There was once and 40 plus for years an almost magical place where people could come and stay on the front beach at Pawleys in a huge house, sleep in beds with 100% cotton Egyptian cotton sheets, have their beds made for them daily, have their own sink in their bedroom and adjoining bath, access to the ocean and the creek with outside showers. They could eat their home caught, raised and cooked meals in a huge family style dining room with sterling silver flat ware, individual silver salt bowls with spoons, white cotton napkins, and have their fresh tomatoes served with homemade mayonnaise.
The name of this place was Tip Top Inn. Tip Top was owned and run by a little lady known as Mammy Dingle and her daughter Claudia McGee. Mammy did most of the cooking herself and supervised the other cooks in the kitchen where the heat was always a balmy 90 plus degrees. Mammy did not believe in air conditioning on the beach.
Mammy and Claudia ran a tight ship. I know because I was one of the lucky girls who had the good fortune to get a summer job at Tip Top. Working for Mammy was a prestigious position for teenage girls. With the job we got to live at Tip Top in the little house on the creek better and always known as “The Crab House”, serve three meals a day except for Sunday supper, make the beds, make the salads and mayonnaise, keep the silver clean and the dining room set up and swept. The older maids did the heavy cleaning. The remainder of the time, we were free to go to the beach, date at night and do whatever our hearts desired. It was heaven! When I was there, two of my very best friends worked with me and another girl joined us from Virginia who was a friend of the Dingle family. Mammy worked four girls at a time for six weeks. She paid us $15.00 a week. The remainder we got from tips left by the families whose tables we waited on during their two-week stay. At the end of every week when we received our pay envelopes which included our tips, Mammy would take our envelopes and look through them. If she was satisfied with the tips we had received, they were returned to us with the $15.00 she paid us for that week. On the other hand, if she was not happy with what our families had left us-thought we had been “shorted” as she would say, Mammy would disappear for a while and return with our envelopes now containing a good more money than they had before!
Mammy was or tried to be a hard and tough taskmaster, but underneath, she took good care of us girls. She appreciated us if we worked hard and she saw that we were on time, did our chores well, kept the dining room nicely, conducted ourselves as ladies at work, tried to when we were off work treated her and Claudia with respect. At the end of my 6 weeks at Tip Top I left with nearly $2,000 in my pocket. That was more money than I had ever had of my own. I was able to buy all new clothes for my fist year in college with some left over for summer fun!
Mammy and Claudia were two peas in a pod and quite the characters! They had an apartment upstairs in “The Big House” at Tip Top where they lived. Tip Top consisted of three houses. “The Big House” which house the dining room , kitchen and guest rooms, a tall house to the right side of guest rooms and a smaller cottage to the left side of larger and more private guest rooms. The three houses were connected by lengths of board walks leading to the “Big House” and to the main walkway and covered deck out to the beach on the ocean.
Every afternoon promptly at 4PM Mammy and Claudia would appear in their one-peace Lilly Pulitzer bathing suites and rubber bathing caps, heading down to the surf for their daily swim after nap time. They would re-appear from the water by 4:30 and would be seen heading back to the house at promptly to dress for supper which was served at 5:30.
Claudia had a huge patch of Irises that she grew among other fresh flowers for the tables and dining room at Mammy house on the mainland which was less than a 5 minutes away from the inn by car. These Claudia picked daily with the help of the housemaids and arranged herself.
Mammy knew the best oyster and clam gathers in Pawleys Island and Murrells Inlet. These men delivered the shellfish to her fresh daily as well as flounder, spot-tail bass and what ever other fish was the best and the freshest.
The maids, while they were not cleaning, caught crabs on lines with chicken necks and nets off the dock in the creek at the “Crab House” in the afternoons, making for plenty of sweet, fresh lump and claw blue crab meat for Deviled Crab and Crab Casserole.
There were fresh chickens, pork of every kind and fine beef delivered daily as well. Every meal that came out of Mammy’s kitchen was a feast! It was served family style in big bowls taken to the tables where all places were set for each family. Huge sterling serving spoons and knives and forks laid ready for the head of the table to pass the plates and for all to dig in.
The only things served individually were salads and deviled crab. The deviled crab was served in individual crab shells, filled to overflowing with the delicious delicacy, run under the broiler at the last-minute and golden brown.
To give a true example and make your taste buds come alive, I have one day’s menu from Tip Top Receipts, a cook book published by Mrs. RS Dingle, Mammy, the proceeds from which were a gift to the Women of All Saints Parrish, Waccamaw.
Breakfast: Fresh grapefruit
Dinner: Roast pork
Homemade artichoke pickle
Supper: Shrimp Cocktail
Ice Cream (Fresh churned)
You will notice, in the old South, lunch is called Dinned and dinner is called Supper. Always has been and always will be. In the South tea is always sweet and when you say come to dinner it means at noon, and not just on Sunday.
The lady who made the most delicious bread was Miss Ruby. Miss Ruby made making bread look as easy as falling off a log! She sat on her stool as she had done for 30 years or more with her hands in flour, yeast and milk and sang spirituals as she mixed it with her smooth dark hands, forming each loaf with expert care. As we passed the kitchen at certain times of day, we could smell the toasting aroma of that bread drifting by like a sweet perfume on the breeze. One bite of Miss Ruby’s bread with butter was worth an entire day’s work! During my first semester in college, my dad sent me a care package every week. Inside was a loaf of Miss Ruby’s amazing bread.
Working at Tip Top Inn for Mammy Dingle and Claudia was my first experience at independence. I owe those grand old ladies a lot. They taught me things I will never forget that have helped shape me as a person, a woman and a mother.
The biggest thing I have to thank them for is finally accepting me into their family as another, the 3rd Mrs.RS Dingle, the wife of Mammy’s grandson, Robert S. Dingle III whom I met while I was working for them at the Inn. It was not until 10 years later that we married in Mammy’s front yard among her beautiful azaleas on a lovely day in April six month after Mammy had passed away, but not before giving us her blessing. Claudia was at the wedding, and as was her gift and custom, provided all our lovely flowers.
Tip Top was a magical place. It stood and provided joy for many for over 45 years. It was taken by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.