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Our daily routine always changed when Mama and Daddy came to Hatteras
on their annual summer vacation. Sometimes it was a welcomed
change, and sometimes it was not.
born and reared at Hatteras. She was the younger of my grandparents'
two daughters. At age 19, she left home to attend Tayloe
Hospital School of Nursing in Washington, a small sleepy coastal North
Carolina town, which is located on the then pristine Pamlico River. The
morning she left Hatteras on the freight boat to attend nurse's
training, which in those days was the equivalent of three years of
indentured servitude, Clifford, her father, whom I called Pop Pop said,
"Naomi, honey, I'll see you back here at Hatt’ras in a
week." He was sure that his daughter would become homesick
and would want to return to Hatteras. She did get homesick,
sometimes crying for hours, but she never returned except for weekend
visits and vacations.
Daddy met Mama when she was a student nurse. After she
graduated from nurse's training, they were married. Several
years later and almost a year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, I was
born. A year after the bombing of Hiroshima, my brother was
born. Once he was required to write his biography while
attending public school. In the introductory paragraph he
wrote, "They dropped the atomic bomb in 1945, and one year later my
mother dropped me."
Mama was a nurse who practiced her profession with an unforgettable
smile and an abundance of compassion. Stirred in with a knowledge of
nursing that not only came from years of training and study, but also
from years of on-the-job experience, and you have one of those rare
individuals who was recognized by all who knew her as an exceptional
credit to her profession. When she committed herself to something, she
gave to it her undivided dedication whether it was her work, her
children, or her marriage.
Each year she spent her vacation at Hatteras with her parents and her
sister, Essie, who never married. Because of limited monetary
resources, my parents never vacationed anywhere else during their
entire marriage. Hatteras provided not only a wonderful
setting for a break from everyday mainland life, but it was Mama's
home, a place where she had always experienced tranquillity, love,
protection, and security. Prior to the ‘50s, when Hatteras
was so remote and inaccessible, she was able to visit only several
times a year. Spending a vacation with her parents gave her
time to relish their company, something she desperately
Daddy, along with his 10 brothers and sisters, was reared on a tenant
farm on the mainland in Beaufort County. Daddy's formal education ended
in the 10th grade. According to him, his twin sister,
Lillian, told their father everything he did wrong in school.
He became weary of her constant tattling, so he quit. With no
formal education, he toiled at first one job and then another until he
found his niche as a salesman. When he worked, he earned a
good income by peddling mattresses in rural communities from the back
of a pickup truck. He was as much an exceptional salesman as mother was
His dark side however was alcoholism, which did not manifest itself
until after my brother and I were born. As much as I hated
his drunken binges, I have them to thank for my extended summer stays
at Hatteras. This was the time each year that my mother sacrificed my
brother and me to her parents and sister who provided for us a more
stable environment than the one we often times experienced at
Since Daddy was self-employed and had the luxury of taking time off
from work whenever he chose, he always went to Hatteras on vacation
when Mama did. However, Daddy was one of those rare individuals who was
not particularly fond of Hatteras. It had very little to
offer him. He did not like to walk on the beach, swim, crab,
clam, or do anything else that the island has to offer. He
liked to fish if the fish were biting. Otherwise, he was bored. He did
not enjoy reading, so curling up with a good book was not an option for
him. I am certain that he never read a book in his
life. Other than reading the daily newspaper, I recall only
one other time seeing him read for pleasure. It was an
article in Redbook magazine.
It was not like Daddy to subject himself to something he did not
enjoy. So why did he vacation at Hatteras? It was
all about show. Daddy had great style in making himself
appear to be more successful than he actually was, a characteristic of
his that made him such an exceptional salesman. To
go away on vacation each year at a time when many of his peers could
not afford such a luxury offered him an opportunity to appear to his
family and friends back home that he was successful. The
reality was that this vacation did not cost him anymore than if he had
stayed at home. So to help him pass away the time and to have
something to do, he would bring a truckload of mattresses to sell
during his stay at Hatteras while the rest of us took pleasure in all
the island had to offer. With the exception of enjoying the delicious
seafood meals that Grandmom and Mama prepared and served, Hatteras was
just not his thing.
