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Other than going to the landing on Friday night, Saturday was the only
other night of the week that Grandmom would let me leave the house
after supper. I was allowed to go to a picture show at Mr. Ander's
theater, located in the heart of Hatteras on the only paved road that
ran through the village. As soon as the movie was over, I was given
very clear instructions to come home immediately.
Other than at church, it was the only time of the week that you could
find in the community a crowd of people numbering 50 or more. Since
television was not available on the Outer Banks until sometime in the
late 1950s, going to the picture show was a very special event. Unlike
the church gatherings on Sunday morning, a merrymaking spirit permeated
the Saturday night crowd who attended the movies. I could not
wait to take my Saturday bath, dress in a clean shirt and shorts, eat
supper and leave barefooted for a night of entertainment with my
friends at the theater. It was at the movies that I, like so many
others, discovered the thrill of the opposite sex. There was
only one thing that spoiled the excitement that this special night had
to offer. I had to cope with it every Saturday night on my
way back home after the show. On the return trip, which was usually
around 9:30, the walk back to my grandparents’ house was
unsettling, even when someone was with me. But when I walked home alone
it was terrifying, especially on this particular night.
I started making preparations for the Saturday night event in the
middle of the afternoon, sometime around 3 o'clock. The lack
of indoor plumbing made taking a bath a bit of a chore. The
routine usually consisted of heating a kettle of water on the gas cook
stove, getting a towel and washcloth from the old wash stand, finding a
bar of soap in the kitchen, locating a small porcelain enameled basin
that we called the wash pan, filling it half full of cold water from
the cistern, and taking it all upstairs to my bedroom. Everyone in the
family took a bath in the privacy of his bedroom. Since the rainwater
collected from our roof was our only source of freshwater and that
needed to be conserved, no one ever used more than the equivalent of a
couple of kettles full of water for his or her once-a-week Saturday
However, on occasions after a hard rain, Grandmom allowed me to take a
bath outside on the back porch in her No. 2 zinc washtub. On
rainy days, the precious liquid from the sky was directed from the roof
of the house into a cistern via gutters and downspouts. If it
rained sometime near Saturday and we thought of it, Pop Pop, my
grandfather, would redirect the water into the washtub from one of the
downspouts that led from the roof. The tub, which Grandmom normally
used for rinsing her clothes, was filled about two-thirds full before
Pop Pop returned the downspout back into the cistern. After
the rain shower passed and the clouds no longer obstructed the sun, its
rays warmed the water to a pleasant temperature for bathing.
A tub bath was a rarity enjoyed only by my brother and me.
The adults of the family never bathed outside on the back porch, even
though the shield of a large fig tree would have prevented anyone from
seeing them performing this weekly activity. And besides, they were too
large to fit in the tub anyway.
By suppertime, I was squeaky clean and dressed for a Saturday night on
the town. After the evening meal, which always consisted of the same
menu -- eggs, bacon, apple butter or jam, molasses, hot yeast light
rolls, and coffee -- I was given a quarter to buy my ticket for the
movie and 10 cents for candy and a drink. I left home for the
movies some time near 6 o'clock, even though the show did not start
until an hour later.
As I approached the end of the path that joined our yard with the road,
I met Mac, who was also bathed, dressed in his Saturday night attire,
and who was headed to the same event. Mac, who was a year
younger than I, was a neighborhood friend who lived a few houses north
of us. I greeted him and together we excitedly headed down
the road to the movie theater. Neither of us knew what movie
we were going to see and neither of us cared. The movie,
which was usually five or more years old and in black and white, was
only an excuse to get away from home on Saturday night.
I noticed that Mac was carrying two pieces of rope, each of which
appeared to be about 6 feet long.
"What you doin' with that rope?" I asked.
"Goin' to have some fun," he replied with a twinkle in his eye.
"What kinda fun?" I wanted to know.
"Oh, you'll see," he replied in his Hatteras dialect.
