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Waccamaw Neck... as it was: Pawleys Island always meant the Creek House
By Jackie R. Broach
It was 1931 the first time Melvin Nauss, née Green, laid eyes on Pawleys Island.
Her family lived in Conway and her younger sister, Mary, had recently been diagnosed with polio.
“The doctor said she needed to swim, so we came here and kept her in the creek all the time,” said Nauss, 86. “All morning and all afternoon, we just lived in that salt creek out there. It was wonderful. What a life!”
After that first summer, the family, which included six children, came back every year to stay at True Blue Creek House, which overlooks Pawleys Creek from the south.
A group of Nauss’ nieces and nephews now own the 103-year-old house with its wide, screened-in porches. When Nauss became a full-time resident of the area about 25 years ago, she bought a house that backs up to the old family home. She cuts through her backyard and ducks through a hole in her back fence when she wants to visit the creek house.
Nauss remembers well how she used to look forward to her stays at the creek house as a child. Her family would leave for Pawleys Island as soon as school ended for the summer and stay until the day before the new school year started. She remembers equally well how she always dreaded the time when she had to return home.
“Oh, it was awful,” Nauss said, some of the long-ago sullenness she felt as a child leaking through in her voice. “We had been barefoot all summer, then we had to go to school and put on clothes and shoes.”
The way she says it, there’s no doubt it seemed a fate worse than death at the time.
Nauss and her siblings usually whiled away the summer days with Mary Deane Lachicotte Johnson and some of her seven brothers and sisters. They had a house on the other side of the creek, in easy walking distance from the creek house.
Nauss doesn’t remember playing many games as a child.
“There was so much else to do otherwise, we didn’t need to play games,” she said.
The children had all kinds of adventures together, but “the creek was our playground, don’t you know,” Nauss said, and that’s where they spent most of their time.
They went swimming and crabbing, pulled shrimp nets to help fill their families’ dinner tables, and collected small treasures, such as sea shells, turtle shells and animal bones.
A wall of glass cases in True Blue Creek House is filled with decades worth of those treasures picked up by Nauss and her siblings, as well as later generations.
The beach was also a place where Nauss and her siblings played, though not nearly as often as they did in the creek. They would climb up and down the sand dunes and “tear them up,” she said. Dune preservation wasn’t much of a consideration then.
Nauss didn’t discover how much damage so much time in the sun did to her skin until she was in her 40s. But she’s not surprised by it.
“Of course we didn’t know anything about sunscreen, so my mother rubbed us in olive oil,” she said. “We fried out in that sun.”
The children had a parrot and they used to hang his cage in the woods during summers at Pawleys Island, where he would talk to people passing through, Nauss said with an amused laugh.
She doesn’t remember what words the parrot could say, but “people were just fascinated with him,” she said. “He was this big beautiful bird.”
The summer also meant going to All Saints Church, where Florence Lachicotte would teach Sunday school in the church yard, with her students seated on the tombstones.
One of Nauss’s favorite childhood memories is of an ice wagon that traveled from Conway to deliver blocks of ice to homes on the Waccamaw Neck. She and her brother, Sonny, used to hitch a ride on the back of the wagon as it left Conway and ride to Pawleys Island and back.
“We would get on and eat ice for the next three hours,” she said. It was quite a treat in those days.
When Nauss’ family made their annual journey from Conway, they brought a cow with them, having it brought down the Waccamaw River on a barge to Waverly Mills, where it would be boarded for the summer.
That area was home to another branch of the Lachicotte family, and is where A.H. “Doc” Lachicotte and his sister, Alberta Lachicotte Quattlebaum, grew up.
“They had two old maid aunts who milked the cow and brought the milk to us probably every other day,” Nauss recalled. “Those two old maid aunts were choice people. They were lovely.”
She remembers a letter the aunts wrote to her father when the cow died after being bitten by a snake. Luckily, the cow hadn’t been a pet like one Johnson had growing up that she has told tales of.
Nauss’ father, Dove Walter Green, was a doctor in Conway and split his time between there and Pawleys Island during the summer when the rest of the family was at the creek house.
In addition to his practice in Conway, he worked at clinics on Waccamaw Neck.
Dr. Henry Norris, who came from Philadelphia and bought Litchfield Plantation, asked Green to work one day a week at a two-room clinic he built on the edge of Parkersville Road.
Green’s willingness to do that was integral to Norris’ decision to build the clinic, Nauss said.
Green also worked at a clinic that philanthropist Archer Huntington built at Brookgreen Gardens. He and his wife, Anna Hyatt, established the gardens and eventually left them as a public trust.
“They paid my father cash money to come spend the day,” Nauss said. She didn’t realize then how unusual that was.
In those days, doctors were generally paid in commodities, which meant the Greens rarely had money, but never went hungry.
Patients paid with sausage the family would hang on the back porch, bushel baskets of sweet potatoes or Irish potatoes, and any number of other foods.
“I didn’t know any of that growing up,” Nauss said. “I didn’t know we didn’t have any money, that we were poor.”
Nauss’ parents were invited to have dinner with the Huntingtons once at Atalaya, the castle-like structure at Huntington Beach State Park that was their home. Nauss’ mother, Irene, told her all about it when she got back home.
Nauss was particularly impressed when she heard the Huntingtons had a glass dining room table. It seemed very fancy at the time.
The year of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Nauss went off to college at Winthrop in Rock Hill, then to the Juilliard School in New York, where she studied music. But she still returned to Pawleys Island at every available opportunity.
After she graduated, she moved to Florence, where she taught music for two years, then began a 30-year career in social work.
It was in Florence that she met her husband, Ben, who died of a stroke in 1982. He was from Massachusetts, but had served in World War II with a man from Florence, the husband of a friend Nauss had met at Winthrop.
When Ben came to visit the couple shortly after returning from Germany, the friend called Nauss and asked her to go out with him while he was in town.
They were on their third date when he asked Nauss to marry him. They hadn’t even held hands yet.
“I said hell no,” Nauss said. It took him another year and a half to convince her and they married in 1947.
Nauss said she took great pleasure in introducing Ben, and later their four sons — Smitty, Loren, Bill and Tim — to Pawleys Island.
The area has definitely changed over the years, but Nauss said she doesn’t think it’s for the worse.
“It’s still a wonderful place,” she said.
And she can’t blame others for doing what she did and making it their home.
“Why wouldn’t somebody want to live here,” she said.