The Myrtle Beach of My Girlhood

By Julia Nunnally Duncan | June 12th, 2024

Ocean waves, a jellyfish, amusement park and arcade, and shifting allegiances

The Myrtle Beach of My Girlhood. A little girl running on the beach with her father following. Image by Susan Sheldon

The memories of time spent with family and friends at the beach are etched in Julia Nunnally Duncan’s mind, with photo booth pictures and 8mm movies to help her remember the good times. She shares her reminiscences in “The Myrtle Beach of My Girlhood.”

In the 1960s, most of my family’s summer vacations were trips to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a six-hour drive from my hometown of Marion, North Carolina. When we arrived at Myrtle Beach, we stayed at the Riviera Motel on Ocean Boulevard, a motel owned by my mother’s cousin. I don’t remember us ever making reservations in advance. We just took our chances on finding a room once we arrived.

My father loved the ocean. Perhaps this was a remnant of his Merchant Marine days on the sea. In any case, he, my older brother Steve, and I spent a lot of time in the ocean. My mother was fearful of the water, so she sat on the beach, guarding my father’s wallet and eyeglasses. When the three of us entered the ocean, my mother warned, “Don’t go out too far,” though she knew I would follow my father as far as I could. Steve rode the waves on a rented raft, while my father and I trudged out farther and farther, the waves lifting us as we went. I was determined to be with him, fighting the larger waves that swept me away from him. Once I went out chest deep and realized my feet no longer touched the sand. I panicked and paddled to more shallow water. But I wanted to go as far as my father went.

One particular day while my father and I were in the ocean, I noticed something different. Rather than gritty sand under my feet, the surface I stood on was covered in broken shells that hurt my feet. As I stood waist deep, I suddenly felt an intense stinging on my leg. Back home, I had been occasionally stung by yellow jackets, but this sensation was more startling and painful. I hurried out of the water and saw red welts on my inner thigh. I soon realized I had been stung by a jellyfish, and to this day, I’m cautious of ocean swimming because of this experience.

But I continued to go into the ocean with my father, even during that vacation, and thankfully, I was never stung by a jellyfish again.

More childhood beach memories: Rockaway Days

One of the highlights of our Myrtle Beach trips was the Pavilion Amusement Park, a large complex filled with brilliantly lighted rides, an antique carousel, and a German band organ, which drew crowds of vacationers, especially at night. My family paraded with the multitudes up Ocean Boulevard to the amusement park.

Across the street was the Pavilion arcade packed with distorting mirrors, games, and machines that offered chances to win prizes. I loved working the claw and coin pusher machines, hoping to win one of the enticing prizes, including rolls of coins and dollar bills. I never won anything at these machines, though I played them as long as my spending money lasted. Steve, however, won a red plastic devil head that my father hung on the rearview mirror of our red Ford Mustang.

My mother and I liked to have our pictures taken together in a photo booth at the arcade. Besides the movies my father made with our Bell & Howell 8mm camera, these arcade pictures help me remember the fun we had.

Photo postcard of the Myrtle Beach Pavilion in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Photo postcard of the Myrtle Beach Pavilion in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Full text on the reverse of the postcard: “Greetings from Myrtle Beach, S.C.” Aerial View of Pavilion and Amusement Park. Plyler-Brandon Sales Co., Myrtle Beach, S.C. Image in the public domain


Our final family trip to Myrtle Beach was in 1970, when I was fourteen. Steve had brought along a couple of buddies, and we stayed at a cottage-style motel with a swimming pool. At that time, my allegiances, like my brother’s, were shifting from family to friends. At the motel I met a girl from Boston and a boy from Tennessee, whom I chummed around with during this vacation. I mostly swam in the pool with my new friends, rather than in the ocean with my father.

In later years, I took my parents to Myrtle Beach. For several summers we went in August and stayed at the Chesterfield Inn, an oceanfront resort close to the Pavilion. During our earlier trips, my father and I ventured into the ocean, but eventually we decided Chesterfield’s pool was safer. Finally, one summer, he said he didn’t care about going to the beach again, so our trips ended.

But I have good memories of the Myrtle Beach of my girlhood. While the old Pavilion is long gone now, it remains vivid in my reminiscences: an amusement park alive with bright lights, thrilling rides, and magical carnival music, and an arcade teeming with crazy mirrors, games, and wonderful prizes. Mostly, though, I remember treading deep into the Atlantic Ocean, to be close to my father.

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"All We Have Loved" book cover, by Julia Nunnally DuncanJulia Nunnally Duncan lives in her hometown of Marion, North Carolina, where most of her personal essays and poems are set. Her 10 books of prose and poetry include an essay collection, A Place That Was Home (eLectio Publishing), and her essays often appear in Smoky Mountain Living Magazine.

Duncan’s most recent book, All We Have Loved, is an intimate portrait of a woman’s life in Western North Carolina, a place of unique culture and traditions. The book is filled with items, like the handkerchief, that capture the moments of life: ominous and violent or loving and joyful. All We Have Loved explores universal themes of family love, attachment to a place, and the enduring power of friendship. Readers can order her book online at Finishing Line Press.

Julia is retired now from her profession as an English instructor, but she stays busy writing, gardening, and spending time with her husband, Steve, and their daughter, Annie.

You can find more essays from Julia Nunnally Duncan in the Boomer From Our Readers department, including

Our Front Walk and the story of Thunder: ‘A Horse of My Own’

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