Mrs. Walls and I took a break from the real world last week and drove to the Outer Banks. We stuffed the car with everything we thought we might need for a week until it looked like the back bumper …
Thanks for reading Chatham County’s leading news source! Making high quality community journalism isn’t free — please consider supporting our journalism by subscribing to the News + Record today.
Unlimited Digital Access: $3.99 for 1 month, $39 for 1 year.
Mrs. Walls and I took a break from the real world last week and drove to the Outer Banks. We stuffed the car with everything we thought we might need for a week until it looked like the back bumper would scrape the ground. Then we packed some more. After shoehorning the dog between two coolers, we turned onto U.S. Hwy 64 and drove down east to the little town of Manteo on Roanoke Island. To pass the time on the drive, I counted vehicles with white plastic tubes for fishing poles on the front bumper. I lost count once we hit Williamston, but the Subaru with six poles hanging in the wind was unforgettable.
For the past several years, Elizabeth and I have rented the Neva Midgett House in Manteo for our seasonal getaways. Midgett is a common family name on the Outer Banks, dating back to the early 1700s — sparking my friend Bob Midgett to joke, “If you’re from around here, there’s a Midgett in your family.”
Natives refer to each other with some pride as “hoi toiders” because they speak a regional dialect which makes “a high tide tonight” come out as “a hoi toid t’noight.” And I must admit to being baffled by some regional terms. For example, while visiting a local friend whose home has a wrap-around porch, he referred to that porch as a “pizer.” When I asked him if that word meant “porch,” he told me it meant “piazza.” The Neva Midgett House has a pizer, too.
Almost a century ago Neva Midgett pumped Esso brand gasoline at Whalebone Station on Bodie Island, where the maintained road came to an end and the only way south was to drive on the beach. On the wall in her house is an old black and white photograph of her three kids climbing on top of the gargantuan sun-bleached bones of the beached leviathan that gave her station its name.
Known as “the Esso lady” to visitors of all stripes, Neva not only knew when the fish were biting and where to find them, but she saved countless drivers from the anguish of being stuck in the sand by properly lowering their tires’ air pressure. She gave them free air on the way back. The station was also the end of the wired world; she sent and received telegrams and telephone messages, day or night. She often administered first aid to injured fishermen, and in one recorded instance walked to a U.S. Coast Guard station to demand they collect a fisherman with a sick child.
After Neva retired, she had the service station disassembled, floated across the sound and re-erected in the lot next to her house in Manteo as a cozy guest cottage. We stayed in the cottage once, but the ceilings are too low for me. I kept hitting my head when I went through the doorways.
The big, wrap-around porch of her house faces the street, and sitting on the pizer in the late afternoon sun is my favorite activity when I come to Manteo. A neon green anole agrees with me; the little lizard shows up in the same bright spot on the railing every afternoon to rhythmically display his pink dewlap.
From my rocking chair I see regular folks making their way at the end of the day; here, I see a woman walking a bulldog, plastic baggie in hand; there, I see an old man with a buzz cut and a sour expression climbing into his parked car. A minivan rolls past with its music turned up full blast, the oblivious driver singing along. I see SUVs and pick-up trucks and Jeeps, all with white plastic tubes to hold fishing poles.
Lots of kids use this street, too. They roll by on all kinds of wheels: a girl with straight black hair on a pink bicycle, her ponytail flopping from side to side as she pedals. Two big kids ride by on beach bikes, both wearing their ball caps backwards. A couple of little kids on skateboards push their way home, followed by two more riding kick scooters.
But yesterday I saw something I had never seen before; in the twilight I saw a kid on a BMX bike rolling up from the waterfront. Somehow, he had zip-tied several white plastic tubes onto his handlebars. One tube held a rod and reel three times longer than the kid was tall; another tube had a stringer of fish looped around it. He was grinning from ear to ear.
Dwayne Walls Jr. has previously written a story about his late father’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease and a first-person recollection of 9/11 for the newspaper. Walls is the author of the book “Backstage at the Lost Colony.” He and his wife Elizabeth live in Pittsboro.