John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: July, 2022

Four OBX Beach Vacations

Part One: 2019-2020

As I approached the 75th Anniversary of my birth that I’d have to face on February 22, 2019, I decided that I wanted to do something different than have a pitiful party. I decided to sponsor a special vacation for our family, a week on North Carolina’s Outer Banks (OBX).

 Mary Ann and I had visited this unique treasure once before, for two nights in early May of 2000. We were on our first retirement journey, a car trip down the Atlantic Coast from Ocean City, Maryland to Savannah, Georgia.  We stayed in a small motel in Kitty Hawk and visited the site of Wright Brothers first flight and the dunes in Kill Devil Hills.

This time I wanted to rent a house. I had only two criteria’s, it had to be big enough to accommodate our three families comfortably and it had to be up against the dunes with direct access to the beach. The second, an extravagance, was most important to me. Beth found our house in Nags Head and booked it from Saturday, July 13 to Saturday, July 20.

We crossed the Bridge over Currituck Sound in a monsoon, rain so intense that we could only stay on the roadway by watching the tail lights of the car in front of us. We loved the house. Mary Ann and I enjoyed a view of the ocean from our third story nest, especially a mid-week hurricane that passed us harmlessly about 75 miles out to sea. No rain, mild wind, but an angry Atlantic churned up by its passing. Cace shared our large sleeping quarters as he was the odd-man out with his two older cousins, brothers Drew and Matt.

Mary Ann and I took Cace, Marlowe and Samantha south to Hatteras to see the National Seashore, the lighthouse and to have lunch. Our house was a, “A seven iron shot away from Jennettes Pier,” as Michael put it. We ate at a restaurant located on the pier several times. When Matt wore a tank top to our first meal, that turned out to be a “Howdy Doody don’t do,” a waiter gave him a tee bearing the name of the restaurant; all was well.

We had a great time  and, in the words my old colleague from Chicago, Jim Hagalow, “We broke even, everybody was still talking to each other.  

Mary Ann decided that we would repeat our vacation in 2020 to celebrate her 75th birthday, but when we called the rental office, an agent explained that our house was already taken. She offered us an alternative week, but we weren’t prepared to act.

Our two children and their spouses informed us that they wished to return in 2020 earlier in July, preferably the week of Independence Day. The 4th would fall on a Saturday, so this became our proposed arrival day. Beth, heroically once again turned to the task of finding us a vacation house. Again, success, Beth found a big house behind the dunes in the town of Duck, about 18 miles north of Nags Head. The exterior and interior photographs looked swell and I signed the contract. Again, I declined to buy hurricane insurance, but, in the fall of 2019, we were all clueless how COVID would play havoc with our very sense of being. (Memo to file: Did we even know what a pandemic was in the summer of 2019?)

True, OBX was not on our radar when the virus blindsided us in March of 2020, separated us from each other by quarantine and condemned us to listen and watch daily doom and gloom during our lock down. As we flipped the calendar from March to April and then from April to May, I could see glimpses of blue sky, despite the gloom and doom.

OBX is a major mid-Atlantic tourist destination and as Memorial Day began to draw closer and closer, I tracked, the pronouncements of the local North Carolina medical authorities. Sure enough, they lifted obstacles, restrictions and prohibitions; OBX was opened to outsiders -OBX  returned to business as usual…Hallelujah…” Let us rejoice and be glad!”

Silly me, everybody in our family, from the youngest to me were monitoring the same thing: “Please God, make this happen.”

Still, we knew we had to set rules, F..king rules. We had to shop every day, but we avoided restaurants at all costs. We did get take-outs, but we also relied on meals we brought from home.

I do believe that COVID did reduce the volume of traffic we encountered heading south on the Delmarva Peninsula. Perhaps, the ocean resorts in Delaware and Maryland were more restrictive, though I doubt it. We did well until we crossed the bridge over the sound. Instead of continuing south on that four-lane highway south to Nags Head, our GPS directed us onto a

two-lane road, north to Duck.

We were last to arrive. But, of course, they are young and we are old and we must deal with issues they have yet to encounter. On this day, we got lucky. The traffic that locked them in for over an hour melted away allowing us to join them at the house in a timely manner.

