They only came to Emerald Isle in the summertime. Weekend traffic stretched past the bridge out to Cape Carteret. No leaving the island those days. The license plates said NEW YORK, MARYLAND, OHIO -- places I had only heard about on television. And the people had strange accents, too. My sister and I practiced mocking them on rides home from the grocery store. “Yankees,” my mother called them. The Yankees ate at the restaurants us locals didn’t go to. And just like their cars, the Yankees lined up outside of that grease trap, Jordan’s, every night for all the deep-fried sea life they could eat. We could smell the commotion across the street from our porch. I tried to imagine what went on in there: “Hey, one of youz deep fry my napkin!” From a knot in the fence, I could see the cooks urgently smoke around a filthy screen door.
Golden girls and grumpy old men strolled the beach at sunset, their oxford shirttails flapping behind them like Old Glory. Our family would walk down to the Bogue Inlet Pier to watch the rod ’n’ reelers. Their catch of the day, garnish really, floated belly up in catch buckets. My parents would urge me over to each one. I once saw a flounder as large as my chest.
You couldn’t go bare footed on the pier. There was a red line painted on the wood. Past that line, the fishermen didn’t give a squat about their hooks. They balanced their priorities in this order: Smoking, drinking, and fishing. There was a sense of camaraderie between the anglers, and it was never more apparent than when somebody hooked up. “Give ‘em hell!” They’d shout down the line. They didn’t give a squat who heard them, neither. This was their domain.
And, if the Yankees wanted to come out and watch a man with creature blood jellied upon his waders, well, why not put on a show? In those moments when the rods curled down toward the sea, locals and tourists could stand side-by-side, forgetting our differences -- if only for a moment -- as we watched man exercise his dominance over Mother Nature.