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There used to be a bumper sticker that read “4th of July in Belhaven”. This was in the 70’s, I suppose.

I’m sure I’ve discussed Belhaven before. The town is on a peninsula in Beaufort County, NC. It’s South of Hyde County & North of Pamlico Co by road.

My parents grew up there. Dad’s folks were from Bertie Co. & Washington, the county seat of Beaufort. Not to be mistaken with the charming town of Beaufort south of Belhaven near Morehead.

Mom grew up there. Dad was born in Norfolk, lived in Manteo & moved to Belhaven when he was about 12.

Anywho, there is a big Independence Day celebration in Belhaven every year. The town swelled from about 2000 folks to about 20,000 when I was a kid.

And, I could sit on Granny’s front porch on Main St. & watch it all. It was the most fun. At 9 pm, Avon Skin So Soft slathered on, we went a block over to Aunt Nellie’s to watch the fireworks from her pier. The story of the year the whole caboodle of fireworks exploding prematurely & the (possibly inebriated) operators diving into the water to escape was often retold.

When I was 12 the small community where we lived had its first 4th of July celebration. This was in Beaverdam, Hanover Co, VA. It was 1976, the Bicentennial. I remember the lady who organized it all riding into the Ruritan park on the hood of a white car.

My friend’s Mom was an artist, and both of her parents were a lot of fun. Her Dad had an old open box truck from the 30’s or 40’s. Barb J painted the stars & stripes on the truck & my 2 best friends & I spent a few 4ths (into our early 20’s!) on the back of that truck in the parade. I’ll have to find a picture.

Afterwards we’d go to Lake Anna & ski. Fun, fun times. I always missed Belhaven, though. It was hard to go back after Granny & Memom weren’t there anymore. However, I have lots of relatives there & spent several 4ths there in recent years.

One year my friend and I went to the park here in Richmond. There is a stage called Dogwood Dell & we sat on a blanket & listened to Patriotic music & mellowed way out. They had fireworks there. Later, we were driving on a parkway & pulled over (along with many others!) to watch the fireworks from the baseball diamond.

Tim likes a quiet 4th. We love to watch the Boston Pops & fireworks on PBS. A few years ago our elder son was in Boston on the 4th & saw this stunning fireworks display live.

Today has been mellow. Took a walk with Penny the dog & my sweet friend TT. I also sat in the sun awhile. Decided if I wasn’t doing any house or yard work I was not going to feel guilty, just enjoy it.

Our Internet & TV (Fios) have been down since last night. They are supposed to come & hopefully fix it by 2 pm. If not, I may just drag Tim to some live fireworks.

I’ve had a hard time reading books lately. I’ve gotten so into long-form magazine articles, I wonder if that is why. I ordered Tom Grimes’s novel City of God a while back. The book is stamped “no longer the property of Spokane library”, which amused me.

Ta!

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First, location, location, location.  406 E. Main Street, Belhaven.  Just 2-3 blocks from downtown, around the corner from Water Street & Aunt Nellie’s house on the water.

The floors were always painted light gray, and always gleaming.  It was about 5 or 6 feet deep, and had a wide 2 or 3 step stoop.  After FEMA raised all the houses, the porch had lots more steps, but it was a long time after Granny was gone.  It was as wide as the house, which was late, late Victorian.  Nothing fancy, but oh, the most comfortable, comforting, safe place I ever knew.  Always something we loved to eat in the cookie jar, and usually something smelling good on the stove.

Back to the porch.  At one end was a hanging, 2-person swing and it was old.  Once I believe my cousin Susan and I were swinging on it and the screws came undone or stripped and it dropped to the floor of the porch.  I believe our egos were bruised, mostly.  The swing was painted dark, dark green.  She had 2 benches on the porch.  One was a sort of plain & simple federal style reproduction, the other matched the swing.  I wish I could find a picture.  The boards were very close together, and they looked about the size of a broom, cut in half length-wise & round side up.  The design was kind of deco.  She always had pretty plants on the porch and it was pristine.  In front of the porch were hydrangea bushes with blue blooms, lots of blooms.

We always had a crowd on the 4th of July because it was a prime spot from which to view the annual 4th of July parade.  And all afternoon we’d watch people parading up and down Main Street on foot, bike, car and the occasional shriner’s go-kart. 

The memory of that porch at Granny’s is sacred to me.  I’ll find some pics of the 4th of July w/ everyone sitting up on the porch and post them sometime.  Since I don’t have any of the porch, I am posting a pic of my sisters and me ca. 1964.  I’m the baby.  It’s in front of Memom’s house, and you can see Memom’s red Rambler in the background.  My oldest sister, Lynn, then Betsy, then me (looking messy, as always).  Oh, and you can see why bangs don’t really work on me.

