Folly Beach 1984

From 1983 to 1986, I spent my summers living with my sister, Mardy, and her family on Johns Island, South Carolina. I have many great memories from those summers but some of my best memories are from one week in 1984.

Mardy, Mike (her partner) and “the gang” decided to pool resources to rent a beach house in Folly Beach during the first week of August. “The gang” that summer, and every summer in South Carolina, were Mardy and Mike; their married friends, Bob and Pam; and their single friend, Jeff. Mardy and Mike also had two little boys, Micah and Kendrick, while Bob and Pam had two girls, Merry and Joanna, and a boy, Jesse. All the kids were close in age. During my time in South Carolina, these were the main cast of characters on the weekends.

By that summer, I felt like a part of the gang. Having adult friends and living away from my parents made me feel like an adult. In an attempt to prove that I was as responsible as an adult, I volunteered to contribute my fair share to pay for the beach house. I suppose I was being condescendingly generous at the time, but I was fairly flush with cash at the time and my financial assistance was accepted nonetheless.

I was wealthier than the average 17-year-old because Mardy hooked me up with a job at the Credit Bureau of Greater Charleston, where she worked part-time in the evenings. I did well enough my first summer there that her boss asked me back the next summer and I even got a raise. I also had few expenses because I didn’t have to pay for my room and board. Instead I agreed to mow the lawn as well as wash and wax Mardy’s new white T-Bird every weekend. I think she indulged in a little perverse enjoyment knowing that I really despised washing that damn car every weekend but I suppose it worked out to my advantage in many ways eventually.

For the rest of the gang, that week in August was an awesome summer vacation on the beach. For me, it felt like a giant step into adulthood. You see, I continued to work at the Credit Bureau while commuting back and forth from Folly Beach each day. Somehow I managed to convince Mardy and Mike that I could be trusted with Mike’s VW Beetle and was allowed to drive solo to and from work all week. As I recall, they only had two suitable cars at the time and so I was usually stuck hitching a ride every morning with Vicki and Bobby, the rednecks next door. Not only were they somewhat disagreeable company, having to ride with them meant getting up very early in the morning. On the worst mornings, I would awake to the sound of a honking horn. As Vicki waited patiently outside for me, I would take the fastest shower of my young life before throwing on clothes and dashing outside.

But during that week at the beach house, Mike was on vacation and they only needed the Thunderbird to get around Folly Beach. I needed a way to get to the beach house after work every night and so letting me loose with the Bug was the best solution.

As you can tell from the map, Folly Road, the route to Folly Beach, goes past Johns Island. After work each night, I would stop at Mardy’s house before continuing on to Folly Beach. I’m not sure exactly why I stopped there, but I remember pulling out my newly purchased Billy Idol records and listening to them very loudly on Mike’s stereo while singing and miming. After that testosterone rush, I would jump back in the Bug and head out on Folly Road for the beach. One night I picked up a hitchhiker on Folly Road and gave him a ride home. He was black and I was proud of myself for giving him a ride. I remembered that my dad would occasionally pick up hitchhikers back in Iowa, so I supposed I was emulating him in trying to be an adult.

Most nights, though, it was a straight shot out to the beach where I settled in for some merry-making with the gang. After the kids went to bed, we smoked a few funny cigarettes, drank some beer and indulged in some delicious snacks. Of course, nearly everything is delicious when you’re in that state, but Mardy had gotten the art of munchy-making down to a science. I think we probably had nachos with Velveeta often, but my favorite was fried okra, a delicacy in those parts back then. I used to joke that you didn’t need to swallow okra, it would slide its slimy self down your throat whether you wanted it to or not. Folly Road was also chock full with crab sellers where you could buy a dozen live blue crabs and they would throw in the “boil” for free. I loved the legs and claws but always handed Mike the body from which extracting the meat was harder and grosser.

But just as man cannot live by bread alone, stoners cannot live without sufficient entertainment. Entertainment in the summer of 1984 was the Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games where the United States kicked ass because none of the real competition showed up. Four years earlier Jimmy Carter had boycotted the Moscow Games so the Soviet Bloc countries responded in kind when it was our turn to host the summer games. The stars in 1984 were the women’s gymnastic team and the star of stars was Mary Lou Retton. It seemed like we watched MLR every night, but it was probably only a couple of nights.

The week culminated in a weekend in which I probably spent every minute on the beach. Unfortunately, I did so without the benefit of sunscreen and ended up with the worst sunburn I’ve ever had. I was wholly unprepared mostly because I had always taken my sun-resistance for granted. Summers in Riceville were spent in the sun and I tanned easily and darkly. Moving to South Carolina in the summer ironically took me out of the sun as I spent most of my time under fluorescent lights in the Credit Bureau. When I returned to work on Monday after that weekend in the sun, there were huge cracks on my nose, skin was peeling off in thick sheets and my bright red shoulders hurt every time my shirt moved even slightly.

It was worth it, though. The highlight of the weekend was hanging out on the deck late on Saturday night when a couple of girls wandered by. I was always girl-shy as a teenager so it always seemed to be a huge accomplishment to interact with girls I didn’t know. We talked for a few minutes and I invited them to stop by later. I suppose I could barely contain my excitement when I went back inside and told Mardy about my encounter. As was usual in those situations, she merely smiled at my enthusiasm. She understood that I was shy and never pushed or questioned me further than was necessary. Those girls never did come back.