empty lifeguard

Beach Bum Aristocrat

REMEMBERING A PRINCE OF THE BEACH BUM ARISTOCRACY

The Land of Shag Has Lost A Prince

Vann Applewhite as a teenager on the Beach

The Land of Shag
has lost a prince.

Walter Vann Applewhite,
number 33
on the Myrtle Beach Seahawks
football team.
Graduated high school 1957.

Born in Georgia,
in ‘38,
He spelled his middle name with two n’s,
cause that was his grandmama’s maiden moniker,
V–a–n–n.

He grew up in the woods,
earning money as a child
capturing snakes,
selling them to a collector in Florida
instead of asking for a child’s allowance,
working at being a man.

Coming to Myrtle Beach,
he became a lifeguard before the law allowed,
renting umbrellas,
chasing rubber rafts,
keeping the tourists in shallow water,
him hustling girls
at the age of sweet sixteen.

He stepped up from a lifeguard stand
to the Pan Game,
a carnival gaff
at the Ocean Drive Pavilion.

He barked the game
in a straw-boater hat
and waved a cane,
won more money
than a lifeguard
knocked down on the 4th of July,
if it didn’t rain.

From snake handler to carnival barker
he levitated up the social staircase
of beach bum aristocracy,
becoming a legend
at the Mecca and Jerusalem
of rhythm and blues,
a beer joint
called the The Pad.

When cold Blatz beer
sold for 21 cents a can,
Vann chugged his share
and more.

He was not a pretty boy
but off the beach,

a woodsman,
a hunter,
a crack shot
on whitetail deer.
A hog hunter too,
and a big fish fisherman.

His daughter, Margaret
loved him to distraction.
She was his good luck charm.
Hunting white tails;
he never missed with little Margaret
in his deer stand.

“Watching Vann skin a buck,”
she said,
“was like listening to a lecture
in anatomy.
He knew everything about woods
and had intimate knowledge of the animals in it.”

Perhaps at heart,
Vann was a teacher.
He could train a Labrador retriever
to do anything but drive a truck.
He kept good dogs
one after another:
LeRoy, Woody, and Hunter.

His first time out
as a married man,
he tied the knot with a scientist,
the mother of his good luck charm.

After Margaret was born,
he and his first wife gave it up.

And then Vann found Kathy,
the love of his life.
A six-foot tall,
former J.C. Penny’s model,
who smoked and drank
as hard as he did,
and hunted ducks
and deer,
and tragically died young.

Vann never re-married.

He made a living
selling pharmaceuticals
on the road,
until the profession, for a man, dried up.
Suddenly, you had to be a chickadee
in a pinstripe mini-skirt
to get a job
selling legalized drugs
to doctors.

Vann went off
and made more money
selling cargo space
on airplanes.

He sold himself best of all,
therefore Vann could sell you anything,
even a Chinaman’s chance
to win a thousand dollars
in the Pan Game.

He eventually came home to the carnival,
to live again at the beach.
He opened a taxi business
and made it work.
Liked to drive big cars.
The last one he owned
was a police interceptor,
that would probably outrun
a white tailed deer.

Vann never truly gave up the hunt.
He was sentimental,
though you’d never know it,
sitting down to have a drink, or two
or four,
with Vann.

At home, he kept an archive
of his time on Earth.
He held on to every hunting license
duck stamp
and deer tag he ever carried into the woods.
He still had his certification,
granted illegally
when Vann was sweet sixteen.

He kept the hospital invoice he paid
when his good luck charm was born.
Margaret only cost him $231.00

Vann Applewhite was self-possessed.
He went his own way in the big woods.
Provided for his family.
Was generous absolutely.
Not an easy man to know.
He lived by his wits,
a big league charmer when he chose to be.

To his daughter,
Margaret, his good luck charm,
and to Kathy, the love of his life
he gave himself for keeps.

Rest in Peace, Vann Applewhite.
God speed to the other side.
Amen.