Mary Lou’s mama told her not to come.
There was little Mary Lou Blagg, a brand new school marm just starting to earn some keep after all those college bills, and she up and leaves the classroom to work at the Harley-Davidson place in Savannah.
Yes, that’s motorcycles. Rhymes with icicles. And the late Vicki Blagg was wondering aloud what happened to the child in the frilly dress and patent-leather shoes.
Mary Lou’s daddy was in Beaufort because he was a good Marine. And after that, Ray Blagg was a civil service worker cutting meat at the PX. And when he retired-retired he made dog houses and dollhouses, and some of them are still giving shelter long after Mary Lou married Charlie Brewton, who bought a Harley, and they opened a motorcycle repair shop in Burton.
These things were rumbling through Mary Lou’s mind Sunday as she squished into the same leather jacket she wore in the first one and took off in the 36th annual Beaufort Motorcycle Toy Run.
The weather was nice and 239 motorcycles showed up, coming from all over the Lowcountry and parts of Georgia. They cruised behind a Beaufort Police Department escort from behind the K-mart, down Boundary Street, around Bellamy’s Curve onto Carteret Street, then took a right on the high and holy Bay Street and veered off across Ribaut to the Salvation Army. And there they piled up Christmas gifts for Beaufort kids who need a little spark of joy.
Mary Lou and Charlie Brewton started the thing when they owned Southern Scooters Unlimited, the repair shop in Burton. When Stitch White, whose real name is Stephen, bought it in 1992, he inherited the toy run. Now it’s as much a part of his life as the bike he’s running these days as a guy just short of his 65th birthday, a 2001 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Standard.
His first look at Beaufort County was standing in the footprints at Parris Island. He wore his behind out riding motorcycles cross country before he settled back into a real life in the Lowcountry many years later. Don’t ask him how he got here from Yuma, Ariz., because the tale involves the Turkish Air Force. He lost me at, “That was actually during the embargo of Cypress.”
Mary Lou turned into a history buff along the way, pouring her energies into the Beaufort County Historical Society, and Charlie took up raising chickens, and the Beaufort Motorcycle Toy Run still calls them home.
When it started, no women in Beaufort were riding motorcycles, she said. And there were precious few Harleys.
There may have been 20 bikes involved, but the destination has always been the Salvation Army.
“All the toys stay right here in Beaufort,” Mary Lou said. “You don’t realize until you go down there how much help is needed.”
Today, they not only have women riding bikes, but grandmothers. One little boy this year was wearing his grandfather’s leather vest.
Doctors and lawyers were on the ride, and when it was done, they had an oyster roast at Rosie O’Grady’s Pub. And they talked about how Stitch had dedicated this year’s run to Remee Liggitt of Shell Point, one of the most cheerful riders over the years, even as she battled the cancer that took her life in July.
Mary Lou’s mother, maven of the garden club, got over her daughter’s funny turns in life. They’re both gone now, but Ray and Vicki Blagg used to drive down to Bay Street to watch the bikers thunder by with toys in their laps. They liked to wave at their girl.
So you can forgive Mary Lou when her voice quivers telling about the toy run’s glide through time in Beaufort, and how she blows kisses as they ride by the Beaufort National Cemetery.