In color: A two-week winter vacation

... The Norrises spend 14 days driving, four days resting

by Don Norris

Somewhere in northeastern Pennsylvania.

"Hey Sweetie, let's dump this load of tourists and make a little hay back at
the stable ..." This is Charleston, South Carolina, which is our choice for most
beautiful city in America.

Even in mid winter, there is subtle color and jazzy designs everywhere.

While the South is heavy into farming, that's not to say there's no industry. This
scene is in Georgetown, South Carolina, on the edge of the Atlantic.

No, no earthquake -- it was built that way. It is one of some half dozen theater
buildings in Myrtle Beach -- there's always a show or six going on. There's a
boardwalk, a ferris wheel -- and a rather inane sign that says if a tsunami hits,
get off the beach.

The South has a social problem -- those old homes and farms that have been abandoned
over the years, perhaps dilapidated -- yet rich with history -- especially family
history. Several towns are facing the problem now, for some old places are
considered dangerous or an eyesore. So far there seems to be no one solution to the
situation. Ironically, this photo was taken on the shores of the Delaware River, in
Pennsylvania. The difference between regions (north and south) is the cost of land.

The major problem stems not in the aesthetics, but in the tax situation. If the old
places are occupied, there are taxes to pay. But if they reach an age where housing
live people becomes dangerous, and they are abandoned, then who pays the town tax,
or the county tax or possibly the state tax?

We saw where, in several cases, the fields surrounding these old places are still
being tilled -- in fact, we saw some where the furrows came right up to the walls of
the old buildings. It seems that if the county were to tax that property, it would
be as farmland, which carries a relatively low rate. Still, the tax has to be paid.
We also assume that, in some cases, philanthropic history groups have joined the
fray, probably with varying results.

Strange as it may seem, this is downtown Charleston, South Carolina, on an icy-cold
February morning. The temperature had dropped to 27 degrees, and this homeowner
failed to turn off his outdoor fountain. Which goes to prove that the South isn't
always the sunny South. At the right is Lorry Norris, wife of retired journalist Don
Norris, of Southern extraction -- and a guy who loves hot boiled peanuts. The only
place he can find such delicacies is below the Mason-Dixon line; so in their
travels, the pair visited some dozen "Food Lion" supermarkets -- and bought 40 cans
of boiled peanuts -- four at a time. The couple's two daughters also enjoy this

A beautiful sculpture highlights the entrance to the Cape Fear Aquarium, some 40
miles south of Wilmington. At the right is a residential neighborhood in Georgetown,
SC. Note the oak-shaded peaceful scene -- with only one car in sight.

Architecture from the 1800s highlights the city of Charleston. It is a gorgeous,
small city, full of history. It is, in fact, the site of the first battle of the
Civil War, yet, in spite of that heritage, the people are friendly and gracious.

While back-roading through South Carolina, we came across a lowland creek that
crosses this seldom-traveled route. There were several gracious houses almost hidden
from the road -- and it was a beautiful place. That murky creek with its black mud
banks is typical of the lowlands. It lead us to the little town of Yemasee, a mere
dot on the map, but an important railroad transfer spot for all young American men
headed for boot camp at Parris Island. I was here, in 1951. As for that right-hand
photo, if you've never seen Spanish moss, here it is. The best we can say about it
is that it adds a certain mystery to those gorgeous water oaks.

The inland port of Wilmington, North Carolina, is/was a fabulous small Southern town
-- when we lived nearby 50 years ago. Today the downtown is still quaint, with a
marvelous waterfront and huge battleship. The town played an important part during
the Civil War, serving as a seaside port for vital goods -- vital to the Confederate
armies. It wasn't until the spring of 1865 that federal troops were able to shut
the port down.

Fort Macon is located at the north end of Atlantic Beach, off the coast near
Morehead City and some 35 miles northeast of the Marine base called Camp LeJeune.
Macon's claim to fame was that Lieutenant Robert E. Lee, U.S. Army, visited the new
fort around 1835, and advised its engineers to build stone jettys so the place would
not wash away. Atlantic Beach appears to be fully built up today -- certainly not
like the remote place is was only half a century ago.

Our return route from Charleston took us along the backroads of the coast, and we
stopped for a night at a hotel in Morehead City. The following morning, bright and
early we were off for a quick 50-mile trip over little-used roads, twisting and
turning, through funky little seacoast towns, to Cedar Point -- the ferry port for
our journey to Okracoke and Cape Hatteras. It was a long ferry ride -- a couple of
hours -- but not quite as long as the uneventful highway along Cape Hatteras. For
miles and miles we looked at the backside of the protective sand dune on our right,
and stormy waters of Pamlico Sound on the left. Not much here, not much to see since
the engineers built those dunes to prevent the sandy cape from washing out to sea.

That night we stayed in the best of the lot, the Hilton Gardens near Kitty Hawk. It
was a restful night, but we have never seen the ocean so angry, the waves so high,
and the beach under such threat.

Our journey home was fighting heavy traffic around Norfolk, Wilmington (Delaware)
and Philadelphia. But from there on, we picked up an insignificant little road
called 132 in Pennsylvania, from Trenton north, along the west side of the Delaware
River. It was a beautiful ride, no traffic, nice little casual and smart
restaurants, great scenery through the Deleware Water Gap, Washington's Crossing,
all the way north to Port Jarvis. And then home. It was a good trip, in spite of the
terrible traffic.

But I think next time we'll fly.

March 2, 2012

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