by Howard Hewett
Being Staked Out on the Beach
When I was very young, no more than two or three, my mother was a “Fisher Woman” extraordinaire. Mother and Clara Danner loved to surf fish on the beach in front of the house for blues, trout and Virginia mullets.
The problem that arose was what to do with the new kid on the block. Mother’s solution was to tie a rope around my ankle and connect it to a stake so I could play at the water’s edge; occasionally, I was washed back and forth by wave action. I know this story is true because I heard it from several relatives later in life. Today, they’d probably arrest a mother for child endangerment; although, the treatment had no ill effect on me. Mother’s solution resulted in creating a water bug. Being around water was part of my developmental process and fostered my appreciation and love for the Atlantic Ocean. I became an excellent swimmer and could work magic with my belly board.
Pig for a Pet
After my father Curtis’ death in 1995, a photo surfaced of my Dad and his pet pig. A description on the back confirmed that he not only had a pet pig, but he had named it. That Dad had a pig does shed light on the fact that in later years we were also allowed to have a pet pig. This occurred sometime before the Army closed the base.
Now this was not an ordinary pig. Our pig thought he was a dog. He was put in a pen at night, but during the day he would follow us around. Being a city girl, mother was a little embarrassed when the pig would follow us down the road when she went visiting the neighbors. She would tell us to make the pig go home.
The service guys from Fort Fisher would pass by in their Army jeeps and would honk their horns, hoot and holler and bang on the doors. To mother’s chagrin, some would “oink, oink” at us as they drove by.
This story did not have a happy ending for the pig. Mother survived all the embarrassment, but unfortunately, the pig got too large to handle and, of course, he eventually ended up on the dinner table. Those experiences were all part of growing up.
Remembrances after the Army departed
After the war some of the barracks and buildings were sold as surplus. Some of these became beach homes at Kure and Wilmington beaches and some were used in place.
I recall that one of the warehouses was taken over by a seafood processing plant. My grandmother worked there while it was open. Their specialty was devil crabs. I remember the boiling vats along with the distinctive odor of crabs and spices. The picking and processing room was a screened-in porch. Since there was no air conditioning, the product was moved to refrigeration as quickly as possible.
The Baptist Assembly
The Baptist Seaside Assembly took up residence in some of the buildings left by the Army, which became the summer headquarters for the North Carolina State Baptist Convention in 1948. They used some of the buildings and barracks for an administration building, assembly hall and dormitories. I was quite familiar with the facilities.
My step-grandfather, J. N. Todd, was the caretaker of the buildings for a short time while the Baptist Assembly was active at Fort Fisher. I stayed a number of nights with him and my grandmother. It was one spooky place at night for a 10-year-old. An opportunity to see the hospital morgue at one time did not help control my young imagination.
The Joys of Growing Up
One of the pleasures I recall in the late forties was when Uncle Crawford Lewis gave my cousin Joe Hewett a set of soap derby wheels.
We made a two-seat cart that required one to steer with his feet and one to act as a brake-man. Our first project was to add a mast and a sail to the cart. The best condition for this adventure was when the wind was blowing out of the northeast. Highway 421 ran south and was a two lane narrow road which did not allow for any tacking. With a strong wind, it was a wild ride down south. On some occasions, our cart would start coming apart due to the stress and we would have to abort the run. There were several design changes before we could make a complete run.
With all the terrain being relatively flat on Federal Point, it was hard to find a good incline. My step-grandfather saved the day by allowing us to use the cinder block corridor that ran from the old Army hospital to the Baptist Assembly’s Administration building and assembly hall, which was approximately 100 yards away. The corridor was approximately eight feet wide and ten feet in height. It was basically a concrete cinder block structure with the windows missing. The original windows were spaced about every twenty feet.
As best as I can recall, the slope of the corridor was approximately two feet every 100 yards. This was a perfect place to use our cart especially for a couple of flatlanders. Traveling down this corridor while gaining speed with the sunlight filtering through the window gave a couple of 10-year-olds the illusion of traveling at a high rate of speed. We would spend hours riding our cart down the corridor. But, all good things must come to an end. As I described earlier, the administration building was at the end of our run so it was imperative that our brakes worked properly. When, as one might have predicted, our braking mechanism failed, we ended up going through a set of double doors into the Assembly Hall. The impact of the door did cause us to stop before hitting the exterior wall on the other side of the room. We were fortunate that the double doors did not have a center post. But, nevertheless, we had several cuts and bruises. This ended our favorite escapade down the corridor. We were admonished by my step-grandfather and were required to help with the repairs.
Money in the Sand at Fort Fisher
I am sure this event took place before 1952. The military was using some parts of Fort Fisher acreage for training again. The timing suggests that the activity may have been in preparation for or in response to the Korean War. Most of the World War II barracks had been sold to private citizens for homes and commercial offices so the Army set up temporary structures for barracks that had three-foot walls with canvas tent structures mounted on top. The floors were compact red dirt that was hauled in from somewhere in North Carolina.
I recall seeing these tent barracks many times over a period of a couple of years. Dad had a contract with the Army that gave him the rights to mess hall garbage. We would pick up the garbage every second day after the evening mess and would haul several 55-gallon drums to the pigpens on the River Farm. I have no remembrance of the number of pigs raised and or the numbers sold commercially, but I think Dad did well during this period. I do remember going to the stockyard in Wilmington on more than one occasion.
When the Army left and things returned to normal, Dad, Grandmother and I were out one day looking for blackberries or wild peaches. We came across the location of the tent barracks and to our surprise, there was money setting on a little red dirty pedestal. Every time it rained more coins were washed to the surface. The denominations were varied in quantity but there were quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. Our take may have been as much as a dollar to a dollar and a half at first. What developed over the next several months was a routine that became a family outing.
This speaks well of how easy it was to entertain a family in early 1950’s. After a good rain, we would load up the old beach buggy (a stripped-down 1938 Ford frame with exposed engine, radiator and firewall/windshield with wood deck designed to carry nets and a small boat) and head out to search for money left behind. Our take varied on each outing, but we found enough money to make the event like a big treasure hunt.
We finally stopped going when our reward and excitement of the search dwindled. I recall Dad would say, “Well, we found enough money to purchase a loaf of bread.” In retrospect, I think you could buy a loaf of bread for 12 cents in those days, so on average our take was not very much, but the outing was what it was all about.
Providing for the Family
As noted in earlier writings, the family fished, farmed and raised livestock. Dad always had pigs that the family would slaughter and butcher on cold fall days.
This yearly event was a family affair with all hands on deck. Uncle Crawford Lewis and my Dad were the primary orchestrators of the slaughter and did all of the heavy lifting.
After the pigs were shot in the head and their throats slit, the pigs were hung in a nearby large oak to allow proper bleeding. From there they were placed in scalding water in a vat until the hair could be scraped off. The pig was removed to a workbench to complete the cleaning process. Sometimes more than one trip to the vat of scalding hot water was necessary.
Once the pigskin was almost pure white, it was hung again to remove the internal organs. The pigs were allowed to cool to the daily ambient temperature. If the weather was cold enough, the butchering process could take several days. The meat was either salted down and placed in boxes to cure or smoked in a smokehouse. A portion was made into sausage.
One of the by-products was “crackling,” a fried fat that was added to corn beard which gave the bread a bacon taste. Lye was added to the oil from the fat. This became grandmother’s laundry soap.