He did enjoy playing the banjo, however, and every night after supper
when the local folks came to visit, he entertained them with his banjo
picking for several hours with selections ranging from "Boil Them
Cabbage Down" to "The Old Rugged Cross." I did not take
pleasure in his kind of music at the time. The piercing sound of the
strings and the accompanying resonance of the banjo head echoing off
the walls of the small sitting room of my grandparents’ house
was not pleasing to me. Actually at times the stabbing sharp
sound of the instrument was painful to my ears. For me, one
night of the earsplitting picking and strumming was tolerable, but
night after night was almost more than I could endure. Nevertheless,
everyone else seemed to enjoy it, and he loved being the center of
It was a bittersweet
moment for me when with my parents arrived. As Daddy's truck,
loaded with mattresses, reached the end of the path and entered the
front yard of my grandparents’ home, I was overjoyed to see
Mama, whom I had not seen in three or four weeks since my arrival at
Hatteras at the beginning of the summer. However, Daddy's
presence more often than not produced an air of anxiousness.
It was much like the anxiety that I used to sense while watching the
tall white cumulus clouds lying over the ocean or the sound as they
materialized into a violent summer thunderstorm threatening the idyllic
Hatteras setting that I enjoyed so much. None of us ever knew
if his vacation was going to be our hell. It had been so many
I stood on the piazza until the truck came to a stop before running to
the passenger side to open the door and to give Mama a big hug and
kiss. It was a long embrace, filled with unsaid words of "I
love you, I have missed you, and I am happy we are together again." Her
broad grin conveyed her delight to be at Hatteras with her family and
boys. She could not hug my brother and me enough.
She was wearing a new summer outfit that she had purchased especially
for this visit ---a pair of peach-colored knee length shorts and a
matching white cotton top, both of which she had purchased at Charles
Store, a discount franchise, in Washington. She was sporting
a new pair of white thin-strapped sandals from which her exposed toes
showed off a new bright red coat of nail polish.
Daddy was next to get a hug. The first thing I always noticed when
hugging him was the scent of Vitalis, a hair dressing which he used to
control his hair that he combed straight back. His hugs were never as
affectionate as the ones I got from Mama. His embrace was
always cordial but brief. I suppose his lack of warmth was
due to his having been reared in a large family with parents who did
not have the time to show him the personal affection that parents with
fewer children can. Although they were good people, both he and his
parents were self-centered, a trait my mother and her parents did not
have. One must lack egocentricity to give affectionate hugs.
Daddy's clothes were inappropriate for a Hatteras summer
vacation. While mother's attire was casual, his was dressier,
consisting of long black pants, a white short sleeve dress shirt, black
socks, polished black shoes, and a brimmed hat, characteristic of the
ones that were the style for men in the ‘30s and
After my brother and I finished with our round of hugs, Grandmom, Pop
Pop, and my Aunt Essie, whom I called Sister, joined in with their
usual warm welcome.
Pop Pop helped Daddy carry the luggage into my parents' bedroom, which
was the larger of two located downstairs. The luggage consisted mostly
of brown paper bags and a sturdy cardboard, two-tone tan suitcase that
Mama had purchased many years ago from the Woolworth store in
My brother, Clifford, who was too frightened to sleep alone downstairs,
always slept in the bedroom adjacent to our parents' room when they
visited us. This gave both him and me the luxury of a bed to ourselves,
since we shared one of the two beds upstairs in Sister's room when our
parents were not visiting.
Pop Pop helped Daddy unload the mattresses, which were temporarily
stored in the living room. Since that room was rarely used,
they were not in the way. Daddy was such a skillful salesman
that they rarely remained there for more than a couple of days.
The last items to be unloaded from the truck was an assortment of
produce that Mama and Daddy bought along the way from one of the many
roadside stands located in Tyrrell and Hyde counties. There
were usually a couple dozen ears of fresh corn and a quart of shelled
colored butter beans. There was also a dozen tomatoes, some of which
were ripe and ready to be sliced and combined with bacon, lettuce,
mayonnaise, and two slices of bread to make sandwiches that were fit
for a king. The unripe ones were later battered, fried, and
served as a side dish at supper. There was also a peck of peaches, most
of which were used for making homemade ice cream on Saturday
night. Two cantaloupes and a watermelon finished the windfall
of fresh summer garden treasures. I could hardly wait until
the big green fruit with its sweet, red, fleshy interior was chilled,
sliced, and served. I certainly agree with Mark Twain who wrote, "When
one has tasted watermelon, he knows what the angels eat."
Watermelon was Sister's favorite fruit. While most of us ate
only the seedless heart of the melon, she ate down to and including
most of the rind.
After the temporary confusion of my parent's arrival had settled down,
the entire family sat on the piazza to relax and enjoy the cool ocean
breeze, while Clifford and I jockeyed for opportunities to tell our
parents what we had been doing during the summer. I told them about
going to the landing and going to Uncle Luther's, while Clifford told
mostly about how Grandmom had not let him have the freedom that he
thought he should have. This always placed Grandmom on the defensive,
even though my parents always supported her decisions. Since
both of our parents worked, we were less supervised when we were with
them in Washington than when we were at Hatteras with Grandmom.
