Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Memories of Myrtle in the 1950s

Everything changes, often for the better. But if you had told me 50 years ago that Myrtle Beach would be a better place if they tore down the old Ocean Forest Hotel, knocked down the Pavilion and carted off the roller coaster, here’s what I would have said: You’ll ruin the place.
I came of age in the late 1950s, and the high point of my year was the week we’d spend at Myrtle Beach. I never got my fill of trying to ride the waves on the blue canvas rafts you could rent for 50 cents or the golden fried shrimp that everyone seemed to know how to do right.
My family stayed at modest places like the old frame Tally Ho, part dormitory and part guest house and held together by tacks and wire screens. My dad liked a pre-breakfast swim in the ocean before anyone else was up; we’d tiptoe out of our rooms, dash across the street and across the world’s widest, flattest beach for the day’s first dip.
It was no wonder to me they called it the Grand Strand. It was a wide, flat beach good for walking and a great one for looking for a certain brown-eyed girl. And off in the misty distance to the north reposed the out-of-reach Ocean Forest Hotel. I imagined it an elegant place, but never got a look inside; it was imploded in 1974 – “reduced to a pile of rubble in six seconds,” I read somewhere on the Web.
When we got old enough our parents would let me and my sister walk all the way down to the Pavilion, past the same cottages and inns and dives we saw every year: the Wee Blue Inn, the Salt Water Taffy store, and a couple of joints called The Bowery and The Green Door. I was still too young to be much interested in that kind of entertainment for several years more. I wanted to look in the funny mirrors at the Pavilion, listen to the old band organ in the amusement park and spend every cent I had on the Dodgem Cars, where the steering was haphazard and the bumps and bangs were just the things to end a perfect day on the beach.
Somewhere along the way we fell out of the habit of going to Myrtle. The little individual beaches to the north – Ocean Drive and Cherry Grove and so on – got new names, though I have friends who still talk about driving down to O.D. for the weekend.
Maybe it’s just as well that everything changes, that old landmarks fall and new ones rise. There are new attractions in Myrtle Beach now, fancy high-rise hotels and condos and packed shows and fancy restaurants with fancy prices.
But I can’t imagine they fried shrimp any better now than they did it in those little screened-porch-and-linoleum-floored cafes that once dotted the main line in and out of town. I'll have the large platter with extra slaw, thanks, and more sweet tea, please.

8 comments:

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