February 13, 2017

Island Living:  Weird Hatteras Island Old Wives’
Tales (and Husbands’ Tales) that are Actually True


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 nature.

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, isn’t he?)

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 ripe.)

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 and go.

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 existence.

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 dinner.

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 Netflix.  

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 the beach.

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.

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