Lynn, Betsy, Julie ca. 1964, Memom's, Riverview St., Belhaven

Susan & I were very mischievous.  Eventually she had it taken down, but Granny used to have a huge cedar or some time of conifer that reached the ground in her front yard.  Once the neighbor lady across the street was calling for her daughter or grandaughter & Susan & I were on the porch, hidden, by the tree, from her view.  We kept answering her, “what?” every time she called.  I think Granny caught us doing this and admonished us.  I’ll have to check w/ Susan.  She’s my cousin with whom I have many fond memories of being at Granny’s.

A few thoughts …

2009/10/08

Well, I finished reading Prince of Tides.  I think I may have read it before, many years ago.  The ending was really familiar.  Maybe I’m just remembering the film.  The writing is incredible.  It is so moving and I want to quote some of the prose.  It’s sweet, and his love of the south is familiar.  It reminded me a lot of the time I spent in Belhaven, NC, as a child.  My friends Theresa and Stephanie both visited there with me at one time or another while I was growing up.  Early in life, I think we visited on most of the holidays.  It is the town where my parents grew up.  I didn’t know my Mama’s father, but I knew my Dad’s father, Harold Thorne White, Sr.  He was quite a character, I’ve been told.  He was a people person, I know that.  I wish I’d known him better because I’ve been told he never forgot a face or a name, and he could remember people’s birthdays and anniversaries well.  I’m like that, too.  He passed when I was 6, so I have very few memories of him.  Like several of his brothers and sisters, he was a pretty bad alcoholic for a large part of his life, but he became sober for good just a few years before he died.  He went to a place called The Shepherd Home for Men, I believe.

Both of my grandmothers I knew well.  Granny White was Thelma Plum Howerin White.  Memom was Edna Earl(e) Spencer Allen Fussell Gregory.  This was my Mom’s mother.  These 2 ladies were very different from each other.  I spent a lot of time with both of them when I was a girl.  Until I was 9 years old we lived in Newport News, VA, in Hampton Roads.  There the James River is 4 miles wide.  Here in Richmond its width can be measured in yards.  Oddly, most of my memories as a child are of times when I was in Belhaven.  I have very few memories of where I spent most of my time, Newport News.

Belhaven is in Beaufort County, NC, and the county seat is Washington, NC.  Beaufort, NC, is not in Beaufort County.  The town of Beaufort is further south.  It is pronounced Bofert.  Belhaven “beautiful harbor” or a metaphor for me — ‘safe place’ is a peninsula with Pantego Creek on one side, and the Pungo River, off the Pamlico Sound. The area is known as the ‘inner banks’ of North Carolina.  When I was a girl there were 3 crab houses (places where the meat would be picked from the shells and claws of crabs, by hand.)  It also had drinking water that had a lot of sulphur and didn’t taste or smell very good to me.  So, the town had a pungent smell.  I remember looking for pearls in oysters as my Dad shucked them, and eating them raw just to be tough.  My favorite food then was fried shrimp.  Now it is crab meat, served just about any way.  I’m pretty picky, though, about where it comes from.  I read recently something like 60% of fish sold comes from ‘farms’ now.  Just like commercial agriculture, commerical farming of seafood produces a lot of pollution, and can be unsafe because it can be contaminated with so many of the animals eating, excreting in one little space.  Plus both practices pollute the oceans.

Back to Belhaven–the mosquitoes were terrible.  During the summer the “mosquito truck” would spray pesticide and leave a fantastic fog in the street through which we would joyfully run!  I remember storms that smelled so good, and jumping in puddles as the storm died down with its last big drops.  I have a blessed memory of lying in bed at Memom’s being able to smell flowers and hear birds singing.  I love hearing birds sing in the morning. 

Memom and Granny both had hydrangeas in their yards, which I loved.  They also had pecan trees.  I rarely entered Granny’s backyard.  For some reason I was a little afraid of it.  However, I loved her front yard.  She lived on Main Street and had a big front porch with a swing and I loved sitting on it and watching people walk or ride by.  It was also the perfect perch for the annual 4th of July parade, where this town of about 2000 swelled to about 15,000 for the day.  It was one wild day.  The parade got over about noon, but the parade of partiers lasted all day into the night and that was fun to watch, too.  There was a street party at night but I was always too young to go to that.  My Aunt Nellie lived on the water, a block behind Granny, and we always watched the fireworks from her pier.

My favorite place in the world to be was Granny’s front porch.  It still is.  We always felt so safe with Granny.  She exuded granny-ness.  She always smelled good and wore tasteful mauve lipstick.  I don’t think I ever saw her sweat.  She was gentle and genteel.  She made this delicious cake with yellow batter and thick fudge frosting, and she took a fork or something to make the thick fudge frosting go into the cake.  It was divine.  She made the best sweet tea, too.  Strong and sweet.

Well, I’ll go ahead and post this.  I hope it isn’t boring.  Just wanted to get some of my memories of Belhaven on paper, so to speak.