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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.

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A fellow Sag, Granny would be 101 today.  She was born in Lowland, Pamlico County, NC in 1908.  Her father was Captain Jim Howerin, he had a cargo ship he ran from the Pamlico River in Washington, NC through the dismal swamp (kindly cleared by slaves in the 1700’s or perhaps early 1800’s-Must have been back-breaking, dangerous work) to Norfolk, VA.  Otherwise the water of the Atlantic is quite dangerous between Eastern central NC & Tidewater, VA, especially around the lower outer banks.  When she was 12-ish they moved to from Lowland to Belhaven by boat.  Back then they didn’t have a lot of bridges.  Even today that area is accessible only by boat.  NC has a ferry that goes over to Pamlico County from the Bath area.

Pamlico County came to be in about 1867, from parts of Craven (New Bern, an old port town) and Beaufort (not the town, the county seat is Washington) Counties.  Prior to that, in Colonial times the whole area of all those small counties–Beaufort, Hyde, Dare, prob. Martin,  Washington, Perquimans, were referred to as old Bath County.

Granny’s birth name was Thelma Plum Howerin.  She got her middle name from the obstetrician, whose name was Plum, and she told me she never liked it.  She married my Grandaddy, Harold Thorne White, Sr., in about 1929.  They were married at the Methodist parsonage in Belhaven.  Granny was blonde with blue eyes.  Her hair had turned gray by the time I knew her.  She was genteel, always smelled so fresh and I never saw her sweat.  She wore light mauve lipstick, and you know how everyone has a certain way of “molding” their lipstick by the way they apply it?  Granny applied hers by pursing her lips and running the lipstick between the pursed lips.  The shape ended up being like a 2 sided skateboard ramp.  My lipstick always ends up flat.  You know, I might not remember correctly.  Maybe Granny’s lipstick was like 1/2 a ramp & I’m thinking of Cheryl with the 2 sided.

Granny had 3 sisters I remember, Nellie, born about 2 years after her, who I knew well.  She also lived in Belhaven and lived on the water.  We would swim at her house and also watch the 4th of July fireworks on her pier.  Her other sister was Vera, or Sissy.  She lived in Beaulaville in Duplin County.  Her husband kind of looked like Grandaddy and he was really nice & funny.  Her other sister, gee, don’t remember her name.  Only saw her once, at Granny’s funeral, and she looked a lot like Granny.  She lived in Norfolk.   Granny had several brothers.  I knew her brother, Calvin.  He lived in Belhaven.  He was a waterman and a pig farmer and I think earlier in life he was a merchant marine.  She had 2 other brothers who lived in Norfolk and I never met.  They were Herman and Vernon.  They were also watermen, and I think merchant marines.

We loved Granny.  She was very grandmotherly.  She always had something chocolate around the house.  She made the strongest, sweetest iced tea.  Her fried chicken was so good.  I remember her potato salad, chicken and rice, biscuits, bacon and this great cake that I guess was called a marble cake and had fudge icing on it and through it.  That was the best.  She made good fudge.  She liked chocolate.   I loved being at her house.  It always felt so safe.  She had a big front porch on Main Street which was perfect for people watching.  Her house was clean as a pin.  It was cool in the summer and toasty in the winter.  Granny liked to be comfy, like myself.  I remember Granny had a 1974 Monte Carlo.  She could put the metal to the pedal because I remember she got a speeding ticket in that car.

She was the town clerk of Belhaven all through the 1960’s, and, later, she and Nellie shared tax collector duties.  Each worked 1/2 day, Granny in the morning and Nellie in the afternoon.  Granny had a jewelry box full of costume jewelry that I used to run my fingers through.  I loved the texture and sound of the beads slipping through my hands.  With Granny you always felt special, because you were alone.  If my siblings and cousins were there I did not feel special.  She had her favorites and I wasn’t one of them!  That doesn’t mean she didn’t treat me well, because she did.  But it was always more fun to be alone with Granny.  That’s just how it is when you come from a family with 4 kids!  You have to take your special treatment whenever and wherever you can!

Happy Birthday, Granny.  I love you!

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.