I thought to myself, what kind of fun can you have with two pieces of
dry-rot rope which was not even fit to tie a skiff to a dock?
An hour before the movie began, it seemed that every child in Hatteras
village from the age of 8 and up converged at Mr. Ander's store, which
was located beside the movie theater. Forty-five minutes later the
adults who were attending the show began arriving.
Mr. Ander's store had a large, covered front porch, which for an hour
before the movie began, was filled with loitering kids. Some
were sitting on the porch's edge, dangling their legs and drawing
patterns in the sand with their toes, while others congregated in
groups and interacted with each other much the same way any group of
adolescents might do. Laughter erupted from first one group
and then another. An atmosphere of controlled merriment
increased as the crowd grew larger.
A couple of steps up from the porch led to the entrance of the old
general store that was much like it was when it opened for business in
1918. Inside, the store was dimly lit, a contrast to the brighter
lights outside on the porch. The unpainted, beaded-wood walls
had grown dark with age and reflected little light. From the open
office area of the store, Mr. Ander, the proprietor, a small,
stooped-over and rather frail man, sternly observed the influx of
cheerful native kids who were purchasing their refreshments for the
movie that was scheduled to begin within the hour.
There were two commodities that distinguished this store from the
others in the village. One was a large, wooden, 50-gallon molasses
barrel from which the dark delicious molasses was pumped into jars
provided by the store's patrons. A layer of foam always floated on top
of the recently filled containers. The other was a display
case of penny candy that seemed to go on forever. The throng
of adolescents was disproportionately distributed in the store, as the
candy display drew their primary interest. Since only popcorn
was available in the foyer of the movie theater and drinks were not, a
10-cent bag of penny candy from the store was the most popular
gastronomic pleasure for us while we enjoyed an adventure to a far-away
place on the small silver screen.
I always had trouble deciding which candy to buy. It all looked so good
and the bouquet of sweet aromas from the glass-enclosed showcase just
added to my confusion. No matter how hard I agonized over my purchase,
I frequently ended with the same selection every Saturday night -- four
two-inch squares of bright red cinnamon hard candy, one four-inch stick
of red and white striped peppermint, one four-inch stick of red and
green striped wintergreen, two BB bats, a Mary Jane, and one white soft
square of coconut candy. Occasionally, I forfeited the
peppermint stick, the two BB bats, the Mary Jane, and the coconut
square for a soft drink. Just as I finished paying for my
purchase, I heard the squealing of skidding automobile tires followed
by an uproar of laughter from the loitering crowd outside.
When Miss Inez, Mr. Ander's wife who was clerking that night, handed to
me the small brown paper bag filled with my sugar treats, I rushed
outside to see what was causing all the commotion.
Even on Saturday night there was very little traffic on the
road. Sometimes 15 minutes went by before a single car passed
by. I saw an embarrassed and somewhat angry driver speeding
from the scene. It seems that Mac and five other boys were up
to their usual pranks, and this time Mr. Garland, who was home on leave
from the dredge on which he worked in Florida, had unfortunately become
their indiscriminate prey. He was an extremely conservative,
serious middle-age bachelor and not an understanding victim of
someone's practical joke. After a glance at the scene in
front of the store, it became quickly apparent to me the role the ropes
played in Mac's "havin' some fun."
The boys had spread a line of sand about two inches wide and an inch
deep across the recently paved road in front of the store.
