A Lifetime of Memories

A multi-generational family’s adventures during their annual trip to the Hammock Coast.

By Maureen McWhorter

Spread across two states and three generations, our family made the drive to our favorite vacation spot, one that we’ve been enjoying for nearly 50 years—South Carolina’s Hammock Coast.

Settling In

As usual, my husband and I arrived first. Our vacation rental is beautiful. Just past the front yard is a private dock leading straight to the marsh water. Outside the back door is a shaded patio with endless beach views and a stairway directly to the warm tides of Litchfield Beach. We spent just minutes ogling at the perfectly decorated rooms and luxury comforts of our home away from home. We were drawn to feel the soft sand on our bare feet. It was on this beach that we met many moons ago, and this beach that we’ve returned to time and time again; as newlyweds, parents, empty nesters and now as grandparents.

It wasn’t long before the entourage of family arrived and a year’s worth of hugs ensued. The grandkids frantically rushed all three levels of the house, shouting in excitement and calling dibs on what room they wanted. In just a few short minutes, the house—now filled with loved ones, suitcases, food, toys and games—suddenly felt like home. The afternoon turned to evening as we ate, played, laughed, cuddled and caught up. My heart was bursting.

Remember This

My husband rose with the sun and quickly got to making plates of his notorious pancakes, each carefully shaped in hearts, Xs and Os and initials of each child including, of course, those of our adult children. “Aw, Dad. You remembered,” my daughter whispered as she shared a stack of the heart-shaped sentiments with her own family. They shared a smile and a wink, their life-long codeword for “I love you”.

The littlest ones barely finished eating before declaring it a beach day. I couldn’t blame them. The wide-open pristine sand of Litchfield Beach just called to us. Off we went, bellies full and skin lathered, with towels, chairs and water toys in tow.

It was a glorious day.

There were dozens of sandcastles built, destroyed and then built again. We chased tides, played in the ocean, soaked in the sun and enjoyed the cool breeze. We combed the beach for our favorite Pawleys sea shell and actually found a few to add to the collection I started decades ago. Each shell represented a memory for me, pure and remarkably perfect.

I sat back in my lounger and took in the unforgettable sights of my babies, playing with their babies, and my heart smiled. This was my newest memory.

We closed the day with a bonfire on the beach. We cooked hotdogs, roasted marshmallows and laughed at the chocolate-covered faces from kid-crafted s’mores. There’s something about being in this special place that allows you to let everything go and just relax and reconnect with those you love.

Memory Lane

The following morning we landed ourselves at Brookgreen Gardens. This beautiful botanical and sculpture garden full of art, nature and history has always been a personal favorite of mine, especially Live Oak Allée. No matter your age, walking underneath the grand, 250-year-old trees just feels magical. Each visit, my husband twirls me under the draped oak trees and this trip was no exception. Adorably, he followed it up with twirls for each of my granddaughters before they skipped down the pathway, giggling in delight.

We enjoyed as much of the garden grounds as we could, impossible to take it all in during one visit – there’s more than 9,000 acres here, after all. But viewing the hand-carved sculptures and strolling the Lowcountry Zoo, sharing “oohs” and “ahhhs” as we pointed out each collection of animals, is always a delight and an adventure. Sculptress Anna Huntington and her husband, Archer, created Brookgreen in 1931 for the public to enjoy Anna’s beautiful creations. Brookgreen has since added 2,000 works by 430 artists that is unequaled anywhere in the world. The gardens and the galleries change regularly, so there’s always something new to see.

Fresh Catch

After spending another day back on the beach, my crew of fishermen finally decided it was time to hit the freshwater marsh. With fresh bait in tow, all four of the boys made their way down the private dock just across the street. From the patio, my daughter and I watched them demonstrate to the younger two how to tie a line and hook the bait. Even with my aging eyes, I could see the ear-to-ear smiles as the youngest were finally able to make their first cast.

In full anticipation of our boys being occupied for the majority of the day, the ladies and I decided to explore our surroundings on bicycle. It had been quite some time since these legs of mine spent any time on a bike, but I was not the grandma who was going to disappoint her grandkids! Sensing my nervousness, my daughter nudged me with a slight giggle. “Come on, Mom, you’ve got this.” Those familiar words—our words—were just the ticket. I carefully pushed myself onto the two wheels and wobbled for a few moments. My granddaughters cheered “You can do it G-wan-ma!” while I gained my bearings. Balancing out and finding my stride, I began to catch up to my gaggle of gals. I took a deep breath and snickered ... riding a bike ... this childhood lesson has completely come full circle. Wow.

