Marvin Park’s Carolina Beach summer of ’49

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 3, 2008

By Marvin J. Park
for the Salisbury Post
As we age, the frequency of “senior moments” seems to increase. The name of an acquaintance is on the tip of our tongue, but we can’t produce it. We walk to the kitchen only to discover that we can’t remember why we made the trip. We struggle to remember the birthdates of loved ones or forget appointments.
But some memories are etched into our minds permanently and refuse to succumb to the ravages of time. Such was the summer of 1949.
My wife and I were married on Aug. 14, 1948 ó she a bride of almost 15 and I not yet 18 years of age. No, it was not a shotgun wedding; we were just young and in love and for us it was the right thing to do. We had no honeymoon and started our lives as man and wife living with my parents and a few brothers and sisters at the home place in Rowan County, North Carolina. I had a job in the local textile mill in Kannapolis and we set about making a life for ourselves and making ends meet financially.
Then, after just a few short months, in May of 1949, disaster struck. I was laid off from my job at the cotton mill and needed to find another job quickly. My wife’s parents owned a small beach house at Carolina Beach that had been fashioned out of an old World War II Army kitchen from Fort Fisher and they offered to let us stay there for a while, provided we could find employment. I was able to get hired on at the local ice plant as an “ice man” just as the summer vacation season was beginning.
These were the days when most beach houses had “ice boxes” and refrigeration was the exception rather than the rule. The local ice plant would make ice in 320-pound cakes, which my helper and I would load on the back of a pickup truck and cover with tarps. As we worked the streets of Carolina Beach, we would look up into the kitchen window located on the street side second floor of most beach houses to see what size block of ice the tenant wanted delivered. There would be a square piece of cardboard hanging in the window with the number of pounds requested displayed in a horizontal position.
Customers could choose from four different sizes ó 25, 50, 75, or 100 pounds ó by simply rotating the piece of cardboard until the correct one was readable from left to right at the top of the card.
With my helper, who rode on the back of the truck with the ice, I shared the duty of chipping the requested size block of ice from the 320-pound cake with an ice pick. Then, using a pair of ice hooks or tongs, I would throw it over my shoulder and carry it up the external staircase to the kitchen, collect the money and repeat the process over and over for all houses displaying requests. I would also service the fishing piers, boardwalk businesses, the Army base and other local restaurants and bars throughout Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Fort Fisher.
My wife was able to get a job running the dart booth on the boardwalk in the evenings, where for 25 cents you could get three chances to use your dart-throwing skills at bursting balloons to win a prize for your girlfriend or your children. While she worked, I walked the boardwalk, played Bingo, and took in as many amusements as I could to kill the time. Then we both would spend hours walking the boardwalk, sampling freshly made donuts and other culinary delights and in general, just having the time of our lives.
I can remember, with great clarity and fond remembrance, the wonderful fun-filled days and nights spent working and playing at the beach during the heyday of the Carolina Beach Boardwalk following World War II.
My wife and I worked our designated jobs, spent our time off from work on the boardwalk and beach and finally had our honeymoon. Our first son was conceived during this magical summer. I gained a love for the ocean with its sandy beaches and carnival type atmosphere that would follow me the rest of my life, requiring many vacations to the coast over the course of a lifetime.
But all good things must come to an end as as summer faded I ran into my former overseer from the textile mill on a fishing pier, who inquired as to why I was delivering ice there. After hearing I had been laid off from my textile job earlier in the year, he asked if I would like to have my old job back.
Two weeks later, I received a call from my daddy that my old job was indeed available, and with it the opportunity to return to Rowan County. My wife and I closed up the beach house, returned to Rowan County and I continued my 44-year career with Cannon Mills.
Based on these memories and many, many more that I can recall (and often re-tell) from this specific period in time, it is as if every detail of the Magical Summer of 1949 were frozen in time in my mind.
The clarity with which I remember those three short months became exceedingly clear 55 years later, when in 2004 my sons took me on a fishing trip to Carolina Beach. We revisited the beach house where my wife and I stayed. It was still there, but in a sad state of disrepear. We also visited the old ice plant, which was also still there but no longer making ice. Its old ice-making equipment was still housed in the building, rusting away, being replaced long ago by better ice-making technology elsewhere. But the ice storage cooler was still in use as a cooler to keep seafood fresh.
I struck up a conversation with the manager and was recounting to him my days as an ice man long ago. I told him that the ice hooks that we used were normally hung on a board that was too high for me to teach without jumping, so I asked if I could hang my ice hook at a different location.
As I turned my head to show him where I normally hung my ice hook, there it was ó still hanging in the same place I had left it on my last day of work 55 years ago.
It was covered with white saltwater rust. He reached up, removed the hook, handed it to me.
“I think that these rightly belong to you,” he said.
I graciously accepted them and they are one of my most treasured possessions. (As told to Alvin Park, Marvin Park’s son.)