This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 8 No. 3, "Growing Up Southern." Find more from that issue here.

Born on Portsmouth Island — part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks — on October 1, 1901, Steve Roberts lived there until 1912, when his family moved to Morehead City; however, his love of Portsmouth wouldn’t let him stay away for long. He spent his summers on Portsmouth with his uncle and his winters at school in Morehead until 1919 and now occasionally goes back for visits. He was interviewed by Caroline Smith, a former student at Cape Hatteras School.


When our daddies were fishing and we weren’t in school, we went fishing with them. I don’t think that I was over six years old the first time I went oystering with my daddy. Children had to work back in those days, I’ll tell you they did. My brother and I, we’d cull the oysters and my daddy’d tong them. I remember very well that I weren’t big enough that I could reach the culling tray to see the oysters to cull them. I had to get upon the end of the culling tray to cull oysters.

We started off with a sprit sail skiff. After awhile, it was an open boat we used in the wintertime to oyster in, and in the summertime to fish our pound nets out of. It was about 21 feet long and about seven feet wide. It had a jib and washboards on them. That was for when the sail would pull the skiff over. The water didn’t come in.

There wasn’t any problem fishing from a sail skiff. If it wasn’t blowing too hard, you could fish your net without furling your sail. But there were times you had to furl your sail and lay the sail down inside the boat before you could fish the net.

We children had a lot of pipe-dreams about other places our parents would talk about and different things that had happened. We sat on the woodbox where we kept stove wood, and we listened. Sometimes they were only tall tales, but we planted them in our minds. We tell them today mostly for amusement.

They told a tale about a mean sea captain who sailed out of Ocracoke Inlet. The wind died out. He got mad and threw a silver dollar on the floor of the cabin and asked God to give him a dollar’s worth of wind. The wind started blowing and it blew so hard the captain said, “If I had known it was so cheap, I would have asked for a quarter’s worth.” The story goes, if he had any more money with him, it burnt in Hell.

Those old sailors were mean back in those days. I mean they were mean.

We’d go to one house at night and play the organ and sing and anything we wanted. Most of the music was spiritual music. Once in a while anew song would come down. There was one by the name of “Redwing” that we sang a whole lot. Of course that was just a song, that wasn’t a spiritual. The old folks would sit around in their chairs and listen while the young folks played and sang. 

In those days they played autoharps. They used to sing sea songs, too. I know just a few lines of one. It went something like this:


It was there by light,

The waters shone so bright,

It put me in the mind of my own

heart’s delight.


Square dances was the word most people wanted to hear. I reckon the song, if it was a song, that was played the most for dancing was “I danced with the girl with a hole in her stocking.” Second was:


“Sidney, I went to see my Sidney.

She met me at the door

With her shoes and stockings in her hand

And her feet all over the floor.” 


The captain of the Coast Guard station would let the man who handled the horses take the wagon— it would take about 35 of us to take it across the beach to the strand — and we would have a nice time, just singing and riding. Especially if the moon was full. It was pretty with the moon shining on the ocean.  


By Amelia Midgett


We were cruising along at a pretty fair speed. The road was old and full of holes and bumps. It reminded me of being on a roller coaster. The road was also full of curves which, for some odd reason, reminded me of a banana (maybe because of that stupid commercial on TV which shows a man and a woman on a motorcycle following a road consisting of fruits, bananas, etc.).

As we continued on, my friends and I started showing off. The driver started speeding and going in and out of the yellow lines. We were all yelling and carrying on when I looked up and saw dirt fly towards the windshield. I just sat there watching as the ground opened its wide mouth and began sucking the car forward into the center of the earth.

The trees started walking (at least that’s what it seemed like to me) towards the path of the car. Bang! We knocked into any tree that wanted to challenge our path.

Then all of a sudden, we ended up in front of this big telephone post. We sat quietly in the car, till finally the driver spoke.

“Is everyone all right?”

One of the girls replied, “Yeah, how about you?”

“All right, I guess,” he said, “although my hand and arm feel kinda numb.”

