening chords of Sitting on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding, an old favorite for my daughter and me.
I turned to ask my daughter if she remembered dancing to this tune when she was little. I spotted her, walking back from the DJ booth, with a smile on her face. She stopped in front of me and held out her hand.
“Would you like to dance?” she asked.
“You took the words right out of my mouth,” I answered.
There was so much I wanted to tell her, like how proud of her I was and how I knew she would succeed at whatever she decided to do with her life, but all I could muster was, “I’m going to miss you.”
“I know, Dad. Just promise you’ll save this dance for me every year.”
And so the tradition continues.
Build your family’s traditions at North Myrtle Beach.