There was a stark contrast between the golden Hatteras sand and the
black asphalt of the road. Buried at each end of the sand row
was an end of one of the ropes that Mac had brought from
home. Three boys were positioned on each side of the road
holding the unburied ends of the rope. To an approaching
vehicle, it looked like one continuous rope from one side of the road
to the other. The boys on each side of the road were gripping
the rope in such a way that it appeared they were going to tug on it,
lifting it several feet above the road as an unsuspecting vehicle
approached. As Mr. Garland's new 1952 Mercury came near, the
boys yanked back on their ropes, momentarily creating the illusion that
the phony rope across the road was suddenly going to rise up in front
of the car. Any careful driver would react just as Mr. Garland did by
quickly applying the brakes to avoid dragging and injuring the boys
attached at the ends. This resulted in the car skidding and
the tires squealing. The sound echoed through the village,
followed by a roar of laughter from the onlookers. The practical jokers
were also laughing and rolling in the sand as a result of falling
backwards from their dramatic pull on a rope that was attached to
nothing. Mr. Garland sat in his car, which was trailed by two
long skid marks, relieved that no one was hurt. He was
embarrassed for being the victim of a joke in front of such a large
crowd and angry at the whole situation. A few expletives came
from the light blue Mercury as it sped from the scene drawing another
round of laughter from the spectators. For the next 15
minutes everyone relived the scene over and over again. The
volume of the laughter began to wane with each retelling.
A short while before the movie began, Roberta arrived at the theater to
sell the tickets. For me, it was worth the price of admission
to stand outside the theater in front of the ticket booth and to gaze
upon the beauty of this older teen-age girl. Roberta's loveliness
radiated like the sun. Her dark-tanned, soft, supple skin
contrasted against her sundress with its thin, cord shoulder straps.
Her brown eyes, dark eyebrows, long eyelashes, and brunette
shoulder-length hair added dimension to her sun-tanned face. The whites
of her eyes and her red lipstick played back to the white background of
her dress and the scarlet hibiscus flowers that were printed on
it. There was never a Breck shampoo model that was as
beautiful. There were many pretty girls on Hatteras but
Roberta was, in my mind, the most dazzling. She was the unattainable
girl of every young man's dreams.
Roberta smiled at me from behind the glass partition and took my
quarter. She slid my ticket for admission through the
half-circle opening in the partition that separated me from a beauty
that would know me only as just another little kid attending the
Saturday night picture show. No matter what was playing
inside the theater, I had received more than my money's worth before
the projectors began to roll.
Inside the white, rectangle-shaped clapboard theater, with its green-
and red-zigzag striped shingled roof, the seats were separated into two
sections by a central aisle. Outside aisles ran along the
walls. The young patrons filled the seats near the front,
while the adults filled those in the rear. Music from a
45-rpm record player saturated the room with a flat, dimensionless
It was 7:00 o'clock, time for the movie to begin. Beginning
with a few sporadic stomps from a small number of impatient patrons,
the old wooden floor eventually delivered a thunderous uproar as
everyone joined in to let Shank, Mr. Ander's son who ran the
projectors, know that it was time to start the show. At ten
minutes past seven o'clock the movie had not started. The floor
received several more brutal attacks by the mostly barefooted and
impatient customers. Shank announced that the delay was due a burned
out projection lamp. One had been ordered and was due to
arrive on the Midgett Bus Line --a public transportation link between
Hatteras and the mainland.
The bus was scheduled to arrive at 5 p.m., but it was late because it
got stuck on the beach somewhere between Oregon Inlet and
Buxton. It was probably the only bus line in the country that
drove 40 miles of its route on the open beach since there was no paved
road. Getting stuck in the sand was nothing
unusual. When this occurred, all the passengers disembarked
and with shovels and brute strength, they helped Stocky, the driver and
owner, to free the vehicle from the unforgiving sand, often repeating
the same performance a few miles further down the beach.
Today was one of those days. Its trip to Hatteras was
extended two extra hours, the time it took to free the bus from a patch
of extremely soft deep sand. And today of all days, the bus
was transporting a very significant item that stood between Hatteras
movie buffs and an adventure on the silver screen to a place of which
most of us only dreamed.
Shank assured us that the movie would start in five minutes.
A cheer along with another thunderous roar of bare feet stomping
against the sandy floor echoed from the wooden walls of the old theater.