Then they both looked at me and I just sat there staring into space. When I snapped back into reality, we all got out of the car, took one final look back and, sunburnt, thumbed towards home. 


By Ame Gray 


One Friday night we were down by the Buxton campground partying. Kim, Raymond and Randy were all sitting in the van talking. I walked over to them and asked what they were doing. They said, “Just talking,” then they asked me if I needed a ride home. I said, “Yes.”

I thought we were going straight home, but we didn’t. We went riding on the beach. By 1:00 I was drunk. We were all sitting around drinking and talking. The next thing I remember we were in front of my house and Raymond was opening the back door for me to get out. I got out, said thank you, and stumbled to my front door. My mother opened it and I fell in.

She started yelling at me and asking me who I’d been with. I told her. Then she asked me to let her smell my breath. I walked over to her and blew in her face. I thought she was going to be sick. Then I said I was going to bed.

The next morning I woke up with a bad headache. I dreaded seeing my mother. I got up and walked to the kitchen and got me a glass of coke. Mom came up behind me and asked if I had a hangover. I laughed and she got really mad. She started yelling and crying, asking me if I was going to be doing this every time I went out. If I was, to get out of her house and go live with my father. So I said I would. I walked to my room and got dressed, then I walked to the phone and told mom I was calling dad to come pick me up. She started crying and I told her I would stay if she would leave me alone. She stopped crying, and I said I would be back later on and walked out. 


By Rick Scarborough 


Caroline Smith’s and Rick Scarborough’s articles originally appeared in Sea Chest magazine, a project of the students of Cape Hatteras School in Buxton, North Carolina. All four writers are former Cape Hatteras School students.


I stepped on the boat thinking about the day to come. It was barely light; the rest of the crew hadn’t shown up yet. This was my first day and I was nervously excited, wondering if the others were going to make it hard for me and if I was going to work out. 

While I was straightening up the boat they finally arrived. The boss wasn’t in a very good mood. He had pulled a heavy bender the night before and was suffering for it now.

Getting on the boat without saying a word, they started her up. The motor let off a pleasant rumble. The fumes filled my nostrils with early morning air and carbon. I love the smell.

We got under way and finally the other two started opening up. I don’t know why I was worried, for I had known both of them a long time. One was even my cousin.

I was sitting in the bow and they were in the stern laughing and telling jokes. I heard my name mentioned over the roar of the engine, so I walked back to them. Come to find out they were talking about me, mostly I think because of my age. I was, at the time, the youngest pound net fisherman around and they were taking advantage of it by teasing me. They were easy guys to get along with and I realized I would be continually teased throughout the season, but I didn’t mind.

The nets came in sight and my stomach started churning, like a bug under a rock. As we approached the first one I could see a slick and smell the sweet odor of the fish swimming inside. I jumped down beside the engine and threw it out of gear as we were entering the huge square pound.

When the net started coming to the side of the boat, I had no problem getting into the rhythm of fishing across to the other side. Before we reached the bunt I could see the fish swimming to the top of the water. They were beautiful, every color you could imagine was swimming around within an arm’s reach. I grabbed a dip net and started bailing fish into the boat. The other guys were getting a kick out of the way I was going at it with full force and I was enjoying every throw. Soon I was beginning to tire; my muscles were straining with every bail. Then I learned that when bailing out a net you take your own sweet time or you won’t last 15 minutes.

When the boat was full we backed out. It would take a little longer getting home because there was a greater amount of weight slowing us down. I had fish slime on me from head to toe, but I didn’t mind. I had always liked the smell of fresh fish and I didn’t care if I wore it.

By this time my stomach was churning again, but I wasn’t nervous, I was starving. Mike, my cousin, put some fish on the muffler to cook. I could smell the aroma of fresh fish frying, and my mouth started watering. In hardly no time the fish was done and 1 started chowing down on a nice juicy hunk of bluefish. To my surprise it was great, the best I had ever tasted. By the time we reached the dock my belly was stuffed and I knew I would love this kind of work, and I did, through the whole season.