Grandmom did not work outside the home, so she could keep a close eye
on us, and she was a stricter disciplinarian than our
parents. Because of his young age, Clifford always had a
difficult time making the adjustment from the freedom he had in
Washington to the more supervised climate at Grandmom's house.
I am five and a half years older than my brother, and I assumed much of
the responsibility for his well being when we were in Washington and
when our parents were at work. Anytime I questioned his lack
of wisdom, big brother took it upon himself to correct his little
brother's injudiciousness. I continued to assume this
responsibility when we were at Hatteras. What Grandmom did
not see him do, I often did. I am sure that I was as much a
burden to him for my ceaseless attempts to correct his behavior as he
was to me for my feeling obligated to assume the responsibility of
Just three days earlier, while I was on an errand to the store for
Grandmom, Clifford and one of his friends appeared in front of me on
the road from a side path that originated at the landing.
They did not know that I was behind them. If Clifford had
known, he would have thrown away the cigarette that he was so boldly
smoking when he approached the road. I had never smoked a
cigarette and here was my 8-year-old brother puffing like a
pro. I knew our parents would not approve, so I quickly moved
near them so I could reprimand Clifford. Before I was in position to
confront him, he saw me out of the corner of his eye. Without missing a
step, he dropped the burning cigarette on the sandy road and kept
walking while continuing to stare straight ahead.
"Clifford," I questioned "what do you think you doing?"
By this time, he was at least five steps ahead of where the cigarette
"What do you mean?" he innocently replied.
"Smoking. I saw you smoking."
"I don't know what you're talkin' about," he replied with a dramatic
puzzled look on his face.
"I'll show you what I'm talkin' about," I said as I grabbed him by the
shoulder, turned him around, and led him to the smoldering Lucky lying
on the sand.
"I saw you drop that cigarette right there," I stated as I pointed to
it. "What would Mama and Daddy think if they knew you were
I reasoned that saying that would put the fear of the Lord in him. Such
an inferred threat gave me power -- power that would give me better
control over his future behavior.
"I didn't drop that cigarette," he proclaimed. "Somebody else must have
I did not say anymore about the smoking incident. I assumed in my
adolescent mind that I had frightened him enough. I presumed that he
would probably think twice before smoking again. By
the next day, I had temporarily forgotten the incident, but he had
not. Apparently I made quite an impression on him when I
asked him what Mama and Daddy would think. Both of us feared
Daddy. He had convinced us that he would kill us in cold
blood if we ever did something like smoke cigarettes. It was
not until we were much older that we learned that his bark was much
worse than his bite.
The first time that there was a lull in the conversation on the piazza,
Clifford dropped the bomb. With all the innocence of an angel who had
just descended from heaven, he turned to Daddy and said, "Daddy, I hate
to tell you this, but Buddy has started smoking."
There was a brief moment of silence as Daddy digested what Clifford had
announced. My heart quit beating.
Daddy turned to me and calmly asked, "Son, is that true?"
I could not believe my ears as my brain tried to process what was
taking place. Clifford had very cleverly put me on the
defensive with his lie, and here was Daddy asking me if I had done
something that not only I knew I should not do but also that I had not
done. The shock of what was happening caused my suntanned
face to turn a brilliant bronze shade of red. I thought the
capillaries of my face were going to dilate to the point of exploding,
sending blood everywhere. With such a guilty look, how could I convince
anyone that what my brother had just alleged was not true? I wanted to
die on the spot, but not before killing Clifford.
"I ain't been smoking. He's the one that's been smoking," I
responded in a changing adolescent voice, which consisted of as many
high pitched sounds as bass ones.
My retort sounded so shallow that I was certain Daddy would think I was
lying in an effort to save my own butt. But all I could think to do was
to deny Clifford's fabrication while meekly pointing the finger of
accusation to where it rightfully belonged. I was
certain that Daddy thought that I was falsely accusing him to get the
heat off me. I was confident that I was going to get not only
a spanking for smoking but also another one for telling a lie.
"I'd better not hear tell of you boys smoking," he emphatically
stated. After a few more seconds of silence, the conversation
among the adults resumed and the issue was never mentioned again.
