The Best Weeks of Our Lives

BY Jennifer Roush

With a glimmer in their eyes siblings Sarah Hardman Giachino and Stan Hardman speak of the Wrightsville Beach of their youth their memories painted like an ocean sunset. “We always came down the first two weeks of August — that was our time ” Sarah says.

As kids their family packed the station wagon and made the 12-hour journey from Spencer West Virginia to Wrightsville Beach — always in the first two weeks of August. They call this time some of the “best weeks of our lives.”

The Hardmans — including parents Charles and Mary and brothers Fred and Tom — own a 100-year-old family business in West Virginia Hardman Lumber Company. As a family they found sanctuary from the overcast cold days of the mountains on the sunny shores of Wrightsville Beach.

The windows-down non-air-conditioned trip including the occasional flat tire was all part of the experience.

“Dad would pack the car in such a way that we would put our luggage on the first level in the back … and then we would put a baby mattress on top of the luggage and the boys would usually sit in the middle seat. And Sarah because she was the youngest was always in her pajamas and we left before the sun came up. She was carried out as we were getting ready to actually depart the driveway. Then she slept the first two or three hours maybe if she was not too excited ” Stan says sitting next to Sarah in her family’s second home in the Landfall community.

The two recall the excitement of seeing sand on the road and that first smell of the ocean.

“That is a clear memory of mine getting closer and walking out on the beach the night we got here ” Sarah says. “And you could hear the surf.”

The Hardmans experienced the vacationers’ accommodations of the 1960s — before condominiums. When the family first came to town they stayed at the Beaty Apartments a quaint white colonial building at 551 South Lumina Avenue. Their next lodging at the Barbee Apartments located at 603 South Lumina Avenue was another non-air-conditioned efficiency. This was before they “arrived” and rented at the air-conditioned Crystal Apartments right by Crystal Pier.

The pier became a playground for the children watching anglers pull in a huge sand shark one minute annoying the owner of the pier’s diner the next. Going onto the pier was free; they remember a fishing permit as costing $0.25 a day! And right by the Crystal Pier was the Lumina Pavilion.

“Lumina was the centerpiece of this island ” Sarah says. “As a youngster vacationing in close proximity to Lumina it just provided all kinds of entertainment and activities for any kids or adults.”

On the first floor they remember that Lumina featured pool tables pinball machines and yellow and blue rafts available for rent. On the upper level there was roller skating and a dance floor where dances attracted young people from around the area. In Lumina’s later years the Upper Deck nightclub held much mystique for the young Hardmans.

Sarah remembers being in seventh grade and standing at the foot of the whitewashed steps of the Upper Deck reading a sign that said “18 and over” and hoping to one day go in.

“I wanted to get in there so bad because the coolest people on the beach were walking in and out of that place. When we actually moved down to the Crystal Pier Apartments our bedroom window faced the Upper Deck. You could hear the nightclub music and the jukebox going and … it would just be like it was in your bedroom. I remember looking out my window thinking ‘I’m going to get in there someday.’ I remember them playing Crystal Blue Persuasion and all these great songs ” Sarah says.

Lumina Pavilion including the Upper Deck was torn down in 1973 before Sarah was old enough to go. Even without Lumina Wrightsville Beach was filled with activities for Sarah and her family. Sarah remembers Newell’s where Wings now stands having the best bathing suits anywhere and going to the Crest Theatre and Roberts Grocery. The Hardmans spent most of their days on the 18-foot red boat they hauled down from the Mountain State waterskiing fishing or going seashelling on Masonboro Island.

“At that time you could find sand dollars sea urchins conchs welks tulip shells olives; I mean you could find anything ” Sarah says of the shells they carried home. “All the Atlantic seashells you could find over there and you could actually find those on Wrightsville Beach too. But low tide on Masonboro Island was primo hunting. Then you could walk down to the south end and then go sound side all the way from one end of the island to the other. There was enough of a beach on the sound side where you could walk between the water and the bank. Everyone had a little bit of beach behind them.”

The Hardmans weren’t the only West Virginians to make Wrightsville their destination. Well-known West Virginia names such as Neil Bucklew past president of West Virginia University and Leonard Riggleman past president of the former Morris Harvey College also brought their families to Wrightsville. Over the years quite a group of family and friends formed. They would vacation at the same time and at least for a while stay at the same place like the Crystal Pier Apartments.

Charles and Mary Hardman eventually bought two units at Sea Oats which they still own. Stan is the president of the family company. He lives in Spencer with a home on Topsail Island. Sarah lives in St. Charles Illinois with a home in Landfall. They have collected nearly 45 years of Wrightsville Beach memories from their youth to adulthood and their children and grandchildren are now creating some of their own.

For their parents’ 65th wedding anniversary on July 7 2007 they couldn’t think of anything better than bringing everyone back for a beach reunion. It was a weekend of parties and reminiscing just like the old days.

“It wasn’t hard to get everyone to come because they all wanted to be here ” Sarah says.

Stan and Sarah can boast that they have both visited Wrightsville Beach every year since they were children. Now they are bringing their own children. Stan has three granddaughters coming for the first time making this the family’s fourth generation of Wrightsville Beach lovers.

“I always wonder ” Sarah says “as a resident growing up here all your life if you realize there are people like us who have vacationed here all of our lives … and who think this place is so special still.”