Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ocracoke Birthday

That was what I wanted for my 75th birthday:  my family with me for a weekend at our beloved Ocracoke Island, off the outer banks of North Carolina.

My husband and I had first camped on the National Seashore there in the mid-60s.  I was 27, and Ian, 32; our children, Ian, Jr., 5 and Margaret, 3.  All four of us slept in the small 7’ x 7’canvas tent we had purchased the previous year for our maiden camping expedition in the Blue Ridge. 
Two major family myths emerged from this period:  The first occurred when we awoke to thunder, lightning and high winds, and then to the phenomenon of the wind – like the Wolf in Three Little Pigs -- blowing down our flimsy tent. 
Amid childhood screams, my husband Ian grabbed the center metal pole, valiantly holding it upright as the lightening crashed around us (but fortunately didn’t strike him, our human lightening rod).  I grabbed one child under each arm and fled to the car, with Ian following quickly. 
Drenched, we somehow managed to change clothing in the car, and the kids soon resumed their sleep while Ian and I tossed and turned in front seats not engineered for horizontal positions.  The following day, we discovered the town’s laundromat, fortunately adjacent to a game room – in those days the games were not electronic but box hockey, ping pong and pool tables, with which we entertained our young children until the tent and clothes dried out.
The second family adventure/myth occurred the following year as we hiked from the island highway inland along a path leading to the Atlantic Ocean and “South Point,” known for its abundance of shells.   Margaret was four, son Ian, almost six.  We took a shortcut off the path, across the dunes toward the beach.
After we gone beyond returning, we began to hear squawks coming from many directions.  As we trudged onward around the dunes, the squawking got louder as the birds flew closer and dive bombed. My head under a broad- brimmed hat with eyes focused on the sand, I saw only silhouettes of the birds  zooming down on us– the Common Terns were frightening with their sharp beaks and swift acrobatics but the Black Skimmers, with their especially fierce bills, were frightening  as shadows and, when I dared look up,  terrifying in full battle form.
My husband was flailing his arms and yelling to scare them off with my young son trying to emulate him.  I scooped up my small daughter and ran as fast as I could in sand.  (Fortunately I had not seen Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”)  Escaping their territory, we realized that we, not the birds, were the aggressors, as we trespassed on their nesting area.  Like us, they were protecting their babies. The story became family lore, providing insight about respecting other critters’ homes and habitat.
In the years after our children grew up, I spent many a summer vacation at Ocracoke with my grandsons Zachary and Ian and later, with the step grandchildren Brandon and Brittany as well.  One time, I kayaked in a boat fitted for three seats with my grandsons (then ages 5 and 7).  I discovered  we could make good headway in the Sound. An hour later,  I turned the kayak  to paddle home only to realize that we were now rowing against the current and the wind.  Although never in any danger (only a few feet of water below us and the shore nearby), I was determined we would make it back to kayak launching in the water.  Thus, I was calling the strokes in counts of 10, as the little guys tried to pull, and I did my darndest to keep us moving along.  With the boys taking time outs to rest or drink water, I continued to paddle but it was a much longer trip than expected.
Another time, when they were more like 10 and 12, I took them to South Point, the same place where their father had encountered the angry birds (not the computer game) some 30 years before.  We hadn’t cut across the dunes.  But when we reached the Point, I saw water everywhere except that  I had none to drink.  I began to worry that my grandsons would dehydrate, thus urging them to gather their shells and join me hitchhiking with the 4-wheel drive vehicles to return to the entry road.
No one picked us up.  The boys remember only that their grandmother was walking very quickly along the beach with her thumb out, while they struggled to keep up.  While I was the one most likely to become dehydrated, all three of us returned unharmed.
So here we are for the weekend some 46 years after our first visit to the island and the first time in decades that all four from our original nuclear family are at Ocracoke together:  Son Ian with his wife Linda, Margaret with her husband, Craig.  My husband and I, although divorced for many years, remain good friends and he joined in the weekend celebration.  My grandson Ian III, stationed with the Air Force in Germany, and step-grandchildren Brandon and Brittany could not come.  But grandson Zachary and his fiancée Kimberly joined, with the youngest person present being Brittany’s son, M.J. - my step great grandson, to be “relationally” accurate.
We gathered on Friday expecting to leave on Sunday, and had great fun eating seafood, beachcombing, fishing, walking, birdwatching, talking and did I mention more eating?  Birthday presents and carrot cake.  Poetry and prose readings from the two most senior family members.
With rain in the evenings the days were clear.  On Sunday, we awoke to strong winds but mild temperatures, as Ian and I headed to the beach to watch a sunrise (very little because of cloud cover).  Returning to our cottage, the owner arrived to tell us that no ferries were leaving because of high winds.  He offered the cottage for another night free of charge.  Thanking him, we realized there was nothing we could do. It’s part of Island life.   Like Robinson Crusoe, we were marooned (except that we had each other, lots of food and wine and grocery stores to buy more of both).
That night we settled in for a game of trivial pursuits, with the older and middle generations finding this version of the game containing more cultural icons from our eras than from that of Zach and Ashley, the youngsters (mid-20s).  (Examples:  Elvis Pressley’s middle name, sport mentioned in Hemingway’s “Death in the Afternoon” which all generations SHOULD know, xxxxxxxxx [trying to think of more]).  Our game became a marathon session like rounds of monopoly often turn into – no one wins so you keep playing and playing.  Four hours later, a winner emerged after we got more and more lenient with the rules hoping that someone – anyone – would win so we could quit.
Monday morning, the ferry was running, and my son’s car was the first to head out the driveway.  As he boarded, he called with a report that the causeway along Hatteras Island was closed due to the combination of full moon/higher tide than usual and winds blowing the sea over the road.  As soon as the tide receded, the workers would clear the road. 
Forewarned, when we left a couple of hours later, we dallied at Buxton Books and again at Julian’s for flounder sandwiches and thick sweet potato fries, but when we arrived in Rodanthe, we joined a line of cars – including those of  my children and grandson --  awaiting the moment when the road would allow cars.   We hoped it would not turn into “Nights in Rodanthe” a la Nicholas Sparks novel.
Similar to our first encounter with the campground storm, our car was our haven where we read, dozed, talked and dozed again until-- after several hours --  the road opened and our caravan  slowly moved up a wet and sandy strip weaving between the dunes and allegedly Highway U.S. 12.  We viewed huge steam shovels (trivial pursuits 1950) or earthmovers (current T.P.) pushing the sand back onto the dunes, some of the equipment precariously moving aslant the sandy hills. 
I sang a song of praise for these North Carolina Ferrymen and Highwaymen, as we headed home, leaving our beloved Island after yet another family adventure.

No comments: