My hometown of Franklin, N.C. is a good 100 miles west of the continental divide, which means the rivers and streams there flow not toward the Atlantic, but instead toward the Mississippi River basin and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.
North Carolina is a long state. So is neighboring Tennessee. It’s always amazed me that one can start out on the coast and reach the Mississippi while traversing just two states.
A quick check with Google Earth informs me that there’s 363.3 miles – many of them mountainous and snaky – between Franklin and Myrtle Beach. All of which might explain how I was 14 years old before I ever laid eyes on the ocean.
My brother Tom, being two years older, got there before me. He returned with this sorrowful story how he bolted out of the car as soon as it reached the ocean, rushed into the breakers, and came up without his glasses. Being as blind as I am, he spent the entire week stumbling around in the fog and haze of acute near-sightedness.
Other than that, he had the time of his life.
My first beach trip was with the Methodist Youth Fellowship. I’ll have to check the statute of limitations before I reveal all that happened on that church-sponsored trip, but let’s just say I’m eternally grateful my mother never found out just what a numbskull I proved myself to be at 14 and away at the beach.
Or at least I never found out that she found out, which, truth be told, was just as good.
What I came to find much later, after I’d migrated to Chapel Hill for the next chapter of my life, was that many people living in North Carolina – especially those living east of Greensboro – consider it a birthright to get at least a week every summer at the beach. One of those was Tybee, who turned out to be my bride.
Tybee was raised in Raleigh, and some of her happiest childhood memories were made when her parents, Herman and Becca, loaded their four children in the car for their cherished week at the beach. They often camped, and she recalls her family walking the path from the campground to the beach at night.
Because she was the littlest, and because of a debilitating case of ostraconophobia, (fear of crabs), she just had to be carried.
So it was only after I was 27, and Tybee and I got together, that I was able to experience the beach through the eyes of someone who knew the ocean and loved it. Most everybody likes the ocean, but nobody I know loves it as much as Tybee.
In time I became comfortable among the sand and wind and heat, and I started looking forward with increasing excitement toward our sojourns to the coast.
There’s never been a better big brother than Tom, who has pulled his numbskull of a little brother out of more crises than said numbskull little brother cares to recount. But let’s just say he’s always looked out for me throughout my life.
Tom also married a beach bunny in Jenny, who actually spent part of her childhood in Myrtle Beach. So there was great joy throughout the Collins clan when Tom and Jenny bought a house at Myrtle Beach, and absolutely insisted that Tybee and I and our family make it down for at least a couple of weeks a summer.
Did I mention how there has never been a better big brother?
We’re midway through our first of two weeks down here. These days it’s just Tybee and me (Nate is in Dallas, Rebecca in Boston) but we’re making do quite fine.
I’m really not that crazy about Myrtle Beach Proper, if there really is such a place, but the fine home of Tom and Jenny is more than 50 blocks to the north where the streets are quiet and the beach – four blocks away– is practically private. What we found early is that there’s a golf cart culture in these communities, and we just park the car and drive Whitey the Golf Cart everywhere.
About the only time we drive into Myrtle Beach Proper is on Thursday, when there’s a weekly Open Mic at this really special Faith-based place called Fresh Brewed Coffee House. Because Fresh Brewed, unlike Muddy Creek Cafe, specializes in caffeine and does not sell beer, it takes an adjustment on my part to not be at my usual level of libation when I break out Buckshot for my set.
But the folks are friendly as can be, the Open Mic is well-run, and I’ve really enjoyed playing there.
Our schedule is our own, and for Tybee, that means logging as much TBT (Tybee Beach Time) as she can possibly pack in. It’s not unusual for the two of us to make it down to the shore by 10, set up our umbrella and chairs and for Tybee to still be completely content until I drive Whitey back down there at around 7 or 7:30 to bring her back to the hacienda for a shower and dinner.
Today she has to cut her TBT short because she wants to make the Open Mic with me. I know I’m asking a lot, but her willingness to do so must mean she really does care about me.