It seems that nearly every time I meet someone new to the Lowcountry and they find out I have lived here nearly all my days, one question comes up: "Are you sad that all the development changed the paradise you and your family seemed to have before the area became popular?"
My answer to that question has changed as the years have gone by. Though I wish that things had not changed, I will always love this area, people or no people.
If ever there was a time I considered becoming a radical, it was the day they began cutting down the 100-year-old live oaks that lined U.S. 278 on Hilton Head Island so they could make the road four lanes. Almost everyone living on the island at that time was devastated when the first chainsaw screamed. I can still remember my thoughts when that happened.
Those oaks were massive, all gnarled and weathered, and all I could think of was what those trees had seen. They had witnessed thousands of Union soldiers marching along that very path during the Civil War, ox-drawn buggies filled with seafood and local produce being taken to the families on the south end of the island, plus countless other events that were part of the island's history.
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You know that I fished a lot during my early years, but what else was a youngin to do when there were only a handful of kids around my age? Luckily, the statute of limitations will keep me out of the pokey, but I will say that my friends and I were, well, adventurous.
Most of the roads were still dirt, and we rode marsh tacky horses owned by the Depkin and Hack families. Most of the boys had motorcycles. I wasn't into dirt biking, so my ride was a motorized bicycle from France called a Solex.
The Solex was an odd contraption. It looked like a regular bicycle, but on top of the front tire was this little engine that spun a small wheel inside the motor. Once you got the engine started, you would push a handle down and that small wheel would sit on the front tire of the bike and off you went. I think the top speed was around 20 mph. Believe it or not, it was quite the chick magnet. Or maybe it was my good looks and long, flowing hair. Oh well, whatever it was, it worked.
I've done it now by bringing up girls, but I might as well run with it.
Unlike the tourists who come to Hilton Head now, back then the same families would come back year after year for two or three weeks at a time. And because there were not nearly as many people, summer weekends for us boys meant slathering ourselves with cologne and heading to the William Hilton Inn to check out the new crop of girls that might, or might not, be hanging around the pool. Other than the Seacrest Motel and the Adventure Inn, there simply weren't any other places to go for young bucks bursting with testosterone.
If I had to put a ratio on boys to girls, it was nirvana for us guys because for whatever reason, there always seemed to be way more girls than boys.
Even with more girls than boys, competition was fierce. If one young lady was particularly appealing, it was a "may the best man win" scenario. Usually though, by the time someone won that girl's attention, it was time for her family to head back to wherever they lived. Then the whole cycle would begin again as a new crop arrived. Looking back, it was pretty darn funny thinking about the lengths we would go to outdo one another.
Imagine if places like Sea Pines still offered Friday night coon hunts or Saturday pig hunts. That was the way we entertained ourselves -- that and catching rattlesnakes, baby gators and exploring places that were like stepping back 100 years.
I was sad, and at times mad, when everything changed, but time has tempered my memories some. I just feel fortunate to have experienced the best of those early days -- and that includes the girls. The only thing I regret is that I am going to have to explain this column to my wife. Any suggestions?
God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.