Written by J. Mitchell Brown
must be getting old.
I am starting to catch myself saying things like “remember back when....” I don’t know if I like it, but as the saying goes, “there’s only one way to get out of getting older, and that ain’t much of an option, either.”
I know you can’t stop change. It’s inevitable just about anywhere. But change doesn’t always equate to good. Maybe I’m simpleminded, but some things, in my never-to-be-humbled opinion, just should be left alone.
You could come up with volumes of argument about the changes we’ve seen around Bluffton. What was not-too-long-ago a town that encompassed one square mile is now the fifth largest town in South Carolina by land mass. In less than 15 years, not only has 278 been widened, but it wasn’t all that long ago when it didn’t even go out to I-95. And perhaps the biggest transgression (though that word is read by some to be “PRO-gression”) was the closure of the old Scott’s Piggly Wiggly (though that did give rise to Scott’s Meats which is a good thing...and if you live in town and don’t buy your butcher items from Scott’s Meats, well, you just might be part of the problems that I’m referring to!)
Anyway, I digress. This isn’t meant to be a rant on change in Bluffton. It’s actually a rant on change at another locale that I hold very near and dear to my heart: Edisto Beach.
I just got back from vacation on Edisto. It was a peaceful week of watching the sunrise, throwing the ball in the ocean for my dog, soaking up some rays, and trying to keep up with my oldest and fearless daughter. Something occurred to me one day this week when I got a rare half hour to sit on the beach all by myself while the kids and the dog and my wife were taking siesta. What occurred to me was that the torch of family tradition had now been fully handed over to me.
You see, my family has been vacationing on Edisto ever since it was known that there was a beach on Edisto. It was my great aunt’s first husband, Sam Fox, who acted like a mini Charles Fraser and went down to Edisto and bought up all the mosquito infested jungle back in the 50s. But instead of building a lighthouse and a golf course and traffic circles all over the place, Sam simply broke the land up into lots and sold them off as a place for “families to gather and reunite.”
Our family has been doing that ever since. My grandfather took his family. My father took his family. And now as a father myself, I am nothing but glad to take mine. But it’s bittersweet as I cross over the big sweeping bridge onto Edisto as I realize the memories that I have of the island will not be the memories my kids will have. Oh, most of Edisto is the same (which is why I keep going back...God forbid the devil gets ahold of the town council members of Edisto and allows the claws of change to sink into their flesh and willpower). You still have the old IGA (which is now a Piggly Wiggly, but at least it hasn’t moved!). The state park will likely never change. The drive down Jungle Shores Road is much like it was during my first memories of the place. And you can still catch some crab in the ditches along the middle roads of the island.
But what is gone that my kids will never appreciate is Bell Buoy Seafood where Mr. Bell, with his crippled hands, would always greet you with a smile and give you two dollar bills with your change. The old swing bridge with the steel grates that would make your car slide all over the place has been replaced with that monstrosity of a bridge that you can see long before you get to it (both by boat and by land!). You can no longer get a slush puppy at South Point Services when you go to buy kite string or a hook to go fishing with...it’s now a honky tonk bar called Whaley’s...with a row of townhouses built right next to it!
No, as much as Edisto is trying to remain the same, change is slowly creeping in like a morning fog. And sadly, this slow change has taken a few victims that may or may not be missed, but are intrinsic parts of the character of the beach.
The first victim is something that I didn’t even realize was missing until I found one by accident this very week. It used to be that when you were at the beach, and you were not ON the beach, then you had better be wearing flip-flops or as sure as the sun rises and sets, you would get sandspurs in your toes. They could be found on the street, in the grass, on your porches, and in bed with you.
For those of you not familiar with sandspurs, let me describe them for you the only way I know how: they are like jumping balls of needles that are for the most part invisible. Oh, you’ll see them lying on the ground, but no matter how carefully you pick the next spot for your toes to touch while tiptoeing across the dunes, there’ll be that one little dried spur that will grab a hold of you and sting you like a hornet. And then, of course, once you feel the pain of that invisible one that got you, you’ll forget you don’t have shoes on and as you set your other foot down so you can pull the spur out of your toe, you’re quickly reminded that you forgot about the 35 spurs that you did see...and now they’re all stuck in your other foot. Then you do the only logical thing, which is to sit down so you can have access to both of your stinging feet. But then, of course, you end up with spurs in your butt. Half of our early vacations were spent removing spurs from our bodies!
I don’t know if the town of Edisto has initiated an eradication program, but it’s been years since I had the displeasure of getting a sandspur stuck in my foot. Until this year.
Our beachfront home this year sat right behind the dwindling sand dunes that protect Palmetto Boulevard from the Atlantic Ocean. The “yard” consisted of spike plants, century plants, sea oats, a palmetto or two and mats of junipers. All of these plantings were so packed in with one another that it created a virtual jungle of native flora. So when my baby girl decided she wanted to see if her juice cup could fly like her kite and threw it over the deck rail (it can’t, by the way), I had no choice but to go through the jungle and retrieve it (especially since this cup was the reserve sippy cup...the first one she floated out to sea like a message in a bottle).
It only took one step to learn that the sandspurs, while largely gone, are not ALL gone. Go up three paragraphs to read the detailed account of what happened. It was quite the price to pay to save a two dollar sippy cup.
One of the prettiest plants that used to be on the beach and is no longer, is also a source of another memory I’ll never be able to shake out of my head.
The dunes at Edisto used to be loaded with prickly pear cacti. These are the cacti that have huge lobes that are flat and shaped like elephant ears. Now picture a small towheaded boy wearing red swim shorts running towards the beach with one arm raised above his head trailing a blow up raft that is flopping in the breeze. The boy is fleet of foot and has a heart as light as helium as he runs towards the gleaming and inviting waters of the ocean. With only one last dune to cross, the boy’s foot entangles in the rope of the raft and he quickly disappears behind a screen of sea oats. His mother, who has been standing on the porch of the beach house with a cup of coffee in her hand, hears his blood curdling scream -- the sound of a boy’s dreams destroyed. She races down the path to find her boy lying squarely on the outstretched arms of a prickly pear cactus.
The screams and tears were not so much that the cactus needles – and there were hundreds of them – hurt. The screams were more a mourning of precious beach time that would be lost to the methodical removal of the needles. The boy knew the investment of time to remove the cactus spines was required, but even at such a young age, he knew that it was an unfair waste of his time. As his mother tenderly carried him back to the house, the boy looked over her shoulder to the ocean, which was now getting farther away, and sobbed.
There are no more prickly pear cacti that I’m aware of at Edisto. That’s sad to me. Not that I want my kids to fall into them, mind you. And I’m sure over the years new memories – some pleasant, some not so much – will be made. But it’s changing. Everything is changing. I don’t know if that’s good.