THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
By Jason Lesley
For the Bishops and Bowens, there’s no place like Litchfield Beach.
The two families have vacationed together for 50 years, expanding to the point they take up three houses during their annual pilgrimages in July.
“We come down and haven’t seen each other for a year and pick up conversations right where they were left off,” said Ed Bowen, who calls himself one of the founding fathers along with Buck Bishop. Bowen said the two lifelong friends are “tombstone buddies.” During their Litchfield week, most everybody calls them Uncle Jake and Uncle Buck.
Bowen, 80, and Bishop, 81, have been best friends for 69 or 70 years, depending on who’s counting. The boys grew up in Greenville. Bishop still lives near there, though Bowen retired in Herndon, Va., near Washington, D.C. When they were young teenagers, their parents allowed them to take the bus to Myrtle Beach for a week at Green’s Motel. They shared a $7-a-night room and never worried for a minute that something bad might happen. “Now,” Bishop said, “I wouldn’t send my child to Myrtle Beach at that age for anything.”
But those memories of Myrtle Beach were good enough to bring Bowen and Bishop back when they were newly married, Bowen to Frances and Bishop to Louise, who goes by Charlie, and each with two young children. They stayed the first two years at the Colonial Inn, owned by a Greenville resident, before moving across Ocean Boulevard to the We Blu Inn, owned by one of their former school teachers. The We Blu Inn was the kind of mom-and-pop motel that has disappeared from Myrtle Beach. “We basically occupied the We Blu Inn,” Bowen said. “Everybody on the beach knew our kids.” As Myrtle Beach became a golf destination, it got too rowdy for the families. “We were sick of Myrtle Beach basically by about 1974,” Bishop said.
They looked around for a place where the families could spend a safe and quiet week on the beach and discovered Litchfield. “This was paradise,” said Bowen. Their first years were at the old Webster House on Parker Drive until Frances Bowen called Litchfield Real Estate one May to reserve it for July and found that it had been rented. There was one other house available: “Edgar’s Headache” on Sundial Drive.
Despite the name, the house was fairly new, having been built in 1974. It had an inside stairwell. “That just sold me,” Frances Bowen said, “and we have been in this house ever since, probably since the late ’70s.”
Frances is a native of Charleston and knows that beach house names are sometimes an inside joke. They’ve never had a headache with the house, owned by Sylvia Huggins. Even the damage from Hurricane Hugo was repaired in time for their 1990 vacation.
The families need three houses now — Bishop thinks it will take four next year. The children and grandchildren have formed bonds that many families would envy. Buck and Charlie’s children are Buck, Ginger, David, Will, Greg and Nichole. Ed and Frances’s children are Walter and Elizabeth. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren seem to be shared during the week.
Young Buck Bishop and his wife, Jackie, were married during vacation week 12 years ago. “It was a wedding not to be forgotten,” Ed Bowen said. “We all wore Hawaiian shirts and carried tiki torches going down to the beach about dusk. It was kind of like a Frankenstein movie.”
Elizabeth, the Bowens’ daughter, brought her boyfriend, Don Fink, to the beach 10 years ago. “Are you the one?” Buck asked him in a slightly threatening fatherly tone. “I think so,” he said. Don proposed to Elizabeth at the southern point of Litchfield Beach two years later. He was “the one,” Don reminded Buck when they returned to Litchfield Beach this year with their son, James. “I knew you would be,” Buck said.
The Bowen-Bishop vacation week begins with a hamburger and hot dog dinner on the first Saturday night. Their only meal out is at Lee’s Inlet Kitchen, usually on Tuesday, followed by Putt-Putt. Wednesday is Mexican night, hosted by Walter and Alicia Bowen.
Most days include the mile-and-a-half walk to the point. “We get our exercise that way,” Ed Bowen said. “It’s getting further and further away.”
Having a house on the creek allows youngsters to fish and kayak all they want. Frances said they’ve never had a week rained out, though a downpour is not uncommon and gives them an excuse to sit on the screen porch and talk.
The week winds down quickly after Mexican night, as the clans try to savor the last days of sun. They don’t go to the beach on their last Saturday morning. Memories of beach sand are better than the real thing in the car.