Monday, February 27, 2006


Surfer Girl

A couple of years ago I wrote a column about a girl I met at Myrtle Beach and how she changed my life, for the better. At the time I searched around for her picture. I knew it was around here somewhere. Yesterday I stumbled upon it.

Her name was Beeky Robertson, technically Ruth Ann Robertson, and she went to Charlotte East High School. I was a junior at D-B and she was a freshman at East. We corresponded for years but after I went to college we lost track of each other.

And now I find her picture. And the memories of that wonderful summer come roaring back.

Here's her picture and here's that column. Ruth Ann Robertson, where are you now?


July 5, 2003
Vacation in Myrtle Beach changed boy's life

It's too late now - the place is too famous - but 40 years ago they could have gotten away with it. Gotten away with changing the name of Myrtle Beach to Kingsport Beach. Or better still Kingsport East. Because every summer the entire town seemed to migrate there. Families, friends, neighbors, folks from church, all drove caravan style, stop ping for breakfast in Spartanburg, lunch in Columbia and arriving at a designated motel in time for an afternoon swim.

My family started going in 1952, when my father still worked at Penney's. He could combine his vacation time with the Fourth of July holiday, and we could spend two weeks at the beach. In the early years I didn't care where we stayed as long as there was beach.

We tried a few different places, the Dogwood Court, the Sail Inn, before settling on the Shady Rest, owned and operated by Mrs. W.O. Singleton, the first celebrity I had ever met. Her name was on a postcard. These were modest digs - they all charged a dollar extra for air conditioning - but, hey, it was the beach, it was Myrtle Beach.

In 1957 my father was apparently flush with cash because we bunked at the glorious Ocean Forest Hotel, the first place we had ever stayed that had a pool. It also had a nightclub and I got a glimpse of my second celebrity: Frank Sinatra Jr. was the headliner the week we were there.

The next year my dad discovered you could rent a house for less than you could stay at a motel and that became our modus operandi.

One year we rented a cottage in North Myrtle, then we discovered all the Kingsport families rented in Ocean Drive, so we moved up there. It was great: drive eight hours so you can see the same people you see in Kingsport.

Things went swimmingly, so to speak, till 1963. I was 15 and didn't have my driver's license yet. I was in that awkward period: I was no longer a kid and not yet an adult. I was just miserable. My father picked that summer to rent a house in Surfside, one of the southern beaches, and just about the dorkiest thing he could have done. Everybody stayed north, in Ocean Drive or Windy Hill. We were south, a half hour's drive away except I couldn't drive, and much too far to walk.

I was resigned to being a dork for one more summer. There was another family sharing the cabin with us that summer, my aunt and uncle, my teenaged cousin and her friend, and her little brother. Neither of those girls was interested in pal-ing around with me. They wanted to meet real boys, boys with driver's licenses, not learner's permits.

They spent their days sunning on the beach. I spent my days playing water tag with her 10-year-old brother. Playing skeeball at the Pavilion each night was the highlight of my vacation.

Until one day a new family moved into one of the Surfside rental houses. With a teenaged girl and her best friend. And not just any old teenaged girls. These girls wore two-piece swimsuits.

I had no idea what a pick-up line was at the time. I thought Suave was a shampoo. I was only a year out of Robinson where I had majored in dorkiness. And made the honor roll in it, too.

I was content just to watch these two new girls from afar. But they didn't sun on the shore; they jumped into the surf.

Maybe it was the tide, maybe it was the girls, maybe it was me, but soon we were all catching the same waves in close proximity.

Thank heaven for that monster wave. It drenched all of us and was a perfect introduction. Suddenly we were all blowing water out of our noses and laughing. Swallowing salt water is only funny when you are next to a gorgeous girl in a white two-piece.

Next thing I knew the girl in the white two piece and I were sharing a float, making talk so small I can't remember it.

Vacation was looking up.

She was from Charlotte; her name was Beeky (honest). And she and her friend were going to the Pavilion that night, would I be there? Would I?

Vacation was looking way up.

That night Beeky and I shared salt water taffy from the Taffy Haus, snickered at stupid souvenirs in the Gay Dolphin, a mammoth gift shop whose name was more innocent then, and wound up our evening playing miniature golf at Wacky Golf.

We were at the third hole when a ball came sailing past, bouncing on the cement and winding up against the fence. We laughed as the ball bounded past. Someone behind us had hit a really bad shot. Then came the errant golfers, my teenaged girl cousin and her friend.

"Oops," my cousin giggled, as she checked out Beeky. "Have fun. See you back at the cabin tonight."

"Who was that?" Beeky wondered.

"Just my cousin."

Beeky and I wound up the evening sharing a Coke and watching the older kids upstairs at the Pavilion doing the Shag.

Then we exchanged addresses. My family was heading back to Kingsport the next day.

Back at the cabin that night my cousin and her friend seemed to have a renewed interest in me. They invited me to their room. and we talked into the wee hours. Maybe I wasn't a dork.

Beeky and I wrote back and forth for a couple of years but I never saw her again.

But in one day she had changed my life. I was no longer miserable.

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