By Flannery Woodward
When I think of the summers of my childhood, they tend to run together into one long, hot, humid Beaufort day. They are like something out of a novel that less fortunate souls who did not grow up in Beaufort could only dream of, and that they might mistake as pure fiction.
Something about the summer of 1999 brings it forward in my memory, but not because of any specific instance, rather a general feeling of independence and maturing that I could not associate with any other summer. It was the summer before my eighth grade year, and I knew that I was going back to rule Lady’s Island Middle School. But before it could come to a close, I planned to milk every single ounce of sunlight out of every last afternoon and steal a few hours each evening, too.
Each day began in a similar fashion. Rather than sleeping in, our mom had us up and going at about 8 or 9 a.m. She is a firm believer that sleeping in is a waste of a vacation. My sister, Westly, was still too young to come enjoy most of the activities that my brother, Ellison, and I had on the agenda for the day, but I would rush upstairs and scarf down a bowl of cereal with the two of them. Then Ellison and I would call the neighbors across the street, Sarah and Becca. We alternated days during the week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we swam for several hours off of their dock, which had a small sandbar right across the way. Tuesdays and Thursdays we took kayaks and canoes out from our dock and explored new streams or creeks through the marshes. We packed lunches so that we could stay gone all morning through the early part of the afternoon, then, exhausted and sunburned from a day out on the salt marsh, we would pull ourselves back home and shower. Usually, Mom would have to come rub aloe on one of us while fussing that we needed to reapply sunscreen more often out there.
After a quick snack, the girls would come back over to our house to play a board game on the screen porch. Some days we would go toss the cast net and pull in a few shrimp. I could usually talk Mom into letting me test my culinary skills on them, while the rest of the bunch picked out a movie for us to watch with dinner. Even my test recipes tasted great after a day in the sun!
During the weekends, Dad let me take the boat out by myself for the first time that summer. He wouldn’t let me go too far or for too long, but with a few friends and a cooler of sodas, carrots, watermelon, and cold fried chicken or Publix subs onboard, we could drive around near the Yacht Club dock. Some girls would tan across the bow of the boat, while others laughed and took pictures. If we wanted to tube, Dad would have to come out and drive while we spotted our friends back there bouncing through the waves. Sometimes we could talk a parent into dropping us off at the Downtown Marina to get a smoothie from Common Ground or an ice cream from Plums. Those weekends we also tried to meet up at Fuji’s or The Upper Crust for dinner before walking across the street to the Lady’s Island Cinema to catch the new summer blockbusters.
But since this was also a summer of maturing and new responsibility, some nights I had to decline the invite so that I could make some babysitting money. Of course, my parents got first dibs on me as a babysitter, but there were a few other families that I helped out, too. Some of my favorite families let me bring my sister with me so that she could play with the kids. I also tried to earn a few extra dollars around the house doing odd jobs for my parents. I knew that I would have to have my own money for the movie and dinner.
By the time the summer had come to a close, my skin was bronze, my dark brown hair had blonde streaks, and my muscles were lean and toned from a summer spent on the water. I never needed to go anywhere else during the summer, never needed a wild vacation to an exotic destination. I had that in my own backyard. In fact, as a college student I often invited friends back to my hometown to enjoy the Beaufort River, Water Festival, Fripp Island excursions and many of the other pleasures of the Lowcountry. I can also say that those friends were NEVER disappointed by their trip, no matter how long or how short.
Beaufort gave me many wonderful and treasured memories, but those of the summers spent with friends and family are the most beautiful.
This moment in Beaufort’s history is an excerpt from the book “Beaufort … Then and Now,” an anthology of memories compiled by Holly Kearns Lambert. Copies of this book may be purchased at Beaufort Book Store. For information or to contribute your memory, contact Holly at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.