Before we headed on to the beach the next morning, we gassed Crawford’s Firebird up in Laurel Hill at a country store called Cash on the Barrel Head that Junie’s pop ran. In the store Walter Cronkite was always pea-green on the huge television in the store because her dad was color blind and never bothered to adjust the color. We chose sodas from the old fashioned coke case where you had to stick your arm down into a slurry of ice and freezing cold water. Somehow the cokes always tasted better from there. Junie would hug her dad and we’d be off. Sometimes we tried to time the trip so we could go to Calabash where everyone headed for seafood before we set up camp at Huntington Beach State Park, and sometimes we just headed straight to the beach.
The vistas east of Laurinburg stayed flat and sandy, but as we got closer to the coast, we moved into the boggy land that, further north, becomes the Dismal Swamp of Revolutionary War fame. On this more southern route, trees along the edge the road are circled by boggy land. Closer to the coast, the road becomes a narrow, straight two-lane stretch with swamps and trees on both sides, creating a feeling of traveling in a tunnel.
Our driving along this swamp-edged road was careful. We never tried to make up time along this stretch for fear of ending up in the swamp. Some years later, my friend Grace told me about her two ne’er-do-well uncles, who had made this same trip many time. One time they had started celebrating a little early and when a sudden rainstorm hit, their car hydroplaned and made several 360 degree turns before the car straightened itself out, and they drove on. Whooping with laughter, they continued on down the road. They drove two hours before they realized that they had turned completely around and were close to home. That story still makes me laugh. God does seem to protect fools.
As we drew closer to U.S. 17, the beach highway, the smell of the ocean–a mixtureof salt, fish, and purity–became discernible. I felt a certain relief every time I smelled it; I had made it to the ocean again. I should mention that at the time we were camping in Huntington Beach State Park, it was a small camping area with few sites, all of which were situated behind the dunes. We had lots of room and the hike to the beach was short. We had camped together so often that it didn’t take long to set up camp. Mostly we cooked out, but if we woke up to a too cool morning, we’d pile in the car in our pajamas and drive over to Hardee’s for a quick hot breakfast.
The ocean, however, was the main attraction. We had a day and a half to ride the swells before heading back to school. We made every moment count. Out came the rafts, the lounge chairs, and we headed through the dunes. The trips were always fun and the ocean was the crowning glory.
Image: Courtesy of Ryan Bradshaw