I never thought of living here—in the Myrtle Beach area. This was a place my family vacationed when I was a child, specifically in Cherry Grove. My parent’s best friends had a family beach house there, and some of my happiest memories of childhood are those weeks we spent together, our families comingled, sharing bedrooms, bathrooms, beach towels, and sunscreen.
Since we were spending time with their closest friends and their small children, most of the tension of my family was left behind as soon as we headed south in the direction of Cherry Grove. I remember just loving the sound of those two words- Cherry Grove. It meant a week of laughter, good food, and feeling almost normal. I have known the Harris family since I was six years old, have spent as much time with them as any of my extended family, and have always been in awe of the happiness in their house, their family—that has only grown more beautiful over the years. I feel so lucky that I grew up spending so much time with them, really seeing firsthand what a healthy marriage and family looked like- what it felt like. And I always felt at home in their house- and still do to this day.
Once we were all at the beach, the minute we drove up to their orange and brown house on stilts, I felt relaxed and more myself than most any other time. I loved the Harris’ daughters as if they were my own sisters, and reveled in the role of big sister—and the opportunity to do it for a whole week was thrilling to me.
I couldn’t tell you the exact years we started going to the beach, or when everyone’s schedules got too busy and children grew up, moved away, and finally the house stopped being a gathering place. But of all the places I have traveled and lived, Cherry Grove held a special place in my heart.
I remember so well waking up in the mornings on vacation, slipping on a swimsuit still damp from the day before, finding flip flops (mine or someone else’s) and trekking the block to the beach. I can still see pictures in my mind—photographs we would get developed after the trip, showing one of the Harris girls as a toddler in a tiny, baby-sized bikini on the beach, eating fistfuls of sand, usually with me hovering somewhere nearby, laughing, the ocean breeze sweeping my hair to one side.
Nighttime was spent with us all gathered in the kitchen, seemingly everyone cooking something, eating until we felt we would burst; or we would all head out to dinner, trading children in each other’s cars and heading to Calabash to eat fried seafood in a restaurant overlooking the water.
Slipping into bed at night, my skin still felt warm from soaking up the sun all day, and I felt more a part of a normal family than any other time.
But I never thought of living here. This was a vacation spot. I think there was also some magical association I had with the time I had spent here, and the thought of marring those memories would have been too risky. Better to leave those experiences safe and in the past—and not return to see a reality of some sort, or create any unhappy association.
Then, when I met my fiancé, one of the first trips we took together was to this area. He had also grown up vacationing here, but had continued that tradition himself as an adult through the years. He also had an almost magical view of this area, and said he had hoped to retire here one day. He had dreamed of living here, but never saw a way for it to work out.
And then, in a bit of a whirlwind, we got serious, his work situation changed, my work situation changed, and I made inquiries about a job here. Neither of us thought it was likely we would really be able to end up here, but it was nice to entertain the idea and put a few feelers out. His dream became my dream.
It all popped into place so quickly, it is still hard to believe. And as much as I am thrilled to be here with him writing our love story, I see the signs for Cherry Grove and I am taken back immediately, decades ago. I almost wish I could go back and tell that girl—me at 12 years old—that all the love I needed, all the things I hoped for—were going to find me—a little farther down the line than I might like—but in a place I treasured. This beach, these roads, these places I knew and loved would one day be home for me…in more ways than I could have imagined.
In the past month as I searched for a church for us to get married, I googled information, called churches and pastors, and drove around looking for a place that felt right. One night, I came across a Facebook page for a little church nearby. I called the next day and made an appointment to visit. The moment I walked into the sanctuary, I knew this was where we would say our vows. And the address, of course, is Cherry Grove. I can’t imagine a better place for this new beginning, this new chapter of our lives. I will walk down the aisle in a church in a city that held nothing but happiness for me, and that happiness will continue... right where I left off so many years ago.