by Sally Gomez
I was blessed to have a wonderful childhood, a bit different from most of my friends. My parents owned and operated a small hotel called Spruce Mountain House in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. Spruce Mountain House originally began as a farm and boarding house when my great grandfather bought some land in the early 1920’s. My grandparents then took over in the late 1930’s, added a few more buildings, and did less farming. My parents bought the property in the mid 1940’s, and no longer farmed. After all, my father grew up farming and my mother, who was a city girl, wanted nothing to do with that aspect.
What they did, however, was build up a wonderful hotel business that was open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. That was the way the area’s small hotels operated until the late 1960’s when the tide turned and the American travelling public wanted more.
I can still picture our letterhead, designed by my mother, that read “Less Work for Mother.” She recognized that women made most of the vacation decisions.
I remember as a child of about 8 hearing my parents discuss the merits of adding more amenities. Instead of swimming in the lake, we should build a swimming pool. Instead of playing badminton in the grass, we should add a tennis/badminton/basketball court. And we did. And boy, were my sister and I happy. And boy, did we have more friends than previously.
However, in the late 1960’s, the smaller family-owned hotels began to disappear. My parents decided to sell Spruce Mountain House and its surrounding 100 acres rather than hang on to something the public no longer loved. Although some of our guest rooms had private baths, some did not and guests shared the bathrooms down the hall. Our activities such as hayrides, square dancing, and horse back riding could no longer compete with golf courses, cocktail lounges, and cruises.
Our guests were always weekly, Saturday to Saturday, and many families came year after year, often the same week each year. We got to know them well, and some became life-long friends. Although my sister and I realized that what my parents had decided was necessary, we knew we would miss our wonderful summer experiences.
She and I waitressed in our beautiful blue and white dining room from age 13 on. We were not paid, nor did we expect to be, but we were allowed to keep our tips. I also organized all of the children’s activities from 9 am-12 noon to give the parents free time. We had a little building (formerly a chicken coop) that we renovated into The Children’s Clubhouse. I loved taking the kids to The Clubhouse each morning, not only because I loved the children, but it allowed me to get out of clean-up from the breakfast shift!
We served three unbelievably wonderful meals a day for our guests, all prepared by our chef, Mr. Jerry Johnson from Lynchburg, VA. Mr. Johnson was a black man who got on the train a few days before Memorial Day, leaving his family at home, and returning the day after Labor Day. We had no diversity in our little village, and Mr. Johnson (who was also a teacher and preacher back in VA), was really my idol and mentor. I especially got my love of baking from him. Not only did he prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, he did all of the baking, including daily pies, cakes and sticky buns. His work ethic, as well as others at that time, was something to be emulated.
After my parents sold the hotel and retired, my sister and I were married and raising our own families. When my children were school age and I wanted to go to work, I really only wanted to work in the hospitality industry. I worked in several large resorts that were still viable in the Poconos, starting as sales coordinator and working up to director of sales. However, after my divorce and with my two sons now adults, I took a vacation to Myrtle Beach and felt it calling me. That was in 1992, and I was thankful to be hired by Matthew Brittain to be the director of sales at Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort.
Things were happening along the Grand Strand, and I wanted to be part of it. There were so many terrific things about to burst onto the scene. Broadway at the Beach would open and offer visitors a Barefoot Landing-type of experience. Calvin Gilmore would leave Surfside Beach and his Southern Country Nights show for his beautiful, new theater to house the Carolina Opry. Dolly Parton would bring her exciting Dixie Stampede to the beach as well. There were so many activities and amenities, in addition to our beautiful beaches, for vacationers to enjoy.
Fortunately, my new husband agreed that Myrtle Beach was going to be a good fit for us because he was a golf lover, and we all know that Myrtle Beach is the golf mecca of the East. In addition to loving the varied golf options, he bought several food businesses over the years, including O’Henry’s Ice Cream Parlors at the former Waccamaw Pottery area, and later the Grumpy Grouper seafood restaurant in Socastee.
I continued working in the hospitality industry, moving on from Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort to several other properties, finally spending the last five years as manager of private events at beautiful Brookgreen Gardens. Those events included many weddings, and prior to retiring, I decided to become a private wedding planner. Coastal Wedding Consultants was born, and I have a dedicated partner, Mary Rana, who was my wedding volunteer at Brookgreen. I also do a little public relations work for a restaurant in the Hammock Shops, and finally have time to volunteer. I love to entertain residents of the area’s nursing homes and senior living communities, often relating stories from my childhood which I turned into a self-published memoir titled Born Above the Kitchen. I take along my guitar, sing some songs from my wonderful childhood, and if a few folks are willing, I get them up to take part in an easy square dance.
I believe my parents would be happy to know that I continued in their footsteps. I think that our old Spruce Mountain House square dance caller (Mr. Sam Jones of the Pocono Potato Peelers…true name) would be glad to know that some of the old dances are kept alive here in the greater Myrtle Beach area. The Pocono Mountains have had a hard time keeping up with the wants and needs of the traveling public, but thankfully, the Grand Strand has not. We may not be perfect here in our corner of the state, but we are doing the best we can to accommodate visitors and locals alike. I’m happy to be doing my part.