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Waccamaw Neck... as it was: In isolated community, kids were never lonely

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

In the bygone days when all the roads on Waccamaw Neck were dirt and going to Georgetown required a ferry ride and the better part of a day, Pawleys Island seemed a world apart from just about everywhere.

The dark, coursing barrier of the Waccamaw River and the once-lonely stretch separating the area from Myrtle Beach were bigger obstacles then, keeping folks on the Neck largely isolated.

“You didn’t know anything outside of the little area you lived in,” said Kathleen Green “Snoots” Howard, 74.

But for Howard and others growing up in the area at that time, being cut off from the rest of the world was just fine.

“We might have been isolated, but I never felt it,” said Mary Deane Lachicotte Johnson, 80. “We had what we needed.”

Even before the Great Depression struck, Georgetown County was poor. Many families lost everything in the early part of the century when the area’s rice industry collapsed, a victim of flooding and changing technology. It virtually wiped out the county’s economy.

Yet families were still able to keep food on table thanks to the creeks and inlets, which offered an abundance of fish, shrimp, crabs and oysters. Seafood in those days was a part of nearly every meal for people on Waccamaw Neck.

“The creek was our salvation,” Howard said.

“We lived in the creek,” said Johnson, who was one of eight siblings. The youngest five, all close in age, were near constant companions and spent many a day wading and swimming in the creek, often accompanied by Howard. Both families lived on the west side of Pawleys Creek, on what is now Lachicotte Drive, and they were childhood playmates.

Johnson remembers having a good time during their outings in the creek, but they also used their time to catch seafood for family meals. Johnson’s father, the late Albert Springs Lachicotte, better known as “Captain Boo,” was a commercial fisherman and Johnson recalls begging him once to let her and her siblings use his shrimp net.

“It was huge,” she said. “He did let us use it, but we couldn’t shrimp against the tide, so we pulled it with the tide.”

The result was a catch that overflowed several large, wooden vegetable baskets.

“He ended up getting us a smaller net,” Johnson said.

Captain Boo fished for sturgeon, when that was big business in Georgetown. The roe was sold to make caviar.

“We used to eat caviar with a spoon like cereal,” said Howard, who now lives at Waverly.

Between the creek and the woods, Johnson said there was never any shortage of entertainment for a child with a bit of imagination.

“We made our fun,” she said. “We made up games and played in the woods and collected critters.”

She remembers one time when she and her siblings sent their father into a temper by collecting turtles.

“We must have had more than 100 of them in the back yard in great big tubs,” she said. “We had painted their backs with fingernail polish, marking them with our initials or some small comment.”

Howard remembers making paper dolls and doll houses.

“We didn’t have much, but we were very creative,” she said.

She and the Lachicotte children were inventors, turning abandoned items they found into toys. A piece of wood and some old, broken wheels, for example, might have been transformed into a crude version of a skateboard.

A favorite activity was curling up in the center of an old tire and rolling each other around in it, Johnson recalled.

A Jersey cow the Lachicotte children had as a pet also kept the kids entertained. Named Buttercup, the cow was originally kept for milk, but when her milking days were done, Johnson’s father decided to get rid of her.

Johnson and her sisters, Eleanor Currin and Lucille Spearman, didn’t like that plan, though, so they made one of their own.

“He had a man who was going to take [Buttercup] away, so we took her down into the woods. The three of us stayed all day there with her,” Johnson said.

When they went back home, her father agreed to let them keep the cow and she stayed with the family until her death.

“I was scared to death of Buttercup,” Howard said, so she was careful to stay away when the Lachicotte children were playing or taking care of the cow.

Buttercup’s care was one of many chores the kids had. They also had to chop wood and go into the woods to collect kindling among other things, but Johnson said they never minded.

We loved it,” she said. “My sisters and I talked about it, and none of us ever thought of it as work.”

Johnson has two sisters still living. Currin resides in Pensacola, Fla., and Ethel Ripley has property at Pawleys Island. Johnson’s brother, George Lachicotte lives at Edisto Island.

With eight children, it’s no surprise the house Johnson grew up in was always packed. But there were usually quite a few extra folks in the house, as well.

“My mother and father took everybody in,” Johnson said, sitting on the front porch of the house, which is now 75 years old. The house remains in the Lachicotte family, though it’s now used mostly as a retreat home and shared by several family members, including Johnson.

Among those who once resided in the home with the Lachicottes are a soldier who lost his leg in World War II, two alcoholics and a doctor from Philadelphia who came to Pawleys Island to recover from the death of his wife.

Johnson’s mother, Lucille Pitt Lachicotte, was asked to take the doctor in for a week or two and he ended up staying for 15 years, Johnson said.

On the weekends, Johnson’s father used to bring home people from the base where he worked as an engineer during World War II. They included officers, enlisted men and nurses.

“We would have 30 or 40 people here,” Johnson said. “Somebody would be playing the piano over there and they’d have a tub of beer.”

Then there were the neighborhood children who were also regular guests.

“Everybody came to our house to play, because in our group of five, we didn’t allow them to invite just one somewhere,” Johnson said.

With a nod of her head, Howard recalled “it really was the place to go. You know, you always go where the crowd is.”

Even if Waccamaw Neck was isolated, Johnson said she never felt a lack of socialization.

“I probably felt like I had too much socialization,” she said. She said she used to dream of being an only child until two of her siblings got the measles and she spent two weeks with a friend who was an only child.

“In that household, I thought I had died and gone to hell,” she said. “It was awful. We weren’t allowed to go in the woods and the yard. We were just miserable.”

There was one school for white children, with one teacher and about 30 students when Johnson and Howard were growing up. The teacher was named Miss Marie, they recalled, and her daughter later joined her to help in the classroom.

White children could walk to school if they wanted, but there was also a bus to pick them up. There was no bus to take black children to their school, and Johnson remembers thinking that was unjust even as a child.

All students had to go to Georgetown for school after seventh grade, taking a bus over a drawbridge.

“It was the most shocking experience of my life to have to put on shoes and a dress to go to school,” Johnson recalled. At the school in Pawleys Island, “we used to go to school barefoot until it got too cold and we wore those bib overalls.”

Church is a big part of childhood memories for Johnson and Howard.

In Johnson’s earliest memories, Pawleys Island had only two churches: an episcopal church where whites attended and a methodist church where blacks went.

“We would open the windows in the summer and you could hear the black families at Chapel Creek, where they went to baptize their people,” Howard recalled.

In their teenage years, Johnson and Howard said, the separation between Pawleys Island and Georgetown made it difficult for girls on Waccamaw Neck, because most boys from Georgetown “weren’t interested in hauling the whole way to Pawleys Island.” And with such a small community on Pawleys Island most of the boys there would have been their cousins.

During the summer, however, “things were different because we had the pavilion to go to,” Howard said. “But we still didn’t date, because people didn’t have cars like they do now.”

The Pavilion was a dance hall on Pawleys Island that existed in several incarnations through the years. The last, which stood on the North Causeway, was destroyed by fire 40 years ago.

Johnson and Howard met their husbands after leaving the area to attend collage. Both women went on to become teachers. Howard taught first grade and Johnson taught special needs children.

Johnson and Howard said they can’t count all the changes they’ve seen on Pawleys Island over the decades.

“The only thing that hasn’t changed drastically around here is the creek at low tide,” Johnson said. “Forget it at high tide.” Then, she added, it’s crowded with motor boats and personal watercraft, a far cry from the wooden boats she and Howard used to paddle on.

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