Most of the boys and girls paired up when they went inside to take
their seats, unlike the same-sex groupings that were seen earlier
outside the front of the theater and on Mr. Ander's store
porch. I sat beside Ruby. She was a girl who lived
in the neighborhood near my grandparents’ home. We
were just friends who often played together, nothing more than that. We
were both 11 years old. One day during the week, we jokingly
said that we should sit together at the movies. This was the
first time I could remember making plans ahead of time to sit with a
girl. I did not tell anyone about it at home for fear of
Ruby bought her ticket and went inside before I did. I was pushed from
in front of the ticket booth by an impatient patron, as I stood
spellbound by Roberta's allure. I resisted his shove for a moment,
relishing just one last taste of the eye-candy before me. Only then did
I go inside. I found Ruby and sat beside her. I am not so
sure that we even spoke to each other. While we waited for the movie to
begin, she talked to her friends and I talked to mine. She
ate candy from her brown paper bag, and I ate candy from
mine. It was not until the movie started and the lights were
dimmed that we even acknowledged each other's presence.
Sometime during the first half of the movie, my right hand
unintentionally brushed against her left one. She apparently
interpreted this as a signal that I wanted to hold her hand. She
latched on to my hand like a cornered, old hard crab grabs at whatever
At first I could not believe what was happening, but I did not
object. As a matter of fact, the longer she held on, the
better I liked it. Soon I was no longer a passive victim but
a mutually consenting hand-holder. Ruby was cute. However,
she was no Roberta. But somehow, there in the dark, she WAS
Roberta, causing my heart to pound like it had never pounded
before. Each time the film broke, which was a common
occurrence, and the lights came on, we let go of each other's
hand. When the movie started again, so did we. We
continued to hold hands until "The End" appeared on the screen before
us. When the lights came on, we quickly broke the physical
bond between us.
Without so much as saying goodbye to each other, she joined her
friends, and I joined mine. We departed the theater into the
pitch-black moonless night that lay beyond its doors and passed by the
now empty ticket booth where two hours before Roberta stole my heart
and sold me a ticket to fantasies that still obsess me today.
The wind picked up quite a bit from the southwest while we were in the
theater. I heard thunder rumbling from over the ocean. I
reasoned that it might not be too long before a thunderstorm would come
onshore, but I was certain that there was ample time for me to get home
before any ominous weather activity.
Mr. Ander's store was now dark inside, even the porch was shrouded in
darkness. Before heading up the road to Grandmom's house, I
must have spent more time than I thought standing in front of the
darkened store and listening to Mac relive the incident with the
rope. When I turned the corner at Mr. Dolph's store heading
home, I realized everyone else had gone on before me leaving me to make
my way alone in the dark Hatteras night.
As I passed the old weather bureau on my left, I could barely make out
the outline of the large white wooden building. Mr. Damon's house and
his barbershop, which stood in his front yard, were the last structures
I passed that were located near the road before I arrived at Cousin
Willie's old home place. No one had lived there for years,
and it was then being used as a funeral home.
The old house was in disrepair and desperately needed a coat or two of
paint. The weathered green shutters hung haphazardly from the
windows, creating a creepy appearance. The house, which sat near the
road, was framed by the branches of two old live oak trees, draped with
Spanish moss. As I approached the sinister-looking place, my
pulse began to increase. My thumping heart had just had a
good workout at the movies, and I wondered if it could stand much more
stimulation. This beat was much different from the one I
experienced at the picture show while holding Ruby's hand.
Exhilaration accompanied that one, sheer terror was what I was
All I could think of was the story that Mac had told me about how he
had helped Uncle Horton, the local undertaker and jack-of-all-trades,
carry a body into the funeral home on Friday morning. That
night, in a manly effort to impress his girlfriend, Mac, accompanied by
her, broke into the funeral home so he could show her the embalming
room he had seen that morning. With no lights to guide them, the two
intruders found their way to the old kitchen at the rear of the house.
This room now served as a place to prepare the bodies before
burial. When they were half way across the room, Mac felt
something grab him around the neck. Whatever it was seemed to
yank him back, throwing him off balance and sending him crashing to the
floor. He let out a frightful yell that sent his girlfriend
bolting out the back door and up the road without him.