We brought Sicilian pizza, for dinner. Dinner was so much more than pizza. It was an affirmation, a thanksgiving and a celebration of survival, a renewal and, most importantly, a reunion of family. We were free of COVID, Thank GOD, Thank GOD of COVID, at last.

(To be continued…)  

Of Fish and Foul

This piece was written by a friend of mine, Brian Davidson. I edited it and thought up the title. His piece reflects the man he was. We lost Brian to cancer in 2016.

            George, the owner of the sporting goods store handed me my new annual Alaskan fishing license. “Where are you from?”

            “Houston,” I replied. “I got a job with a contractor to settle insurance claims so I’ll be up here for thirty-days at a time for six to nine months. I don’t read much, hate television and I don’t want to spend my free time in bars so I figured I’d try fishing”

            “Well, you picked a good time to start fishing for pink salmon. They start to run in May and you can fish as late as you like because it doesn’t get dark until about 2 a.m. I’ll help you pick out the kind of equipment and clothing you’re going to need.”

            George selected a rod and reel, a net, tackle box, wading boots, thermal socks, and long johns. “Why do I need thermal socks and long underwear in June?”

            “The water temperature in Prince William Sound does not get out of the thirties. You’ll be happy to be wearing them when you wade out into the sound. If you don’t have a sweater or light gloves, you should buy them too.”

            I figured he knew what he was talking about so I kept quiet as my pile kept rising on his counter. When he finished counting and totaling my purchases, he reached behind the counter and opened a wooden box and placed an odd-looking fishing lure in the palm of his hand. A big silver spoon with a big red plastic diamond shaped thingy glued to it, it looked like something that your grandmother used to wear on her chest to church on Sunday.

            “This is the best lure for catching pink salmon. It’s called it a pixie. If I were you, I’d guard it with my life. I’m running out of them and I don’t know when I’ll get new ones in stock.”

            I asked him how many I could have and he agreed to sell me six for six dollars each. I started asking him about places to fish, but he stopped me and called over an Eskimo guy hanging around the store. “Hey, Billy, come tell this guy where to fish.”

            Billy and I got to talking and he agreed to meet me at a camp-ground located on the shoreline the next night. We seemed to hit it off and became regular fishing buddies. Also, it didn’t take long for me to realize just how valuable Billy was to me. The first thing I noticed that night was that when I cast my pixie out into the water, it kept going down and down and down. I asked Billy what was going on.

            “After about ten feet, the bottom drops 500 to 600 feet. If you wander out too far and take the plunge, you’ll have about five minutes left to live.”

I became a good angler catching five to ten fish each night which I cut loose or gave to people staying in the camp-ground who gathered to watch the master fisherman. I usually traded the fish for a cold beer and a relaxing chat with these tourists and retirees in their trailers, campers and RVs. The fishing alleviated my boredom from the seemingly endless task of settling claims. I only regretted losing my pixies which made me feel badly as my supply dwindled.

            One night while fishing with Billy, I cast out my next to last pixie. It didn’t hit the water and my rod started to jerk away from me pulling skyward. “What the hell…,” I shouted as I looked up. To my astonishment, I realized that I had hooked a sea gull on its butt. People on the bank shouted at me to cut the line, but all I could think of was my six- dollar pixie attached to a bird that was maneuvering like an out-of-control kite. Up and down, it flew screeching like all hell as we continued our struggle. I had to let out line fearing that the tension would break it and the gull would make off with my pixie. Finally, it went straight up then came crashing down onto the bank to the oohs and ahs of the crowd who were watching the show.

            I ran out of the water, grabbed onto this pecking and clawing creature who continued to screech for its mother. In desperation, the gull threw up a regurgitated fish onto my boot, but I managed to get a firm grip on its mangy butt to retrieve my pixie. As I stood up, I heard loud and clear, “They’re not very good to eat.”

            Rather embarrassed, I yanked my pixie out of its butt, released the gull who flew away and gave each and every one of my admirers a very low bow.

On the Outside Looking in will not publish next week and will return on July 27, 2022