We’d take two cars for your family of seven. The Plymouth station wagon would be loaded to the gills with:
1. Stacks of worn leather- bound suitcases with brass hardware
2. Metal ice chests and a sporty plaid thermos (that Mama filled with sweet tea and parked on the screened-in porch)
3. Paper bags of dry goods (including everything from soup to nuts…plus packets of Lance sandwich crackers)
4. Case of bottled Cheerwine (cherry soda made in Salisbury, N.C.) that we all still favor
5. Paper sacks of South Carolina peaches and a cannonball watermelon bought at a roadside stand off of Route 9
6. Box full of decks of cards, board games (and Matchbox cars for your little brother)
7. Can of Charles Chips
8. Stacks of hardbacks including your own The Mystery of the Old Clock and Cherry Ames, Student Nurse
9. Your somewhat feral cat, who you named “Uncle Chapman” (after a distant relative)
10. Daddy and Mama in the front, and you and your little brother in the back (the old green Hornet that caravaned behind us was considered ‘the smoking section,’ and held your older siblings)
The night before you left for the beach you’d hardly get a wink of sleep; it was just like Christmas Eve. School was out. You would not have to wake up and put on a navy dress and patent leather Mary Janes; you could wear flip flops and Red Ball Jets all week. Soon you would bang open the screen door of the ‘Si Siesta’ cottage in Cherry Grove Beach, inhale the sweet, warm pine-paneling, and run barefoot over the oval braided rug to see the gray waves heaving just outside the sliding glass doors.
Your father would not have to dress up in his suit and pork pie hat and walk up to the corner to catch the bus downtown to his office. Instead he could don swim trunks and hold a mug of coffee while he read the paper on the porch. Then he’d swim laps in the ocean, after walking down to the phone booth to call his office, just to check in. At nights he’d put on a madras shirt and Bermuda shorts and play ‘Old Sol’– as he called it– on the cedar picnic table that was plonked down in the great room. Always the accountant, his rows from the Kings on down were as tidy as a spreadsheet. Then once he got warmed up, you’d all play heated games of ‘Spit.’
Cute boys would sell Krispy Kreme doughnuts door to door, and the ice cream man van would always make an appearance with tinkly music. You and your older brother would walk to Beaulineau’s and buy rafts which took your father hours to blow up. After playing on the beach for hours, late afternoons were reserved for naps and reading.
On Wednesday night, you’d eat platters heaped with fried shrimp and fries over in Calabash. Then you’d go and get soft-serve ice cream at Painters on Highway 17. Another night, Mama would dump boiled shelled shrimp onto the newspaper-covered cedar table, along with platters of baked potatoes, combination salad and French bread. (Combination salad: equal parts tomato, sweet onion and iceberg wedges, bound with Duke’s mayonnaise). Then she’d pull out the ice cream machine–a small wooden barrel– and we’d all take turns on the crank out on the porch, (after she’d stocked the barrels full of ice, rock salt, peaches, cream, and such).
One evening, your parents invited acquaintances to stop by; your father handed the couple some Old Fashioneds as they settled into rockers. After setting out a bowl of cashews and cocktail napkins, Mama called out to we kids, “Whatever you do, don’t let Uncle Chapman out of the bedroom!”
The next day, your father started a low chuckle, while swiping on some Coppertone. “Jean, I believe that we failed to mention that Uncle Chapman was actually the name of our cat.”
Mama gave off her rich laugh. “Bless their hearts–I wondered why they had such shocked looks on their faces and why they left so quickly.”