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Sally Keyser and Leigh Jackson wear the dresses their great-grandmother wore as grand marshall, starting in 1966.

Pawleys Island: Old and new meet as parade turns 50

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A single red pickup truck sat alongside the South Causeway. Red, white and blue balloons fluttered from a trailer it towed. A handful of kids and adults added flags and other decorations. It didn’t seem like an auspicious start for the 50th annual Pawleys Island Fourth of July Parade. But it was still early, about an hour ahead of the official start.

Nancy Johnston fastened a sign to the roof of the cab. “Pawleys: 50 Years of 4th Fun,” it read. And she should know. She was 18 when she took part in the first parade. She’s never missed one. When she didn’t ride in the parade, it was because she was watching with her mother, Nancy Wilson, who drove a red Ford Galaxy convertible in the first parade and wasn’t able to ride herself in her later years.

Another group of original participants invited Johnston to ride in their float behind the grand marshal, George Meighen, who came up with the idea for a parade while staying at the Cassena Inn in 1966. Johnston said she needed to keep up the tradition of riding with her family, which now includes grandchildren. She expects those kids will be around to celebrate when the parade turns 100.

They might even be wearing the same dress that Johnston’s grandmother, Nancy Bondurant, wore when she was the first grand marshal. Her great-grandaughters Sally Keyser and Leigh Jackson, wore red, while and blue cotton dresses that Miss B wore during more than two decades when she led the parade. “We found them in the attic,” Jackson said.

Sally’s children, the fifth generation to parade, filled the float. Johnston waved a plunger, just like her grandmother did in 1966. Their float won an Honorable Mention.

“What amazes me is the number of people who come and sweat to watch it,” Johnston said.

Andrew and Julia Aikman are among those who wouldn’t be anywhere else on the Fourth of July. They were parked along Myrtle Avenue with their daughters Kristin and Anna. “The whole buzz of the place is great,” said Andrew.

They stumbled across the parade last year while vacationing from Scotland. They arrived in time to see their first parade. They loved the colorful and creative themes. (“Forest Gump was fantastic,” Julia said.) “The girls said, ‘Let’s go back,’ ” Andrew said. After last month’s Brexit referendum in the U.K. caused the value of the pound to drop, this summer’s vacation has turned out to be more expensive than they planned.

Still, the Aikmans were impressed by Julie and Jerry Moore’s parade entry “The Original Brexit.” It featured kids in colonial garb and a couple of boys in a boat refighting the Revolutionary War with foam swords. “That picture’s going home on social media,” Andrew said.

The parade has celebrated Independence Day while maintaining topical themes ever since that first parade when boys carried signs reading “I Won’t Burn My Draft Card.”

“Thanks, George,” read the sign on the float put together by the Howard and Bagley families. They carried plungers in honor of the baton carried in the first parade and handed the judges a ceremonial gold plunger with an eagle attached to the end of the handle. The theme was “Unstoppable Since 1966.” While they knew all about the parade’s founding story, Marcel Bagley said they hadn’t met Meighen. They cheered the founder when their paths crossed along the route.

Their efforts were noticed by the judges, who gave them the trophy for Most Enthusiastic.

David Lake and Lee Arthur won Best Overall for a pickup truck of cute kids with shark hats being pursued by the white shark Mary Lee, which emerged from a foam of green and white balloons on a trailer. The shark is one of many tracked by Ocearch and was pinged of the South Carolina coast last month.

Most Original went to the Willcox and Dotterer families for a tribute to Marlow’s Store, like the parade an “Oldie Goldie” at Pawleys Island. Lloyd Willcox played the late Frank Marlow with an apron, a cigar and a bald wig.

Mike Britt of Columbia didn’t take credit for his family’s Most Patriotic trophy. “It usually takes me three weeks” to build a float, he said. “We did this in three and a half days.” His family rode atop a giant 50th birthday cake for the parade.

The Creech family of Columbia won Best Children with a trailer turned into a crab trap where a bunch of kids in crab hats had been lured by the promise of rubber chickens hanging on a line.

Most Humorous went to the Mitchell family for a golf cart that solved the mystery of Hillary Clinton’s email server. It was dredged up in a net behind the cart. A sign said, “Feel the Bern, Don’t Do Trump Sunscreen.”

Best Musical, which carries the only cash prize, went to The Grey Men, a former high school band resurrected for the parade several years ago that has been a regular winner.

Honorable mentions also went to Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic (SODA) with a truck filled with sea creatures urging opposition to seismic testing for offshore oil and gas; the Lominack family for “Barn in the USA” featuring kids – and a couple of adults, in animal masks on a fenced in trailer; the

Joseph family for “Pawleys Island Natural Convention” with candidates like Freddy the Flounder (“Make Pawleys Creek Great Again”) vying for support from delegates representing the North End, South End and Mid Island; the deHaas family and friends with a pluff mud theme that included a mermaid, a kayaker and swimmers urging people to “Make Waves, Not War”; and the Guess House crowd for a group of little girls offering a cheeky salute to the parade’s 50th anniversary.

For some, just being in the parade was reward enough. Joyce Parker signed up her golf cart on June 1, the first of 58 entrants. “We just wanted to be part of the community,” she said. “It looked like fun.”

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