So let’s begin by recognizing that the term “Old Wives Tales” is really annoying.
Because to be honest, the majority of
island-related weird stories, terms, and myths that I hear about on a
regular basis don’t actually come from old wives. They come from young
bucks, or fishermen, or people who are testing my infamous gullible
I find that the so-called “old wives,” (which is
a demographic that now includes me), tend to have better things to do
than just make up strange things for their own amusement. (I may be the
only exception to this rule.)
And if they do make something up, then it’s
likely because they want to persuade you to do something beneficial
without giving away their real motives – like take out the garbage, or
get dressed up for an evening out.
Come to think of it, if I could make up a
legitimate-sounding cautionary tale about “The Man Who Didn’t Take his
Wife to England” as an incentive for my hubby to sign up for an
overseas vacation, I probably would. (He really is such a lucky guy,
Anyways, with this established, I can confidently
say that when it comes to Hatteras Island, a number of “old wives’
tales” (or “old husbands’ tales,” or even “semi-young bachelors’
tales”), are in fact true.
Chances are that you’ve heard some of these odd
phrases in passing conversations, like the term “pot liquor” or the
story of the old gray man, and just chocked it up to myth and / or an
intoxicated speaker. After all, there are some practices or stories
that are too, well, “out there” to believe, and which are hard to
subscribe to without viable proof.
Can’t say that I blame you for this assumption.
I am known as one of the most gullible people
ever, which is why I thought for the better part of a year that there
was indeed an underground tunnel to Ocracoke, and which is why I have
eaten a dozen not-ripe persimmons simply because someone said “Oh, you
should try this!” (By the way, NEVER eat an unripe persimmon. It tastes
like sour sandpaper.)
But nevertheless, after filtering through the
stories and odd practices that I’ve heard about over the years, I can
attest that a good chunk of these old wives’ tales are actually true,
regardless of my now ever-present and well-earned sense of doubt. (Case
in point, I will most likely never eat a persimmon again, even if it is
And regardless of the original source, whether
it’s from a friend with really weird culinary tastes, or a hubby who
refuses to go the beach because it’s “Shark Week” – more on that in a
moment – if the facts back it up, then it’s sensible to pay attention.
So to save you some headaches on sorting out fact
from fiction, here is a list of the “wives’ tales” or rather the
“Significant Others’ tales” that have made the island rounds, and which
I can confirm are worth listening to.
Don’t swim during Shark Week
I can spend hours if not days at the beach, provided I have a good book and a towel.
My hubby can’t.
So when John told me that he couldn’t go swimming
for a whole week in the summer because it was “Shark Week” on TV, I
naturally assumed he was making this up as an excuse to stay in the air
conditioning and watch a marathon of baseball / pre-seasonal football /
golf / squash / ping pong / pro foosball / etc.
I also initially thought this was the most hilarious excuse ever to not go to the beach.
But as it turns out, he was on to something. Not
only have several fishermen told me that “Shark Week” on the Discovery
Channel often coincides with the arrival of shark fishing along the
beaches, but several seasoned fish cleaners I know have reported an
uptick of sharks in the shop when this event occurs as
So, as it turns out, this “Kinda-Middle-Aged
Husbands’ Tale” is likely true. Although I’ll still probably ignore it
and go to the beach anyways, because as my dad responded when he first
heard of my hubby’s now-proven theory, “Well, if it’s Shark Week,
wouldn’t all the sharks be at home, watching their friends on TV?”
Stewed pie bread is a thing, and it’s a great thing
If you're even invited to dinner, and the family
chef is cooking stewed pie bread and chicken, or fish, or crab, or
pelican, or whatever, cancel whatever plans you have for the evening
Because whatever protein is represented in a stewed pie bread dish, it really doesn’t matter – it’s all about the pie bread.
“Pie bread” refers to these gooey, freeform
floury dumplings that have enough carbs to keep a heavyweight boxer
going for weeks, and which are the most ridiculously tasty things in
Case in point, I’ve been a vegetarian for roughly
20 years, and I’ll still eat pie bread that’s been steeped in chicken
broth, or seafood broth, or even newborn unicorn broth - and just deal
with any potential ethical or gastronomical consequences.
So if you hear any local mention “pie bread,”
know that it’s a valid thing, and it’s delicious, and you should make
friends with this local immediately so you can score an invite to
Pot Water or “Pot Liquor” is a thing, and it’s a not-so-great thing
Every ying has its yang, and just as pie bread is
a thing, and a delicious one at that, there’s also a local “dish”
called pot water or “pot liquor,” and well, it’s not as tempting.
