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Going to Grandmom's by taking the Hadeco, a freight boat that ran from Engelhard to Hatteras village, was always a memorable experience, even on calm crossings.  However, the greatest adventure was going to Grandmom’s by driving on the beach from Oregon Inlet to the village.

It was as hot a summer day as 1951 had to offer.  "Son of a biscuit eater," rolled from my father's lips as easily as the breath he exhaled.  He was upset.  The temperature gauge was reading hot and steam was pouring from under the hood of our recently purchased, second-hand, cream-colored, two-door, '48 Dodge, the first family car we ever owned. We were 20 miles from Oregon Inlet, and there were 40 miles to go before arriving at Grandmom's house.  The nearest service station was in Buxton and that was 20 miles away.  There was nothing to do but stop the car, and stopping the car meant inviting still another challenge to an already over-challenged automobile. Today a simple call on the cell phone to AAA and help would be quickly on the way.  But this is now and that was then.

After disembarking the Barcelona, a ferry that transported cars from Bodie Island to Hatteras Island, we were faced with traveling the first 40 miles of the island with no road. The only road was the berm of the beach, an area between the tide line and the dunes.  Timing the trip so it would be low tide when we landed on the south side of Oregon Inlet was always wise.  That gave us, for the most part, a wide firm beach on which to drive the 40 miles south to Buxton where a welcomed asphalt road greeted us for the remaining 20 miles of the journey to Hatteras Village.  The first leg of the drive from Oregon Inlet to Rodanthe offered an alternative to the beach "highway."  It was also an unpaved, single-lane route, consisting of loose sand and deep ruts, not much of an option.  The best chance of not getting stuck was to reduce the air pressure in the tires to 18 pounds per square inch and to drive on the beach. 

Once my father accelerated the car to 20 mph, he was reluctant to slowdown or stop until we reached Buxton.  Moving at this speed, the old Dodge would plane across areas of soft sand much like a fast moving boat does over water.  Stopping invited the possibility of getting stuck, and getting stuck was easy to do since the car did not have four wheel drive. Before beginning this uncertain trek, everyone knew to relieve himself behind the nearest sand dune, since official rest areas were nonexistent.  My little brother, who even at 5 years of age liked to do things dramatically, always picked the top of the highest dune he could find.  He enjoyed honing his marksmanship and distance from lofty peaks. To his way of thinking firing straight-ahead from the top of the dune gave him greater distance than aiming straight ahead at the base of one.  This vantage point also afforded him the opportunity to clumsily trip and roll to the bottom of the dune, something our parents did not want him to do.  He could not turn down one last chance to expel some energy before becoming imprisoned for the next two hours in the back seat of the car.  The thrill of rolling down the dune was soon negated by the discomfort of sand sticking to his already hot and sweaty body with no chance of washing it off until we arrived at Grandmom's house.

The first 15 miles were uneventful. The beach was wide and flat, and the sand was firm. As far as one could see, a golden undisturbed beach lay in front of us. The blue Atlantic rushed by on our left and windswept dunes topped with golden sea oats rushed by on our right.  Occasionally the flat beach became a series of undulations that I called "camel backs."  As the car sped over them, my brother and I would hold on to the back of the seat in front of us as the car tossed us around on the back seat.  Neither he nor I have ever experienced a carnival ride that brought more uncontrollable laughter from deep within our being and a broader smile to our faces. The car provided shelter from a hot summer sun, and the breeze coming through the windows of the car kept us comfortable, except for my little brother who was itching from being covered with sand.  Moving at our present speed, we would see the lighthouse in about an hour and a half. Being the first one in the car to spot the lighthouse gave this 10-year-old a great sense of accomplishment, so I maintained a constant vigil from the beginning of the journey, even though this famous landmark was 40 miles away.

It was at this point that my father noticed the temperature gauge was registering hot.  Five miles later, he stopped the steaming car on a very firm section of the beach and uttered the first of many expletives. Among other things, I heard him say “God” so many times that I was not sure whether his was praying or cussing.

There was not another living human in sight.  My parents, my little brother, and I were at the mercy of the elements. We explored the beach in the vicinity of the car while my father examined the cooling system beneath the hood. The sun's rays beat down unrelentingly on us. The mid-day heat became almost unbearable.  The car urgently needed to be repaired because in a few hours the tide would be lapping around its wheels, undermining it to the point that the ocean's waves could wash it into the sea. Concern was on everyone's face, except for my little brother's.  He decided that he should seize the opportunity of our misfortune to relieve his.  He was only steps away from the Atlantic Ocean, which could wash away the sin of grit that had plagued him for the last 20 miles.  He knew he shouldn't do it, but he also knew he shouldn't have rolled down that sand dune, atop which he had aimed at and sprinkled an unfortunate ghost crab.  I know the ghost crab was never the same, and neither was my little brother's rear after our father finished spanking him for taking a mid-day plunge without permission.  That day he seemed to trade one discomfort for another.  He cried from the pain of his thrashing, mother cried from her fear of the uncertainty of our predicament, and I cried because everyone else was --- everyone else except for my father.  He had discovered that our trouble stemmed not from a hole in the radiator but from a hose with a small leak at one end near a fitting.  He used his pocketknife to cut away the defective part of the hose.  He was greatly relieved to find there was enough hose left to easily stretch it to where it needed to be attached.  I thought nothing else stood in the way of continuing our trip.  There was one major detail, however. We needed freshwater to refill a radiator that was bone dry.

There was water, water, everywhere and not a drop to put in the radiator.  Saltwater in a radiator means disaster to a motor, not immediate disaster but disaster just the same.  The chance of someone coming along to help us was slim, and someone happening along with freshwater just increased the odds.  Realizing this, my father did what anyone else in the same predicament would do.  He found a jug in the flotsam on the beach and filled it with seawater.  After several trips to the ocean's edge, the radiator was topped off with a liquid that would not only enable us to get to Grandmom's house, but also would mean the certain demise of our only means of transportation.  Several suspenseful turns of the motor gave way to a steady hum, and we were off again.  We didn't stop again until we reached Grandmom's.

On a number of occasions after my father bought the car, I heard him mumbling to himself, as well as telling my mother, what a lemon it was. He was constantly fixing something, if it was not the universal joint, it was the starter, or the generator.  More than once I heard him exclaim, "It's been nothing but trouble!  I wish that son-of-a-biscuit-eater who sold it to me had it put it where the sun don’t shine." My father never wanted to appear that he had been scammed, so it was my father's style to always brag about the car to his friends, and especially to the salesman who had knowingly sold him a car of questionable performance.  The next week when he returned to Washington from Hatteras with the car whose cooling system still contained coolant from the Atlantic Ocean, he continued to brag about the car.  He never told anyone about the incident on the beach.  In less than a week, he returned to the used car lot and found the salesman from whom he had purchased the car.  He told him that although it "ran like a top," he wanted a car that was a bit more stylish.  It sounded good to the salesman, who by now was convinced from my father's bragging that the car was not a lemon after all.  He traded him even for a Buick, two-door hardtop, a much sportier car than the Dodge, and one whose cooling system never had so much as a sip of cool, blue Atlantic nectar.


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