Deadwyler column: A ‘boomer’ looks back on his summer folly (Folly Beach, that is)
By Hugh Deadwyler
For the Salisbury Post
I’m from the Piedmont of North Carolina, but a big part of me grew up on one of Charleston’s barrier islands. The island was Folly Beach and that part of my life was played out every summer during the “Happy Days” decade of the 1950s. Harvesting seaside memories can be likened to shells on the beach. They are in no particular arrangement or order. Yet each one has its own shape and appeal standing alone by itself. Let me share a few of mine.
My grandparents lived on East Ashley Road which was approximately in the middle of seven-mile-long Folly. One of my favorite activities was walking on the beach as a child in the early grades of school. If I hung a right from my grandparents’ beach-front cottage, in a few miles I would arrive at the old Folly Pavilion ó burned out now for decades. As a teenager I would see the Drifters, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, Bobby Rydell, and assorted regional groups.
Rewind now to 1934 and that’s where my parents would meet at a big band moonlight dance. But wait! I’m a second grader this day, in the summer of 1953. I turn left going away from the pavilion end of the island and toward the Morris Island lighthouse.
I stop and examine clumps of seaweed, driftwood, dead jellyfish and, of course, seashells that were then often unbroken. Ten years before my young parents saw ships’ hatches, parts of ammo boxes and other evidence of German U-boats having sunk allied shipping in the seal lanes off the Charleston coast.
But I go back and forth; today I meander back from visiting near the neighboring Morris Island lighthouse.
Too late! There comes the cop again.
“Yes sir,” I respond.
“Ms. Mott (my grandmother) is looking for you.”
“I’ll hurry home sir.”
All this was more of an irritant than a real concern to me. She’d be intense at me for about a minute but then would start laughing and joking. She was a lot Irish and I had her wrapped around my finger anyway.
Often I would go out the back door of our beach cottage and hit the road, East Ashley, which was paved with soft tar embedded with granite gravel and oyster shells. My feet were so tough and my tan so deep I could go about anywhere any time I wanted.
This day the hot summer sun got its usual early start. By midmorning its hot rays would cast shadows through live oaks and swaying palmettos. And as I walked, fumes from the hot tar mingling with the scent of magnolia blossoms, over-heated garbage cans and ever-present dead roadside sea creatures would liberate a pungent seaside smell.
This is the summer of ’53, but back several years to the half-century mark, I am reminded of a family story. My grandfather leaned over, talking to me in his thick Gullah-tinged Charlestonese. I turn back to my dad and ask, “What did grampa say?”
The adults all laugh and my dad jokes back to his father-in-law.
“The boy needs a translator to understand the geechie you speak.” They all laugh again. I basically remember none of it.
But I do remember an older friend talking to me in our sandspur-ridden back yard. He was telling me that the garbage man, in his vintage Ford dump truck, was the boogy man. (He did have a pitchfork in the back of his truck.)
I slowly approached the truck’s cab and asked, “Are you the devil?” He smiled, with gold front teeth that had astrological symbols on them.
“No, I’m not,” he said, and put his big truck in gear and drove away.
I watched him depart, wondering.
On the summers when I was a little older, on the dog days when the mosquitoes were thick and nasty, a specially equipped jeep would billow thick white clouds of the now-banned pesticide DDT. Before my parents could stop me I would bound down the front porch stairs and run behind this slow-moving vehicle, becoming enveloped in, and inhaling, thick white clouds of atomized DDT.
This reckless exposure resulted in no ill effects to me or my progenyóif there’s some force watching over innocents, then perhaps I was protected.
Two remarkable biological milestones occurred at Folly Beach in the middle 1950s. The emergence of the 17- year cicadaóa bug. And the return of female loggerhead sea turtles to the place they were born to lay eggs and start the cycle of life again, after two or three decades.
News spread quickly on the beach as near dusk the huge female loggerhead turtles emerged quickly from the sea and lumbered into the dunes to lay their eggs. They were so big and olive green that it looked like a military “amphibious landing” when at least a half dozen turtles plowed out of the surf.
I had almost forgotten about the turtle armada, a month or so later, when the eggs hatched. My elders told me sternly, “Don’t bother the little turtles; they all must go to the sea.”
But when I saw one flippering down Ashley Road I knew something must be done. I picked her up (I arbitrarily determined it was a “she.”) Just a small animal only a few inches long, she had a ribbed shell and her “egg tooth” made her look like she was perpetually smiling. She tucked in her little flipper legs and sat contentedly in my hand.
I named her Myrtle. My parents, visiting with my moms’ parents, said I could only keep her a little while. She lustily ate raw hamburger. We put her in a cardboard box and made a nest with rags in the corner. Out of her box, she liked exploring the beach cottage and had to be watched because she would take “naps” in out-of-the-way crannies.
The next evening it came time for her to go. My parents, grandparents, and assorted friends were assembled near the shore to see her off.
I let Myrtle go at the top of the beachówhere the strand met the dunes.
She doggedly flipped her way into the ocean. Sea turtles, when unmolested, can live as long as people do. And with the North Atlantic as her playground she’s at least one pet I won’t have to bury.
I’m hoping that some day soon I can accompany my grown daughter, herself now a Charlestonian, on a long surf side walk down Folly. We could start from the Holiday Inn at the old burned down pavilion site and go all the way to the east end of the island.
This way I’ll see if I can make it back to the Morris Island light house at the end of Folly as I did over 50 years ago.
Hugh Deadwyler lives in Salisbury.