Salt Water and Soil

Well, so, I thought I’d have lots to say about the Beaufort Pirate Invasion.

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I don’t.  

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It was, in my opinion, far too hot to invade anything. I had to bust out an umbrella for survival.  There is no shade to be had in Beaufort at noon in August while waiting for a bloodthirsty swarm of marauding swashbuckling pirates.  By the time the pirate hoards arrived I was hot and hangry and kind of feeling like a pirate myself. 

The pirates walked serenely down the street, with better form than I could ever get my first graders to accomplish in the hallways when I was a teacher.  They were followed by several hundred people pushing strollers and holding balloons and ice cream cones and such.  I sort of expected that they’d come charging in, turn over tables, slash the tent stakes with their swords, topple things, carry off some pirate wenches, frighten small children, curse and pillage at least a little.  That probably happened earlier. Or later.  Then there was about a thirty minute wait in the noonday sun for the Invasion By Sea, and if you’d arrived a couple of hours early and waited in the hot sun for a spot on the bleachers, you could probably have seen it.  

I stayed long enough to hear some cannon fire and see the top of a ship sailing through the inlet.  Then I went and got a shrimp burger and went for a swim.

Nothing, just nothing, feels better than a swim in the ocean after you’ve been standing in the blistering August sun waiting for pirates.

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I’ve been saying I would go to the Pirate Invasion for years, but it’s always August and something else comes up, or it’s too hot to contemplate.  The thing is, and maybe you already know this because I just will not shut up about it, I’m allegedly descended from Blackbeard, so I’m kind of already a pirate. 

I’m a pretty grounded pirate, as pirates go.  My mother’s half of the family has been in these parts since Jamestown; after that they all moved south to North Carolina farmland and stayed there for hundreds of years.  Some of them were from as far west as Gastonia, but mostly they put down roots all around Halifax County, being gentleman farmers and beauty queens and piano teachers and such the like.  So at least half of me is farmland.

My Dad’s half of the family stayed even closer to home, best I can tell.  They landed near the NC coast, also hundreds of years back, and stayed there, not venturing far west of New Bern. My grandmother had a Hoi Toide accent, just a little, and it was beautiful.  We had ancestors in Bath.  Ancestors including Teaches. That’s right. And Blackbeard had 14 wives, so heck, we’re probably all related to him one way or another. We grew up spending summer vacations down at Emerald Isle, fishing off of Radio Island and learning to sail at Camp Morehead and finding sand dollars in Bogue Sound and stomping around in salt marshes looking for periwinkles and crabs.  So at least half of me is salt water.

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In grad school we had to do a project in which we designed a window for one of our ancestors.  I narrowed it down to two: a sea captain who landed at Jamestown, and Edward Teach. A gentleman, and a pirate.  I came to the conclusion, after a little digging, that these two were probably a lot more similar than they were different, when you got down to what it was really like to be a seafaring man all those generations back.  The window I designed was a porthole, in the captain’s cabin of an old wooden ship, and I made it for both of them.

I went sea kayaking a few years back, and they took us to this little spooky island off of Ocracoke where Blackbeard and his crew used to hide and wait for ships to attack.  We all got out and walked around under the sea-swept trees in the dappled light with the spanish moss hanging down, and I had the strongest, most surreal sense of coming home that I can remember in a place I’ve never been.  Let’s go back.  I’m pretty sure there’s treasure buried there.  If we stomp around long enough we can find it. 

Sitting on the porch looking out at the sound all weekend, I’ve been thinking about my people, both coastal and inland. I wish, often, that I knew a lot more about all of these generations before me. I get why very few of them strayed very far from home; this is a good land, here. I think some of them had a much easier time than others making their way in the world than others, in these parts, and I’d like to ask the farmers and seafarers about a thousand questions. I’d love to know what they they’d think of each other, being distant kin, and whether they ever thought about packing up and moving to, say, Chicago and making their fortunes there, and how many hurricanes and droughts they’d weathered, and what they’d think of how things have changed, and what advice they’d give.  When I’m running low on gumption, or moxie, or just run-of-the-mill confidence, I try to channel just a little bit of that crowd. “You’re descended from pirates and beauty queens and politicians and people who worked the earth, the people who built this state, and don’t you forget it,” someone told me when I was face-down on my drafting table in grad school. “You GOT this. Go get ’em.”

ImagePirates and beauty queens, indeed.  

A girl could do a lot worse.  Ahoy, me hearties. Go get ’em.

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