When I was little, I worried a lot. About things that had a .000001% chance of ever happening where we lived, like tornadoes or earthquakes. Things my Father called non-questions. He shut me down with that statement whenever I’d finally driven him to the point of exasperation, though he was still kind about it. But there was one fear that neither parent could ever quell.
For my first 14 years, we only took driving vacations, and only within North Carolina or to West Virginia to see my grandmother. (Except for a few train trips down to Florida to see my other grandparents when I was very small.) As my Father worked at the University, we took Spring Break when school took Spring Break, which was usually in March. My parents would load up the car and drive to the Outer Banks, staying in Buxton where the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse sat on the point, shining its beacon as a warning to ships far out in the treacherous seas off the easternmost point in the state.
It was a drive that felt like forever. We didn’t have a big four-lane highways back then. We took two-lane state highways, passing through rural farmland. I remember seeing so many old white abandoned houses that I wanted to grow up to rescue. We would stop in Willamston and have lunch at the Shamrock (it’s still there), and I always had stuffed flounder (it’s no longer on the menu), which was one of my “special occasion” meals growing up. I can still recall the wood of the captain’s chairs at our four-top, and the art on the paneled walls after all this time. After lunch, the drive turned from farmland to swampland, trees deep dripping with moss in uninterrupted mystery. What we were skirting is now the Palmetto-Peartree Preserve and the Alligator River National Wildlife Reserve, but back then, to a child, it was just the creepy swampland. Then suddenly, the swamp ended and we were heading over the bridge, through Manteo, across another bridge, and onto Whalebone Junction, where we turned right on Highway 12, which runs the length of the upper Outer Banks.
And that’s where the trouble started. Or more accurately, where I started being a particular pain in the ass.
By now, it was usually dusk. Not only was it a long drive from Durham, when you added trying to pack the car and two kids, stopping for lunch, and keeping to the speed limit, which my Mother did, the day was well faded by this time. Car headlights approached us as we traveled the 60 mile stretch of oceanfront road that was frequently washed out by Nor’easters or hurricanes. And therein lay the cause of my fears. Always, all the cars — all of them — were coming towards us. And we were the only car heading in our direction.
I was frequently near hysterical about this, absolutely convinced that something disastrous had happened at our destination, and that’s why everyone was coming towards us. They were all sensibly running away from the tragedy/monster/peril. But we were going towards it. Here we were, an innocent family, blithely travelling straight to our doom. Driving unknowingly right into the greedy, vicious maw of the beast. From my shotgun position, I kept swiveling around to see if there was anyone behind us, but no, there wasn’t. Just a long string of refugees from the terror ahead, passing by us, unable to gesture or indicate what was out there. My parents had enough of my nonsense after about 20 miles, so I would shut up and sit silently, staring into the darkness and girding my loins for our fate. As I recall, my brother, E-bro, was singularly unhelpful in this situation, but that’s what older brothers are for.
Of course, we would always live to tell the tale, reaching our haven of the Tower Circle Motel without being devoured or destroyed. Mr. Jack Grey would have left the light on for us and the door to our unit unlocked. There were no monsters or secret storms, just the sound of the crashing waves and the reassuring beam of the lighthouse flashing in its silent, trusted rhythm. We went on to spend a week with books and games and music and walks on the cold beach, times that I treasure. But every year, I went through this anxiety, without fail, until I grew out of it. I can’t remember how old I was when that happened. Curiously, my nephew had the same fear when he was small. That takes my mystical mind a-roaming to things like soul families and past lives. Did my nephew and I share a life long ago where we had a legitimate fear of something that destroyed us? Sounds a bit far-fetched, but one can’t be sure. I’m just glad that fear is a memory and that I’ve done a complete 180, going anywhere fearlessly and perhaps too often disregarding what might lie ahead. Roads, day or night, are made for adventure.
No change fees on plane tickets
Nearing vaccine eligibility
My baked salmon
Getting called for Jury Duty!
Quote of the day:
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” — William Shakespeare