Uncle Hal was an amazing man despite his lack of schooling beyond the seventh grade. He could build a cottage which could withstand any storm, could figure out even the most difficult math problems despite his lack of education and was also a master at building small boats of the type used by independent fishermen on the Outer Banks. And learning from him the art of trotline crabbing was both fun and something good to know around the water.
In the early days, my job was to run the boat and learn from him how to efficiently harvest the succulent shellfish for he was a master at it. While I set the boat to run with the current, he taught me how to use a peach basket tied to the stern for drag to slow the speed down or to use a drag anchor when it needed more drag and how to assist him by insuring the line didn't snag or bunch up as it passed over the spool. I learned how to tie the drop lines to the trotline and replace bait and the art of becoming efficient with the dip net. I never got the hang of it to the degree Uncle Hal did, for he could deftly scoop up to five crabs from their hold on the bait before having to dump off the largesse.
The trotline was placed parallel to the shore in water generally from five to eight feet deep and as the first pass began, Hal would use a long handled gaff to pull up the line at the start where he would place it over the roller and the harvest began. When we completed the nearly three-quarter mile straight line run, we would circle back to make another pass to replace any baits that were gone. Using bull lip for bait, it was hard for the crabs to remove much due to its toughness, but they loved it and would hang on forever. The line would remain in place for about a week, allowing for three to four harvests per week, after which we'd bring it in for inspection and repair or replacement as necessary.
When the morning's work was done, Hal would buy me a frosty coke from the baitshop near the dock, we'd load up the bushel baskets and would be off to the local seafood market which always bought his catch. Then, heading back to the cottage with his day's work accounted for, he'd take me on a joy ride through the sandflats between the beach road and the western dunes and piney woods. It was fun and, if the catch was good and it usually was, I'd walk into the cottage with a dozen or more jimmies for supper that day. Mom was always more than happy to prepare them as she loved anything harvested from the sea. We all did.
And Uncle Hal's wife, my mother's older sister, Aunt Sylvia, could fix more delights with crab than I could even imagine existed and her deviled crabs were to die for. Then again, anything she made in the kitchen was second to none. She had cooking down to an art.
Oh, those wonderful days at Nags Head have left me with wonderful memories. It was a different time, a more restful time, a time when strife was limited and happy days abounded. I enjoy sharing my memories with those who never experienced those "Summers at Old Nags Head." I was so blessed to have lived the experience and those joys of childhood.