I will never know whether he believed I was smoking or not, but I felt
as guilty as if I had been. At my expense, Clifford cleverly diffused
what he thought was going to be his death sentence. He had no
way of knowing that I had laid the whole smoking incident to rest, at
least as far as telling Daddy was concerned. I knew that if
Daddy found out about it, he would probably kill him. Since I
did not want my brother to die, tattling on him was not even
considered, but I did not want him to know that. As long as I
kept the smoking incident from our parents, I took for granted that I
had some degree of control over his future behavior. All I
had to do was threaten to tell and he would do whatever I
said. Who would have ever guessed that he, an 8-year-old
person, would be shrewd enough to rob me, a 13-year-old person, of such
power? I never underestimated his intelligence again.
Usually the first week of Mama's and Daddy's vacation was spent
visiting relatives in the morning, going to the beach after lunch,
going to the docks to buy fresh seafood, which was prepared for supper,
and listening to Daddy entertain with his banjo at night.
Everyone seemed to enjoy this break from the customary daily routine of
A typical day began
with everyone climbing in Daddy's truck to go visit some of Mama's
relatives. Riding in a car or truck was a special treat for
my aunt and grandparents who seldom had such an opportunity. Pop Pop
never owned but one automobile in his life. He bought the second-hand
vehicle for the motor that he removed and installed in his
boat. I do not recall hearing him say what he did with the
rest of the car. In all probability, he threw it in a nearby creek, as
was the fate of most rubbish in those days.
Grandmom, dressed in a clean frock and bonnet, sat in the cab of the
truck with Daddy and Mama. Daddy placed a bus seat in the bed of the
truck next to the cab where Pop Pop, Sister, and I sat.
Clifford sat in Pop Pop's lap. With the air rushing
by and the large cumulus clouds contrasted against the brilliant blue
Hatteras sky overhead, cruising in an expensive automobile convertible
would not have been more thrilling.
During the first week of my parent's vacation, Daddy would accompany us
on some of our visits, but most of the time he would drop us off,
return home to get some mattresses, and begin calling on prospective
customers. Since he was not available to pick us up after our
visits, we walked back home, arriving in plenty of time for Grandmom to
have dinner, our midday meal, on the table by 11 o'clock.
After Mama awakened from her customary after dinner nap, everyone
packed into Daddy's truck for a trip to the beach. I have
always enjoyed the beach, but I did not enjoy much with Grandmom
along. She never went to the beach with us that she did not
tell us of the time, when as a young girl, she was knocked down by a
wave, washed into the ocean, and almost drowned in a rip
current. This experience left her petrified of the
water. She instilled that fear into Mama, who never mastered
the skill of swimming because Grandmom never let her get in water deep
enough to learn. Although Mama was more lenient about our playing in
the water, my brother and I were never able to go into the ocean over
ankle deep when Grandmom was along because she was constantly reminding
Mama of the ocean's dangers.
Daddy seldom stayed at the beach with us. He usually dropped
us off at the beach road next to the Atlantic View Hotel and across the
road from The Beacon, a local establishment that sold beer.
We walked the remainder of the way across deep hot sand to the cool
The few times he did go to the beach with us, we seldom stayed longer
than 15 minutes. He never owned a bathing suit,
consequently his attire for an afternoon at the beach was
incongruous. He wore his felt hat, long pants, and a dress
shirt. He took off his shoes and socks exposing unbelievable
white feet that obviously had never seen the light of day, let alone
direct sunlight. After a few minutes of wading with
his pant legs rolled up above his knees, he said that he did not like
"all that damn sand between his toes," and he announced that it was
time to go. No one argued because we knew a request to stay
would be in vain.
When he was not along, we got to play at the beach much
longer. However, near 3 o'clock, we started the long walk
back home so Grandmom and Mama could begin supper.
Supper was always special when Mama was at Hatteras. We
seldom had seafood when my parents were not there. Grandmom
reluctantly deviated from her customary supper menu of eggs, bacon,
yeast rolls, and jelly for more culinary delights such as fried or
baked fish, shrimp, oysters, and both hard and soft shell
crabs. When served along with the fresh produce that Mama and
Daddy brought with them from the mainland, our suppers would make Julia
Child turn green with envy.
gave Mama free reign in the kitchen. After looking after my
brother and me all summer, I guess she thought she deserved a vacation
too. That is not to say she left the kitchen during meal
preparations, however. Although she let Mama do the cooking,
Grandmom did the supervising.
Mama fried seafood better than anyone in the world. Her
shrimp and crabs were better than candy. I have yet to taste anyone's
fried shrimp that even comes close to being as delicious as
Everyone in the family loved shrimp, and it did not take us long to
clean a platter that was heaping with those scrumptious
crustaceans. I often hurriedly ate my portion of shrimp and
then used the old "Bruno" tactic to get my aunt's portion.
