It’s June and most of you are at the beach, the lake, or the mountains. The economy seems to be growing just fast enough to avoid stalling and not so fast as to spark inflation. Stocks and bonds are also behaving nicely. So with your indulgence, it’s time once again for a Cape Lookout story.
Note: Please remember to thank a veteran of WWII today, this June 6th, D-Day. These brave men and women are nearing or are in their 90’s.
It was the summer of 1968. My brother, cousin and I were 13, 14, and 15. Music was fun, it had melody, 7-11’s ‘Slurpee’ became known as the ‘ICEE,’ Mrs. Robinson, TANG, and Joe DiMaggio were household names, and NASA was still practicing to land on the moon. Dr. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were shot, the US and Vietnam were finally nearing peace talks, and Russia prepared to invade Czechoslovakia. It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.
I could not have been more oblivious to it all. It was June. School was out and I was headed to Cape Lookout for an entire summer of un-parented adventure. I could scarcely think of anything other than that 12-mile island paradise standing some 14 miles off the North Carolina coast. True, we had a contract with our parents to maintain the place, but there were far more important things to imagine and plan for than engine maintenance, dock repairs, ferrying consumables of oil, gasoline, propane, and repairing whatever else the salty wind, or we, destroyed.
Once there, we would spend the endlessly long hot summer days boating, sailing, skiing, and running at top speed those ’49 and ’59 Ford Willy’s Jeeps over huge sand dunes as we recreated scenes from our favorite TV show the Rat Patrol. Meals were highlighted on rare occasions with fish we caught or oysters and clams. But mostly they consisted of surplus K-Rations from the Vietnam and Korean War eras that my uncle had bought in huge supply to sustain us for long droughts between real cooks and food.
When we couldn’t eat another cinnamon bun shaped like a hockey puck or a cold can of spaghetti, we’d make the 5-mile trek to the Hook of the Cape to Dr. Graham Barden’s house. There Mrs. Barden would make us the hottest, tallest stack of tender, mouth-watering, blueberry pancakes we ever put into our very empty stomachs. While we shared our adventures in their 40’s style beach house kitchen waiting for Mrs Barden to create her masterpieces, Dr. Barden would tend our cuts and ailments with whatever he had handy. If the pancakes weren’t enough, Dr. Barden’s beautiful daughter occasionally graced our table to add even more delight. Unfortunately, she found us far less interesting than we thought she should have.
A couple of hundred yards south of the Barden cottage was the Long cottage. It was almost always brimming with cute blond haired girls exactly our ages. We could never quite grasp who were the daughters and who were the cousins, but it really didn’t matter, they were all so cute. And fun? They were totally at ease around us and acted themselves, probably because of the safety of their overwhelming numbers. We had hours of fun in the cottage playing charades, spit, spoon and telling blood curtailing ghost stories.
Friday nights, sometimes even moonless nights, their father and Uncle, Wiley Long, would fly in for the weekend. He would buzz the house at about 100 fee or so in his J-3 Cub, cut his engine and yell out the window, “June, come pick me up.” We’d run out of the cottage in time to hear him re-start his engine and extend a small flashlight out the window to survey the smoothness of beach that would be his landing strip. Soon his bird would glide gently in for a soft, sandy landing. We’d all pile in and on top of that old Oldsmobile to go fetch Wiley, one of the most fun-loving men I’ve even known. His war and flying adventures had been spectacular, but he mustered such enthusiasm for our stories to make us feel they were just as important.
One late night after returning to our A-Frame cottage from a evening with our distant neighbors, we decided it would be fun to spend the night playing poker and listening to music. Our station of choice was an AM out of Morehead City with the call letters WMBL “Where Beaufort Morehead Link.” They scandalously played what we now refer to as beach music today, but was largely banned on most stations due to segregation. They played groups and singers like the Drifters, Clyde McPhatter and Big Joe Turner, to name a few. We had it on all the time.
As our evening gave way to early morning the DJ’s choices slowed from Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride to the Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash, to the Beetles’ Revolution, to Donnovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man, and finally to Paul Mauriat’s Love is Blue. About 2 or so, we noticed the pauses between songs grew longer. The commercials ceased and the DJ’s conversation became slurred and broken, and finally ceased completely. We heard nothing more than the wind whirring through screens of the A-Frame’s brass port hole windows. Then to our surprise and utter delight we heard a slight rumble which soon grew to a freight train-like roar. He was sound asleep on his turntable with an open mike. His snoring had the same melodious qualities of his sulky DJ style. We laughed in disbelief that this could happen. An hour or so later we heard a family member come in to say ‘wake up dad’ and eventually restore the station to life.
When we didn’t stay up all night, a typical day started around 9 or 10, depending on how bad the bugs had been the night before. A morning ritual was to see who had the most dead mosquitoes on our sheets. Once the kudos were awarded, we’d lumber downstairs to fuel up on a few canned cinnamon buns (army drab, can and all), Hershey bars, and canned spaghetti. If we had any fresh milk we might supplement our feast with a bowl of puffed oats or frosted flakes.
The discussion around the table would eventually come to whether we should fix the Jeep (broken by us days prior), the generator, get supplies in Morehead, or go skiing. Girls on the island or the imminent arrival of girls on the island figured largely into the fix-jeep repair option as leisurely ride up the beach was infinitely preferable to a five mile walk through sand and deadly mosquitoes. All decisions were made according to the most pressing need, so most of the time we went skiing.
Now skiing for us was more than a simple pass time, it was our primary form of self-expression. After countless days of skiing in all conditions and for hours on end, we considered ourselves as good as any of those gentrified Cypress Gardens guys. What we lacked in style we more than made up for in color and bullet-proof courage. You name it, we skied on it – from paddles to car hoods, to bare feet. We skied behind jeeps on the edge of a calm sound at dusk and we skied behind jeeps on the ocean, when conditions were right. When that got boring we skied over sand dunes on car hoods.
We skied during the high wind conditions preceding thunderstorms so we could jump the large waves. On one occasion we chased a water spout hoping to ski around or through it. Thank the Lord, it dissipated before we got close. We held endurance events to see who cold ski the longest. It was routine to ski the 14 miles from the Beaufort inlet to A-frame at the Cape. Add what were sometimes three to four-foot waves to the mix and the effective distance and demands compound.
Perhaps the best form of skiing involved participants from the audience. One of our favorite pastimes was harassing the Cape Lookout ferry boat the Diamond City. She was skippered by a wonderful old salt named Capt’n Josiah Bailey. The ferry ran twice a day from Harker’s Island to the Cape. It was filled with excited passengers eager for everything the distant Cape had to offer. We were convinced that included watching our superb water skills.
One afternoon while skiing in Barden’s Inlet we spied the ferry leaving her mooring at the Cape with her cargo of sun baked passengers. Our best stunt skier, Henry was in the water and was both thumbs up to engage the new audience. Cousin John wheeled our powerful boat around, poured on the gas to speed toward the Diamond City and her unsuspecting participants. John motioned to Henry that his plan was to circle around her stern and come along side bringing Henry close enough to do whatever he wanted.
On the boat we fully expected to watch Henry lay a 15 foot wall of water on the crowd, but what he did do I can still see as clearly as tough it was yesterday. As elegantly as a figure skater Henry glided along the gunnels of that 40′ sailboat rising and falling in her wake. He flirted with a couple of female passengers and delighting everyone else with his style and wit to the point of roaring laughter and applause. All were entertained except that is, with the notable exception of one red-faced sea captain. We would suffer his wrath later. But in time, ole Josiah let us know he rather appreciated our shows too.
Have a good weekend.