We cruised up and down the neighborhood streets taking in views of the rising marsh water, swaying marsh grass and small fishing boats trolling through the waterways. We occasionally stopped to watch small minnows gather near the waterline.

By early afternoon, we settled back at the house, just in time to see the fishermen proudly march in with their collection of the day’s catch. Pride oozed from every one of their faces. An adorable look I hadn’t yet seen simultaneously. It was almost too much to handle.

The boys took to cleaning and preparing the fish for us to enjoy as dinner. A few Southern sides including my daughter’s favorite homemade macaroni-and-cheese, cornbread and coleslaw, made for a deliciously hearty meal that we devoured quicker than any of us expected.

We spent the rest of the evening watching the golden sun set and swapping stories of our day’s adventures. It was clear we were all adoring our time here and were eager to continue the fun the following day.

One On One

Recalling the constant hustle and bustle of managing little ones, my husband and I decided to give our grown kids some time away. They left to kayak the marsh water: an opportunity to enjoy more of the perfect weather, explore and witness Mother Nature at her best.

And if I’m being totally honest, the idea of some alone time with my grandkids was equally as exciting.

We wrangled all four of our pint-sized cuties into the grandma-mobile and made a straight shot to Applewood House of Pancakes for breakfast. A spread of biscuits & gravy, eggs, sausage and pancakes covered the table. Tiny fingers and large appetites cleaned it up quite impressively. I’d barely tackled my omelette by the time they were done. “What,” I asked, “are we going to do now?”

We took a short drive to Murrells Inlet and unloaded the crew at the Nature Center at Huntington Beach State Park. This was such a cool place for both the kids and adults! The park rangers were fun and informative and the center made learning a true hands-on experience, complete with a touch tank. When we had thoroughly exhausted every exhibit in the center, we wandered outside to explore the marsh. The dock juts out far enough that at high tide, you feel like you’re standing in the middle of the water. Bubbles from below the water surface ignite curiosity of what lies beneath, while myriad shore birds – herons, egrets, woodstorks and more – flew overhead and sat perched among the marsh grass. The kids frantically pointed at everything that caught their eye and beckoned for attention. So much excitement, right in the middle of Mother Nature.

We continued our exploration at Atalaya Castle, the former home and retreat for the Huntingtons – yes, the same Huntingtons who founded Brookgreen Gardens. My husband and I always appreciated this landmark for its story and the interesting life that the Huntingtons made here. My grandchildren however, mostly appreciated the fact that the former home had enclosures once used for horses, bears, monkeys and a leopard. “A pet bear? WHOA!” shouted my youngest grandson. Just like that, Mrs. Huntington went from a master sculptor to a superhero.

After touring the entire “castle,” we decided it was time for home. The (big) kids had picked up some hamburgers, barbecue and handcut fries from Beach, Burgers & BBQ for a delicious and easy dinner. I was so grateful! This grandma was exhausted!

The following day was one of the most perfectly lazy days. We lingered in our pajamas until noon intermittently playing board games and hide and seek. We strolled the beach, drew pictures in the sand and watched the kids chase waves and laugh until their stomachs ached.

When evening turned, we each sat on the edge of the marsh dock, soaking our feet in the water and watching the glorious sunset turn from yellow and orange to pink and purple.

This was the last night we’d all spend sitting together. Taking turns, we each shared our favorite parts of our vacation. “Sleeping in!”, my son said with a laugh. “Catching the biggest fish ever!”, “building a fire on the beach!” and “teaching Grandma how to ride a bike!” were shared by the youngest of the clan. We laughed until our bellies ached. It was this moment, talking about all the fun we’ve shared... this was my favorite moment.

Such Sweet Sorrow

Our departure day had arrived. It wasn’t until the cars were packed and my family was safely belted in that I admitted our time together was over. My heart was full and my body ached, both signs of an incredible vacation. There wasn’t any glitz or glam here; we had spent our time sharing old stories, reliving traditions and making memories. We laughed. We loved. We reconnected.

It’s quite simple, really. But sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest moments.

Plan your getaway to The Hammock Coast.