It seems that when she and Mama were children, there was a fisherman in
the community named Bruno. One day he sailed out in the sound to fish
his nets and somehow in the process fell overboard and
drowned. When he did not return to the landing that evening
as he was scheduled, a search party set sail to find him. His
boat was discovered tied to his net stakes, but his body was not found
until three days later. The word of his fate spread through
the village like a wildfire the afternoon the boat sailed into the
harbor pulling Bruno's body behind it. Many curiosity seekers
including my aunt rushed to the landing to see him. There,
floating in the water and attached to the boat with a rope around one
of his legs, was Bruno. His body was covered so completely
with shrimp that he looked like a monster from the sea. This
was the first time that my aunt had seen a drowning victim. It was a
graphic illustration as to what can happen to a person's body after
such a tragedy. She had no idea that shrimp were scavengers,
which are organisms that feed on dead organic matter. From
that moment on, she never ate them again until she was a middle-age
adult. Even then she quickly lost her appetite for shrimp if
someone mentioned the name Bruno at the table where they were
She should have never told me that story. Knowing how the image of
Bruno affected her whenever his name was mentioned, all I needed to do
to get her helping of shrimp was to say "Bruno." I always ate
hers more slowly than mine, and I enjoyed every crispy morsel of
them. Today I'm ashamed of that childish ploy, but I still
remember the heavenly taste of those shrimp.
Citing the name Bruno made only my aunt sick. However,
Grandmom could make us all rather queasy when we had baked porgy, a
name given to spadefish by the old-timers of Hatteras. I
shall never forget how I felt the first time that I saw her dine on it.
Pop Pop cleaned the fish, removing only the scales and guts while
leaving its head intact. He cut several vertical slits along the fish's
side. Grandmom placed the rather large fish in a baking pan
and covered it with chopped onions, potatoes, and lots of salt and
pepper. She cooked it in the oven. When it was time
for it to be served, she placed the steaming hot fish, surrounded with
onions and potatoes, on a large platter. She poured the
juices that formed during baking over the porgy, creating the final
touch to a cuisine that looked like it had been prepared in the finest
Everyone helped themselves to generous portions of the white flaky
muscle from the side of the fish as well as to the onions and potatoes.
Everyone that is except Grandmom! She removed the fish's head and
placed it in her plate. I watched as she meticulously
dissected away and ate the small bits and pieces of muscle from the
face of the fish. I could not believe my own eyes when she popped one
of the fish's eyes into her mouth. She moved the small organ
from one side of her mouth to the other as she chewed, being careful
not to bite down on the hard lens. It was obvious from her
facial expressions that she was enjoying this unusual
delicacy. At this point I started to feel queasy, but it was
when she spit the lens onto the side of her plate and put the other eye
in her mouth that I almost lost my cookies.
I thought to myself, "Now, I know Arabs eat sheep eyes, but I ain't
never heard of no one eating fish eyes. Lord have mercy, how
could she do that!" From that time on, whenever she served
baked porgy, I tried not to watch when she ate the eyes and at the same
time wrestled with the curiosity of wanting to see her do it.
After the first week of vacation and after Daddy had sold all his
mattresses, he became restless and bored. His lack of
imagination for something better to do led him to The Beacon.
It was at The Beacon, one of two beer joints on the southern end of the
island, that he drank his profit from the mattresses in the form of
beer. Sometimes he found someone to sell him
whiskey, although none was legally sold on the island at the
For the second week of my parents’ vacation, Daddy lay drunk
until his money ran out. Then he would drink anything he
could find with alcohol in it. One night Mama had to get
Uncle Luther, a neighbor who lived across the road from us, to carry
him to Buxton to the only doctor on the island because he had consumed
shaving lotion. After his stomach was pumped out, they
brought him back home.
His addiction was such an embarrassment to Mama. It was also
humiliating to my brother and me. However, it never appeared
to embarrass Grandmom, Pop Pop, and Sister. If it did, they never gave
the show away. They always treated Daddy with the utmost of
kindness and respect, both in his sickness and in his health.
It was not until I was grown that I came to understand alcoholism as a
disease, but by that time the damage had been done.
As is the case with children of alcoholics, both my brother and I
suffer from some of the psychological baggage that living with such a
parent produces. However, our saving grace through it all was
Mama. She taught us how to bravely face adversity. She
demonstrated by example that alcohol or drugs of any kind for that
matter are not necessary for a happy life. But most
importantly, she gave us summers at Hatteras where we let the gentle
summer southwesterly breezes blow the cobwebs of a drug dependent
parent from our minds.