Mac soon discovered that he had been caught at the neck with a loop of
rubber hose, which extended from an apparatus that was hanging above
his head. It was attached to a pole located near the embalming table.
The rubber hose was fastened to the bottom of an embalming fluid vessel
at one end and to a large needle hanging beside it at the
other. At this point however, Mac, the rubber hose,
the stainless steel vessel, which still contained some formaldehyde
from the preparation activities earlier in the afternoon, the large
needle, and the pole that held it all in place were strewn about the
old kitchen floor.
Mac managed to get to his feet and to find the same door that his
dearly departed girlfriend had used when she made her exit.
In short order, he was home and thankful to be there. The
next morning, which was Saturday, he told me all about it. He
also said that the undertakers buried the blood of the dead people in
All I could think of as I approached the funeral home was that a body
was in there. The funeral was to be held Sunday afternoon at
the Methodist Church. I walked on the right side of the sandy
road, as far from the spooky looking old house as I could. I
did not so much as even glance in that direction. I walked so
close to the edge of the road that occasionally red cedar branches from
the trees in front of Miss Ursa's house hit me in the face as they were
being thrashed about by the wind from the approaching storm.
Miss Ursa lived directly in front of the funeral home. It
seemed an eternity while I passed the edifice that served as a
temporary resting-place for the corpse that was being kept
inside. Since I did not look at the house as I hastily made
my way past, I did not see the sheets that Uncle Horton had washed and
spread over some myrtle bushes to dry. Moments after I passed, a strong
gust of wind caught one of the sheets, sending it flying across the
road in front of me. My feet did not touch the ground until I
landed on the piazza of Grandmom's house.
Everyone had gone to bed except my Aunt Essie, whom I called Sister.
Without brushing off the mosquitoes before entering the house, I flew
into the sitting room where she was waiting for me.
"Honey, what in the world is wrong?" she asked me in her gentle caring
"Sister, the dead person in the funeral home just passed me on the
road!" I breathlessly exclaimed.
"Now, Sugar, there ain't no dead person going to bother you," she tried
to assure me.
But I was not easily convinced.
The following Monday while I was climbing in the live oaks in the front
yard, Ruby walked down our path and into the yard.
"Hoi," she said in her Hatteras brogue. "What’cha doin'?"
"Climbin'," I said. "What you doin' down here?"
Ruby lived up the road from us. Since up and down were
relative terms used by the villagers to describe locations along the
road, I lived down from her.
"I brought you sumthin'," she said with a big smile on her
face. She reached in the pocket of her shorts and pulled out
a narrow silver ring. "My uncle made it for me from a nickel. I want
you to have it."
"Thanks," I said as I slipped the ring on my finger. It was a
perfect fit. "You want a climb some?"
" I 'magine," she said.
She jumped and grasped a limb just over her head. She flipped backwards
and upside down, extending her feet and legs up and over the limb.
Swinging first by her legs, she pulled herself up and sat on the limb.
There was a sparkle in her eye and I am sure that I had one in mine.
The following Saturday, Mama and Daddy arrived at Hatteras from
Washington and took my brother and me back to our home. Our
summer stay at Hatteras was over for another year. It was time to go
back to school.
I never went to the movies with Ruby again. Somehow the next
summer things were not the same. I also lost the ring she
gave me. I never did tell her. The ring may be
gone, but the memories of that night live on. I shall never
forget the delicious candy at Mr. Ander's store, the rope stunt that
Mac performed at Mr. Garland's expense, and my terror as the wind blew
the sheet across the road in front of me near the funeral home. The way
Ruby held my hand and the way she looked like Roberta in the darkened
theater are also a part of many precious memories that I have of my
summer visits at Hatteras. But what I remember most
about all these events is that the morning Ruby gave me the ring, my
adolescent mind imagined just how good I must have been at holding
hands last Saturday night at the picture show.