Click below to listen to the
author read the
story...................or....................download to your iPod or
mp3 device to
The waves of nausea seemed to start at her toes and travel upward
bringing everything she had in her body into the white porcelain slop
bucket that Milton kept in the pilothouse of the Hadeco. On this
particular trip, Grandmom Maggie was so seasick that she threw up her
false teeth. My grandfather, who my brother and I affectionately
called Pop Pop, said, "For God sakes Mag, if you keep that up there
will be nothing left of you when we fetch up to Hatt’ras." Even
the best of sailors on that day would have had a tough time not
relinquishing their last meal to the sound. Milton told us before
we left Engelhard to cross Pamlico Sound on our way to Hatteras village
that it was going to be a bit choppy, but none us had any idea what was
in store for us on this crossing.
Going to visit Grandmom and Pop Pop was always thrilling for me.
Washington, N.C., in the 1940s was not the most exhilarating place for
a couple of brothers who needed constant entertainment. But at
our grandparents’ home at Hatteras there was one adventure after
another. If we were not at the beach enjoying a refreshing plunge
in the Atlantic, or at the docks spending a lazy afternoon watching the
fishermen unload their catch of the day, we were catching mud fiddlers
on the ditch bank that ran down the middle of our grandparents’
front yard. Many fiddlers fell victim to some of my fiendish
"scientific" experiments. At high tide these tiny crustaceans
would migrate from the marsh which surrounded my grandparents' house
and into their yard. I captured them under clamshells and
proceeded to spend the afternoon observing their responses to my many
experiments, which included forcing into their mouths every liquid that
Grandmom's kitchen had to offer from vinegar to vanilla flavoring.
After administering medicine dropper after medicine dropper of my
concoctions, I was fascinated with the increase in movement of their
maxillae and maxillipeds. It was Grandmom's Evening in Paris perfume
that brought the greatest response. I'm not sure if it was the
alcohol or the fragrance, but the fiddlers liked it the least.
Maybe they didn't like the taste. With an oral injection of this cheap
perfume, the mouthparts began moving at an unbelievable rate. Bubbles
would sometimes emerge and cover the entire body of these misfortunate
arthropods. Today I know what I did was not very scientific but to an
8-year-old boy, it was BIG science. Although it never appeared in
any of the scientific journals, I am proud to report that I performed
fiddler organ transplants at a time when transplants in animals were
little known. If in the hereafter we have to pay for our sins,
I'm convinced that I will be unmercifully tortured by giant mud
fiddlers carrying giant medicine droppers, injecting me with gallons of
Lord knows what.
It was an early spring morning in 1949, when my parents, my 3-year-old
brother and I left Washington for Engelhard. Our suitcases were
stored in the truck's bed under a rack that held mattresses. My father
was a traveling salesman who sold mattresses door to door in rural
eastern North Carolina. He had his truck loaded with six sets. A
set included the mattress and its matching box springs. He was
going to make this a business trip as well as an obligatory visit with
his in-laws. We traveled highway 264 to Engelhard where we
boarded the Hadeco, a freight boat that made a daily run across Pamlico
Sound from Hatteras. In those days just getting to Engelhard by car was
an event. By adding a three and a half-hour boat trip, the
excitement was almost more than I could stand.
Grandmom and Pop Pop were waiting for us in Engelhard on the dock where
the Hadeco was being loaded with freight for its return trip to
Hatteras. Time has erased from my memory why Grandmom was
there. She certainly didn't cross the sound that morning just to
meet us. She was afraid of the water and left home only to visit
us once a year or to go to the doctor.
could read the concern on her face as she greeted us. In a worried
voice, she told us the wind had been picking up from the southwest all
morning and white caps were forming on the sound. Milton, the
captain of the Hadeco, assured her that the crossing would not be a bad
one. She could have elected to stay in Engelhard and spend the weekend
at Miss Watson's boarding house, but to her way of thinking she had no
choice but to go. After all, it was Friday and the Hadeco would
not return until the following Monday. And who was to say that
Monday's weather would be any better?
Getting the truck on the boat was a feat. Two-by-twelve wooden
planks supported by stacked blocks of wood provided a temporary ramp
from the road to the dock. Two more planks crossed from the dock
to the boat. The trick was to successfully drive this course
without going overboard. There was not a foot to be spared in front of
or behind the truck's tires when it came to its final resting-place
across the bow. Milton, his mate, and Pop Pop lashed the truck to
the boat to ensure that it would not move.
The wind continued to increase as we headed across the sound.
After an hour had passed, everyone took refuge in the pilothouse. The
boat rocked and rolled as one wave after another stressed her
timbers. Our safety became a serious concern, although I felt
relatively safe with Pop Pop holding me.
decided that the safest place for her and my little brother was in the
bottom bunk in the pilothouse. My brother told me that his only
recollection of the trip was mother lying so close to him that it
pinned him to the inside wall of the bunk. He could barely
breathe from so little room to move. The air was hot, stale from
cigarette smoke, and permeated with fumes from the diesel engine. As
the boat rolled, my mother's screams of fear fell in rhythm with each
on coming wave. By this time Grandmom was filling the slop bucket with
her last meal.
My little brother had no fear, even with mother's outcries of horror,
which seemed to come every 15 seconds. He was fascinated with an
empty electrical socket above him, located on the underneath side of
the upper bunk. To amuse himself, he tried to stick his chubby
little index finger into the socket from which a bulb was missing.
Mother was so busy screaming she was not noticing his mischievous
act. Each time he was about to bull's eye his target, the
boat would roll, throwing his arm off course and his finger would miss
the empty socket. Each roll of the boat saved him from possible
Soon all our attention turned to my father's truck whose cargo was
soaked from the waves crashing over the bow of the boat. Milton
told him that the boat was taking on too much water. "If this wind
keeps up much longer we'll have to let the truck go over the side so
she will ride higher in the water." No sooner had the words left
his mouth than smoke was seen billowing from the cab of the
truck. Pop Pop and the mate scrambled through the rain and
wind-driven water from the sound, over cargo on the deck, and finally
reached the truck to put out a now smoldering fire. Sparks were
flying and an occasional flame flashed out from under the dash of the
old '38 Ford. The motion of the boat had caused old chaffed wires
to contact each other, creating a short in the electrical system. The
mate reached under the dash and snatched wires loose to disconnect them
from the battery and stopped the sparks. In the length of time it
took to do that, the inside of the truck was soaked and the fire was
extinguished by the gray turbulent saltwater of the sound.
Everyone's attention was drawn from the excitement of the fire, when
Grandmom gagged again, followed by another round of filling the slop
bucket. It was evident by the sound that the bucket not only claimed
more of her stomach contents, but also her false teeth. Shortly
the seas began to subside, alleviating the need to ditch the truck. The
Hadeco became more stable. Mother's screams became less frequent.
Grandmom quit throwing up. My brother finally was able to guide
his finger into the empty electrical socket, which fortunately was not
receiving current, thus saving him once more from electrocution.
Upon arrival at Hatteras, Grandmom put her false teeth back in and
vowed never to cross the sound again. My father had the disabled
truck towed from the deck of the boat. In a week the truck was
repaired, the mattresses were dried and sold. When I got to
Grandmom's house, I mixed a new concoction of liquids from her kitchen.
After finding a medicine dropper, I captured several mud fiddlers for a
new round of experiments.