Pot liquor is the water that’s left over after
you cook a big pot full of collard greens, and I know of a handful of
locals who drink that stuff like a V-8, and who swear it’s both
delicious and healthy.
Now honestly, I am very biased on the matter. My
husband, being a good southerner, loves collards and never notices the
perpetual stink that emulates throughout the house - and lingers for
days - that cooking a big pot of collards produces.
Being originally from Massachusetts, this is
something that I notice, and notice very loudly, much to my husband’s
dismay. As my friend recently pointed out, “you have to light incense
to try to kill the smell, and even then it's like collard potpourri.”
(In my defense, I did know all about kale years before it became
popular with the hipster crowd.)
In any case, if you like collards, and you like pot liquor, then by all means, enjoy.
As for me, I will reluctantly admit that after
years of doubting that pot liquor is an actual thing that people
willingly consume, I’ve seen enough evidence to prove me wrong.
When clouds look like fish scales, there’s a storm coming
Many years ago, a friend of mine told me that if
you look up at the clouds and they have that distinctive fish scale
pattern, there’s likely a storm in your future. Could be a
thunderstorm, nor’easter, or even a hurricane, but some kind of weird
weather is on its way.
Originally, I used this natural phenomenon as an
excuse to not mow the lawn, (i.e., “I can’t mow today, cause look at
the sky! – there’s rain coming at some point!”)
But after paying attention to this while
searching for an excuse to not do outside chores, I’ve noticed that
it’s actually kind of true… which is great news for someone like me,
who always appreciates a valid reason to be lazy and binge-watch
If you see an old gray man on the beach, there’s a storm coming
OK, I’ve never seen the “Old Gray Man of
Hatteras,” but I have talked to several people who swear that before a
storm came to shore, they saw an old man in a gray suit walking down
This occurrence stems from an old legend about a
ghost who patrols the beach before a big hurricane or nor’easter, and
who warns people about an upcoming storm on the horizon. Granted, the
individuals that I spoke to were somewhat intoxicated at the time - (a
storm has that effect on people sometimes) - but
it’s nevertheless a long-running legend that I adore and won’t ever dispute.
When the grocery stores are out of milk, bread, and beer, there’s a storm coming
Milk and bread are always the first to go at Food
Lion, Conner’s, and Red and White, and the beer is never far behind.
Personally, when it comes to storm prep, I always stick with the snack
aisle because if college taught me anything, it’s that you can easily
live for days on trail mix and Cheetos alone.
When the Weather Channel shows up, there is NOT a storm coming
One of my favorite storm-related stories ever was
from a few years ago, when “Hurricane Whatever” was passing through
town. It was clearly so inconsequential that I don’t recall the name,
or even when it occurred. Although this could also be a sign of old age
affecting my memory.
Anyways, during Hurricane Whatever, teams of news
crews were huddled on the beach wearing windbreakers that were loudly
flapping in the breeze, and were shouting above the wind-breaker noise
about the dangerous weather conditions while people in bathing suits
just kind of lazily walked by them in the background.
And the clincher occured when a piece of
driftwood washed up, and an anchor who apparently needed something to
report on pointed it out, and speculated that it must have come from a
house, or from structural damage, or from something storm related. I
recall vividly seeing this on live TV, and yelling out to my
then-fiancÚ “Guess what?? There’s a piece of wood washing up on the
beach, and it’s making the national news!”
The wave of news and weather crews seem to only
come to Hatteras Island when they’re pretty darn sure they’ll make it
out alive and just fine.
It’s when they don’t show up, and stick to reporting along the northern beaches, that you know you have a problem on your hands.
So even if I get fooled some of the time,
(alright, more like 75% of the time), I love discovering new aspects of
Hatteras Island that I never knew about before. It genuinely never gets
old to hear a story or encounter something unique, and see first-hand
that it surpasses the rumors.
This is why everyone loves hearing Old
Significant Others’ tales, and why they can suspend their common sense
and inherently believe that something is true. It’s certainly why some
people (ahem, John) don’t swim during shark week, or watch for the
absence of weather crews, or even drink that ghastly pot liquor.
There’s a big arsenal of stories here on the island, and I’ve only scratched the surface.
The great thing is, however, that the longer that
you’re here, the more you’ll pick up on those little gems of trivia or
information that you can freely test and enjoy. There are literally
centuries of Hatteras Island traditions to uncover, and the discovery
of pie bread alone is enough to make a person want to dig deeper.
Just steer clear of the not-yet-ripe persimmons – no matter what anyone tells you.