When I was 15, my dad took us on our first family vacation. He is a builder, and had recently completed a remodeling job that the homeowners loved. As a bonus for a job well done, the homeowner gave us use of his vacation house for a week. We packed up everything we thought we needed, (and I’m sure some things we didn’t) for a week at the beach, piled in to our air-conditioning free Bronco (did I mention it was August?) and hit the road!
The drive is about 5½ – 6 hours, and my brother and I are getting antsy. We go through a small town, and then nothing but wilderness, or so it seems to the 15 and 13 year old in the car. We cross a bridge to an island and it’s a nature preserve with a real working lighthouse you can go up and explore. We cross another bridge. There are still a lot of wooded areas, but we are also seeing small smatterings of shabby, weather beaten buildings now. A restaurant here, gas station there. We see a small restaurant called The Shrimp Shack and across the road from it is the Gay Fish Company. No matter how old I get, it still makes me laugh inappropriately. I suppose there is always a 14 year old living inside of us. There is another bridge before us, and as we cross it, I look down and see dolphins dancing in the sea below us, and there is a huge water tower that resembles a golf ball on a tee in the not so far away distance.
From the word go, even at 15, I knew this place was something special. We checked in at the guard house, got our parking pass, directions to our house, and we were off. Sam and I almost got whiplash looking from right to left trying to take it all in at once. The speed limit on the main drag is 15mph, and that was still too fast for us to see it all! We took a left onto a small road paved with shells, our heads hanging out of the windows, smelling the salt in the wind, looking for our house number. We pull in to the driveway, each grab a bag, and run up the steps to the front door. It’s a small 3 bedroom one level house over a garage with a porch out back. Nothing big or ostentatious-perfect for a beach getaway. We claim our rooms, and go out onto the porch and cannot believe that we can see the ocean! The tide is out, and that walk is long, but all our road exhaustion leaves us when we see the water. We got changed, grabbed some towels and headed to the beach. South Carolina beaches are new to us, and we were especially surprised with the sand burs that we kept stepping on. There was a u-turn and flip flops were put on!
We looked up and down the beach, and it was beautiful. There were families scattered around, but it wasn’t overly crowded; there were no problems finding a spot to lay our things–no out of control beach goers. People simply enjoying the sun, surf and sand. We threw down our things and ran for the water!
We spent the week body surfing, exploring the island, collecting shells, and even found time for a trip to the lighthouse we saw on the way in. We rode our bikes all over the place and saw deer everywhere and huge alligators and their offspring sunning themselves! When the tide went out we could walk a half mile out in to the ocean to a sandbar and we found dozens of amazing conch shells. We had dinner at home most nights, and my grandmother had no qualms taking our money playing poker!
That week sparked something in my family, and we never went anywhere else for vacation-there was no need. This Island was in our souls. We told the rest of the family about it for several years, and when they finally joined us, it became their special place as well. A family thing.
We continued to stay in the same house until the owner’s family had grown large enough that they didn’t rent the house any longer. When that happened, we rented through the Island, and stayed at a myriad of houses in different locations on the island. It became the location for several family reunions with our Pittsburgh clan, and eventually my wedding.
I have known since the word “go” that I wanted to be married at Fripp Island, and I am so lucky my husband sees what I see in the island and agreed. We said our vows outside overlooking the beach with the ocean crashing in the background surrounded by friends and family. It was amazing. It was perfect.
Every year I look forward to our annual pilgrimage to Fripp. I feel like I get a piece of myself back–I draw strength somehow from this amazing place. The crashing of the waves and the cicadas at night, the deer that eat out of your hand, the gators that hang out in the lagoon and on the golf courses, the Boathouse for dinner, the sunset pontoon cruises with dolphins swimming with the boat, the sun glimmering on the water while holding hands with my sweetie and a dog at each of our feet. It truly is my own slice of paradise.