Beach Dreams

Catching a wave and a sno-cone

By Bill Fields

The town where I have lived for a long time has lovely public beaches on Long Island Sound. I’m grateful to get a sticker for my car each spring and have access to them. There have been plenty of peaceful, breezy afternoons by the water, and notwithstanding the $75 ticket for parking in a fire lane — the signage wasn’t clear — it is an upside of residing in Connecticut.

That said, these beaches are not “the beach” that I and many of my contemporaries knew growing up. For our family it meant a week away if money wasn’t tight, a long weekend if it was. Our destination for vacation was usually Ocean Drive, with a Cherry Grove or a Windy Hill thrown in every couple of years, all the rental cottages or motels being in the same flip-flop shop region known for a long time now as North Myrtle Beach.

The anticipation of these summer trips can’t be overstated, for they were Christmas without the presents, the journey itself being the gift. If I could relive those days, I wouldn’t change much except sparing my father the annual request to drive all the way to the Gay Dolphin in Myrtle Beach one night during our stay so I could empty my change purse on a plastic shark or rubber gator.

Looking back, Dad had the right idea in floating on his back just beyond the breakers, oblivious to my mother’s worries that he was out too far. We kept closer to shore, always wondering if the wave-riding would be superior with one of the rental rafts than our flimsy dime-store model.

Overall, though, there was about as much envy as sand-free sheets. I got to eat corn dogs and sno-cones and drink all the soft drinks that I wanted. For a year or two I was obsessed with a brand that wasn’t sold in the Sandhills, Topp Cola, and urged Mom and Dad to pick up a supply when they went shopping at the Red & White upon arriving in Ocean Drive.

The culinary highlight every year was dinner — we called it supper — at Hoskins, the seafood restaurant in Ocean Drive that had opened in the late-1940s. The flounder, shrimp and oysters fried there were light and tasty. The hushpuppies were sublime, not as dense as the ones I cranked out on my weekend shifts in the kitchen at Russell’s Fish House. The air conditioning felt great after a day in the sun.

Hoskins was just two blocks from the best place we stayed at the beach, a house owned by Leland and Marquita Daniels. It had a large screened-in area in the middle with bedrooms on one side, and a kitchen and living room on the other. If, after eating at Hoskins, we didn’t go back there for cards or board games, it meant that I had gotten my way and our gang was going to play miniature golf. (I still have a wooden nickel from Jungle Golf on Highway 17 that I sometimes use for a ball marker.)

Most days I would already have gotten in plenty of practice at the Putt-Putt in Ocean Drive, then located right on the oceanfront. For a couple of bucks, you could putt all you wanted until 5 p.m., nirvana for someone whose town didn’t have miniature golf. Years later, I discovered that one of the kids who was spending hours at that same Putt-Putt location around that time was Rick Baird, who in 2011 became one of the rare few to ever ace all 18 holes in a round of Putt-Putt. Our family beach mini-golf games amid the faux tigers and lions were for bragging rights and, for this budding golf nerd, a highlight of the trip, even if I didn’t develop into a world-class putter.

When the car was packed and we were heading away from the ocean, another beach trip over, it felt like watching one of those colored golf balls disappearing down the chute on the 18th hole. For a year, I’d have to put a shell to my ear and listen. PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.

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