In those "Summers at Old Nags Head" durng all of the 1950's and the first half of the 1960's, visits to Roanoke Island were numerous for my family while at the beach. Mom, of course, was a native of Wanchese and loved to spend time with her large family of siblings and, up until 1962, visiting her mother as well. Those visits were eye-opening and I loved keeping records of what I learned which certainly came in handy when I decided to write about those days. But even so, as I entered the teenage years, sometimes a few of us younger family members wanted to see something else, so we were allowed to drive up to Manteo. I had been there many times as a young boy, but there was something about going to town on your own, behind the wheel of a car with some friends, and maybe taking in a movie at the Pioneer followed by a coke float at Fearing's Drug Store that filled the bill in those years which were really quite innocent. And walking around the little town which was really small back then and watching the smiling and friendly faces of people who were courteous to each other just reinforced my belief that Mayberry RFD was really Manteo.
Back in those days, Manteo High School, by then rebuilt and modernized but at the same location where Mom went to school in the latter 1920's, still retained the nickname Redskins and the yearbook was The Sandfiddler. I don't know about the yearbook, but I know the sports moniker was probably changed by political correctness and I have no idea what it is today. I am sure in my heart, however, that Old Chief Manteo would probably have been proud to have the school's athletic warriors called by their former common name and I bet Old Chief Wanchese would have, too, since students from south Roanoke Island attended that school as well, but times change. Today we forget the heroics and focus on the fluff stuff instead. And I guess it's also why they stopped playing competitive girls basketball on an outdoor court lined with oyster shells. But it didn't hurt those girls like Mom who ended up with my dad, a handsome young doctor. After all, scars heal.
I learned of the exploits of my favorite uncle from times before I was born. Uncle Burr was a decorated Coast Guardsman who spent World War II in the South and North Pacific, from the Solomon Islands to the Aleutians. The story, of course, involves Manteo. It seems that in 1942, his cutter which was now under command of the Navy was tasked with taking Marines ashore in preparation for the Battle of Guadalcanal, the first step in the island hopping road to the mainland of Japan. The Japanese had total control of the skies and the charts for navigation were old, dating back to the days of Captain Cook. Yet the ship made it to the drop off point, turned to port and halted, as the Marines were helped over the side to climb down the nets to waiting landing craft to take them ashore. As Uncle Burr was helping Marines, he heard a familiar voice and it was his cousin Maynard, a large strapping Marine Lieutenant and the following quick comment was made:
"Hey, Burr, if I get off this island alive and you and I both make it home. we'll get together and celebrate in Manteo," or words closely to that effect. Burr slapped him on the back, agreed and the ship quickly headed away before the planes arrived.
They would both eventually make it back home, Burr in 1945 and Maynard in early 1946 since Marines were always the ones who were held until all was settled. In late winter of 1946, Maynard returned and one of the first things he did was go to see his cousin and the two headed for Manteo. Now Manteo was not a nightspot by any degree, but it did have a local bar and the two World War II veterans meandered in and were given free drinks by many patrons since they were recognized and all the boys who returned were rightly saluted. But after perhaps one too many, they decided they would christen the homecoming with a drive through the downtown backwards. As they began the third lap around the downtown block, the Sheriff spotted them, pulled them over and was about ready to take them to jail like Otis of Mayberry, but he quickly realized they were just home from the war. So instead, he had them park the car and surrender the keys, then said he would personally take them home and they could come back the next day to retrieve the car.
And where and who do you think he took them to? Well, it was none other than Uncle Burr's older sister and my aunt, Alma, living in the same house then as she did during our later visits. The Sheriff knew she would whip them into shape. Many years later when I asked my uncle about the story, he never really answered the question, but just looked at me with a shy smile and said, "Never drink and drive, Jimmy, it doesn't turn out well." I think the smile gave him away but I could never really be certain.
That was Manteo RFD and the closest thing to a serious problem that normally took place involved either alcohol or underage kids trying to get into the Nags Head Casino. And no, I don't know how many bullets a deputy carried, but I don know they were very successful in talking down a situation before it ever got out of land. Also, speaking of the Casino, I know about the teenage thing personally but that's a story for a different time. Seriously, however, most of the work for the Sheriff was on the beach when someone had just too much of a vacation. As for Manteo itself, with it's limited showing movie theater and the best fountain coke in the world served iced cold at Fearing's, well, it's still the real Mayberry to me.