A Day to Remember
An ice-cold beer and a bale of hay
By Tom Bryant
Mother took the photo.
Three good old boys. She liked to say we were her good old boys.
We were kicked back on the little screen porch right off the kitchen. In the photo on the left is my brother, Guery. The guy in the middle is my brother-in-law, Mike. Relaxing proudly on the right is yours truly. The foreground of the picture is a classic, probably found only in the South: a ’50s kitchen table with half a watermelon, accompanied very importantly by an Old Milwaukee beer.
This photo was taken during one of our annual vacations at the beach. Ocean Drive Beach, South Carolina, that is. A tradition that started with my grandparents back in the ’20s. Their farm has been part of our family dating back to 1830, when the old plantation house was built. Living in the low country of South Carolina, the only way to beat the summer heat and ravages by mosquitoes and biting flies was to spend as much time as possible at the coast, where the cool ocean breezes helped make the relentless summer heat bearable.
It was a simple plan. Granddad would load the farm truck with enough provisions to last for weeks: canned vegetables, hams, crates of live chickens, and every kind of provender possible. After the truck was loaded with goods, Mother and her seven siblings would climb aboard, and with Grandmother in the front seat, they would head to the beach.
Now Granddad had a farm to run, so naturally he couldn’t stay. He would unload the truck and the family and head back home to the farm, only returning on weekends or whenever there was a break in the constant chores of growing crops and raising livestock.
When we grandchildren came along, the tradition continued. Summer meant the beach. Mother and Dad would herd us into the family car, and we would make the trek to Ocean Drive, Crescent Beach, Cherry Grove or Windy Hill for a week or two, enjoying the gentle ocean, summer breezes and laid-back atmosphere of coastal living. It’s ironic, but even in the early ’50s, Myrtle Beach was considered to be too big and raucous for our family, and we never ventured farther south than Windy Hill.
After Linda and I were married, our first summer vacation was spent with the family. Mother, recognizing that we probably weren’t flush with cash, invited us to join her and Dad along with my brother and sisters at Ocean Drive. We jumped at the invitation. So the tradition continued. When my brother and sisters got married, it was only natural that their spouses join the crowd, and every summer we enjoyed a mini family seaside reunion.
My grandparents passed away in the ’60s, and Mother inherited their house and its surrounding fields. The old, antiquated house was in serious disrepair, having been abandoned by my grandmother when she moved to smaller quarters. It took several years, but Mother was a patient, determined woman. Her memories of growing up on the farm added to her determination to restore the family homestead.
That was part of the reason the three of us good old boys ended up holding forth on the little breakfast porch that summer. It’s simple really. Mother had reintroduced cows to the farm pastures and needed hay for their winter food. What better free labor than the three of us to haul the hay to the barn?
The adventure was preplanned. Mother called me the week before we were to rendezvous with the other members of the family. She asked my opinion about how the hay task would be received by the rest of the folks, and I heartily approved. She then talked to my sister in Florida, who also thought it would be a great event. The idea was to take a day from the beach, head back to the farm, about an hour away, and go to work. My Uncle Tom had inherited cleared farmland from Granddad’s estate, and he was already a full-time farmer of tobacco, soybeans, cotton and wheat. He had all the equipment necessary to harvest hay. Before we arrived, he baled the hay and waited for our labor to get the hay to the barn. When I pulled in the drive to the old house, we saw him out in the field with the tractor and hay wagon hooked up and ready to go.
It was a chore. It took all day to fill the barn, but fill it we did. I don’t think we could have pushed one more hay bale into the attic of that ancient outbuilding.
Linda and my sisters and the kids stayed at the beach while we loaded, hauled and hoisted all day. Mother was at the house preparing fried chicken and all the trimmings for supper, which naturally included a watermelon and most importantly a cooler full of cold beer. Mike provided the beer, Old Milwaukee. It was excellent and one of the few times I drank that brand. I’m not sure they even have that label anymore.
That week at the beach and the one day on the farm remains one of the family’s fondest memories. Mother was glowing. She was doing what she loved, spending time with her children. After supper when we were getting ready to drive back to the beach, she and I were sitting on the long, front porch. Guery and Mike were inside watching TV. My dad, Monroe, had passed away years before from a job-related illness, lung cancer. This was before all the government oversight monitoring industry for health regulations. Mother never remarried.
“You know what, Tommy?” She was in her favorite rocker. I was in the swing. We were looking out across the fields. A full moon was slowly rising. “Your daddy would have loved to have been part of this day.”
I was kinda choked up and could only mumble an answer.
She slowly stood and stretched and said, “Let’s get those boys moving and go on back to the beach. I bet that moon is beautiful over the ocean.”
The reunions continued for a few more years. But then the children had children, and those children had more children, and the meetings at the coast went away like the outgoing tide.
Mother passed away at the age of 99. During her later years, whenever I was around her for any length of time, she would invariably reminisce about summer and beach vacations. Those were some of her happiest memories. PS
Tom Bryant, a Southern Pines resident, is a lifelong outdoorsman and PineStraw’s Sporting Life columnist.