Wednesday, April 16, 2014
As the summer season approaches, Shag contests and conventions are once again breaking into the local news, I am experiencing a nostalgic moment as I reflect on my own youthful days at the beach.
Over thirty years ago, some of my friends with whom I had worked one summer at Ocean Drive Beach, decided to put together a reunion of those of us who had worked and lived in the old Robert’s Pavilion. It sounded like a neat idea and we tried to get in touch with those who had worked there before Hurricane Hazel blew the place away in 1954.
We figured between 80 to 100 of us would be on hand. But, when word got out, almost 4,000 people showed up for the first Fall Migration of the SOS (Society of Shaggers).
One of my fellow beach buddies contacted some of us about planning a reunion. He was a corporate advertising executive known by his beach name as “Swink.” All of us had nicknames at the beach. Some of them were: One-lung, Snake, Wormy, Jo-Jo, Hard Rock, Crow, Little Dennis, Big Tom, Arab -- mine was simply JB.
At any rate, in order to drum up publicity for our first reunion, “Swink” tossed a scarred up old medicine bottle with a mysteriously cryptic message into the ocean near OD. The enclosed message was “aged” by distressing the paper to make it look ancient. The message contained phrases from Beach Songs of the 1940s and early 50s urging its recipient to meet at the old “Oak Tree” which was the name of the motel serving as our reunion headquarters.
Several days later the bottle washed on shore and folks became excited because a secret message from the 1700s had been found - probably from a pirate from yesteryear-- perhaps containing instructions to hoards of buried, pilfered treasure.
The press bought it and when the story circulated, one museum director declared it “legitimate - a relic from the past.” An urban legend was born. We could not have bought the kind of publicity it generated. It’s no wonder we had thousands attending our first “intimate” reunion. Once the hoax was discovered, the story took on a life of its own and news of our reunion made the rounds of major publications and television stations throughout the nation. The success of our reunion was guaranteed.
South Carolina beaches have always been a draw for Carolinians long before folks from up North discovered it. Many Carolina families headed for our beaches for their annual summer vacation.
MY BIG ADVENTURE
For some of us teenagers, this evolved into summers at the beach on our own. Such was the case for me one glorious summer in the early 1950s.
I had been to Ocean Drive beach many times but never by myself. Over the objections of my Mother, tempered by a sly smile from my Father, I left home early on a Monday morning with an old Gladstone suitcase in hand, twenty dollars in my shoe and adventure in my heart. I was hitch-hiking of course as was the custom in that day.
I knew my small stake would last only a few days even though you could get a room for $2 a night and a hamburger for a quarter. The first day, I started out job hunting. Nothing but work at the old Roberts Pavilion in the heart of Ocean Drive would do. The turnover among teenage employees was fierce because Mommas came down on a regular basis to retrieve their wayward sons just as soon as great aunt Susie returned from her vacation at the beach and ratted on Junior.
Lady Luck shined on me that first day and I got a job as one-half of the management staff at the bowling alley with its open end facing the ocean on the windward side of the pavilion. Heaven had smiled!
The bowling alley was adjacent to one of the two dance floors on the ocean side and I could keep an eye on things while earning my keep.
“Earning my keep” might too hyperbolic. I was paid the princely sum of $3 per day and a lumpy old bed on the top floor of the pavilion. Bed might also be an overstatement. An old mattress was piled on the floor of the abandoned skating rink, known as the “Snake Pit”. The management had only one rule - NO GIRLS!
The main attractions for the beach boys were the many house-parties of girls which changed every week as exhausted chaperones headed back home with their hoard and another house-party moved in to replace the departing one. With our newly found girlfriends, we danced to the music of what was to become known as “Beach Music”. Contrary to popular assumption, we called what we did, “Jitterbugging.” I never heard the term “Shag” until years later. Today, shagging is well-known and has been refined and codified. The dance sometimes bears little resemblance to what we danced but the basic moves remain
We had no idea we were participating in what would become the State Dance of South Carolina. House parties were good places to find a little food. Some wise chaperones actually chained the refrigerator when we were present. Most of my meals came from one of the pavilion’s food and beverage stands. Our sustenance consisted mostly of BLT sandwiches and milkshakes.
Narcotics were non-existent. I never saw anything more decedent than Miller High-life in clear quart bottles. Many of my beach buddies have been quite successful in life. Some have become Congressmen, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs of all stripes and even a preacher or two.
I have no idea what it is like today for young people to come to the beach for the summer; work along the strand and live unbridled by parental influence. But I do know what it was like in the “Happy Days” of my youth. In short, it was a great care-free adventure but one I don’t suppose I would be in favor of for my grandchildren in today’s sordid world.
My summer ended on a Sunday afternoon when my parents and little sister came down unannounced to take me back to the real world.
I never did find out who ratted.
John Brock is retired and lives in Georgetown County. He can be contacted via Email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.