|Ocean Drive Beach, 7:30 am|
The Grand Strand of South Carolina (Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, and beyond) has been a part of my life for longer than I can remember, and I can remember getting pre-school age gifts from the Easter Bunny gifts while camping there. For years I went with my parents, then later with friends, youth groups (that I was in and that I led) and then with my own family. It is safe to say that I have as many cherished memories of the beach (when I grew up all you needed to say was "THE beach." Nothing else was needed. There was only one beach that mattered- Myrtle Beach!) as of any place on earth. And I have been so excited to return there after so many years of being away.
So I arrived at THE beach last Monday after a 10 year absence to find that a great deal has changed since my last visit. While this was not a surprise, it was still a shock. Since I had a great deal of time to kill before Marilyn and her family arrived from NC and we could check in to our resort, I decided to take myself on a little tour of some of my favorite memories. My first stop was the former site of the Myrtle Beach Pavilion, home to so many great nights of my youth and my ministry. I knew the Pavilion had been closed and demolished in 2006, reportedly to be replaced with condos. So I was stunned to arrive downtown and discover what you see pictured here- NOTHING! Thinking they had demolished my memories to put up condos was one thing- I understand that money rules. But to tear down so many happy thoughts built over so many years for no apparent reason left me standing by the newly remodeled Boardwalk with my jaw on the ground. The arcades were gone. Many of the t-shirt shops were gone. The whole area seemed depressed. This was not a good start.
As I continued my tour- first down Ocean Blvd. and later on King's Highway- I was overwhelmed by memories of things that simply were not there anymore. Favorite motels, favorite restaurants and favorite night spots were simply no longer there. Myrtle Square Mall is no longer there, and just like the Pavilion it has been replaced by nothing. The site is a concrete field. The more I drove and the more sites I visited, the older I felt. The little motel where I once spent a few days alone to rest and recover from a wild youth ministry summer was now a parking lot for public beach access. The movie theaters where I once saw Stripes and History of the World Part 1 on the same day have been torn down. Some of these things happened a long time ago, but all of the change had never really hit me until this trip. My mind was picturing much further back than the 10 years I had been away, and to be honest it was a bit depressing.
Heading into what is now the incorporated city of North Myrtle Beach- there was a time when Windy Hill, Crescent Beach, Atlantic Beach, Ocean Drive and Cherry Grove all had very distinct personalities, but for the most part those days are LONG gone- I was suddenly very aware of all of the changes I had witnessed to that area in my lifetime. The campgrounds of my childhood- The Ponderosa, Lake Arrowhead and Sherwood Forest- which were in the Windy Hill section of the beach, have been gone for years. Camp Pla-Mor, where we had some amazing youth group adventures when I was a teenager, is still there but under a different name and was barely recognizable. The Jungle Golf where Steve Semmler and I (along with countless other friends) played hundreds of rounds of miniature golf over the years was leveled in favor of a CVS a long time ago. The Cherokee Trading Post (or something like that) next door where we used to go cool off and stare at hermit crabs and tacky t-shirts is history as well. Meanwhile, across Hwy. 17 is a monstrous shopping area called Barefoot Landing. Outlet stores, major restaurants, the Alabama Theater and a House of Blues are just a few of the attractions there. That is today. In my mind, it is still the Village of the Barefoot Traders, with around 6 stores that all sold trinkets or used books. 35 years ago we used to walk over from The Ponderosa. Now you would be risking your life to cross that highway on foot. Most of these changes are not necessarily for the worse (except losing The Ponderosa and the Pavilion)- they are just so very different. And on this day I was having a hard time with different.
As a last resort I turned to three very special and familiar sites to restore my faith in the section of North Myrtle Beach known as Ocean Drive. The first was the beach itself. Still so wide, so smooth and so busy with happy people having the time of their lives. The pier is long since gone, but the OD Pavilion has been re-opened at the intersection of Main & Ocean Blvd. and classic night spots like Fat Harold's and The Spanish Galleon are still open for business. The second was the Betsy B (at right), the past home of many adventures over a 20 year period and future home (in my dreams) of my Hall of Fame. It has been remodeled and is missing the famous outside shower stalls, but it's still there and it is still called the Betsy B. Maybe I was not so old that everything had changed. There was still one final test. I headed back up to Kings Hwy. and drove a little south, past the Kroger store that had provided so many Big K sodas, past the Krispy Kreme that had served us so many "hot doughnuts
NOW!" and up to the site of Painter's Original Homemade Ice Cream. Still operating out of an old, dilapidated white building, the place famous for the best ice cream anywhere since 1952 was still alive and kickin! The sign was new but everything else was exactly as I remembered it from when I was 10 years old and their maple nut ice cream was the best stuff I had ever tasted. Some things had not changed. My spirits were lifted. The following day I would return to Calabash (see previous post) and discover another favorite place that was still keeping my memories alive. And all-in-all I had another great vacation at THE beach.
So my point? I'm not really sure there is one. It may be that I'm getting old, ready for dinner at 4 and yelling at kids to "Get off my lawn!" It may be that it's true that "change changes things-and we don't like it!" Or it may be that despite the truth of those 2 things, it is important to let the past remind of what was rather than remind us of what is NOT now. Memories are great, but NOW is for new adventures, new lessons and new blessings. That's a lesson I am very slow to learn- but I would learn a lot faster if people would quit changing my memories! Spoken like a true geezer, huh? Be well, my friends!
Because of Jesus,