Three old guys on a lark

The three of us are octogenarians now. Ben suggested a trip to Bald Head Island, N.C., and Ed and I agreed, since Ben’s son-in-law owns a cottage there and the price was right. We could go for a few nights or a week.

I was the designated driver and picked up the others in Rocky Mount, N.C., where we all grew up. We had met as children in Sunday school, attended the same elementary school, were members of the same Boy Scout troop, graduated from high school together, dated the same girls, entered the University of North Carolina and graduated about the same time. Andy Griffith was a student there then and Charlie Justice, of football fame, was a classmate. Then we went our separate ways. Two of us entered the military in 1951, serving in the Far East. We all married and took part in each others’ weddings.

Two of us eventually received doctorate degrees. Ben became president of the N.C. Community College System. Ed built a savings and loan business and sold it before the big collapse in the 1980s. My career was in public school teaching and administration, and I admit to lobbying for both in retirement.

Ed’s lovely wife of 57 years passed away in January, and Ben thought it might be helpful for him if we old guys got away for a spell. We planned the trip by e-mail with the idea to “go and do nothing,” a plan that worked quite well.

Our only problems were physical. Everyone packed pills. There were two sets of hearing aids; the third was too stubborn to be fitted for his. Four eyes had been operated on for cataracts. One had had a quintuple bypass; another had been through successful radiation treatment.

We talked the entire trip, not even thinking about turning on the car radio. We should have avoided Wilmington, but the GPS sent us through the heart of the city. We failed to keep the 3 p.m. ferry reservation and no one cared. It ran every hour.

Bald Head Island, an upscale golf resort, is a 30-minute ferry ride from the fishing village of Southport. We unloaded our baggage and parked the car in the lot provided – for a substantial fee, of course. After reaching the island, we were transported by tram to the cottage. Automobiles are not allowed, and the only modes of travel are foot, bicycle or golf cart. Fortunately, there was a cart available for our use at the cottage. A promotional brochure indicated carts rent for more than $60 a day.

Bald Head Island is about three miles long and is mostly dark woods with asphalt trails and lovely beaches. On the mainland side is a bare hill, thus the name. On this high ground is Old Baldy, an out-of-service lighthouse built in 1830, the oldest in N.C. Adjacent to the lighthouse is a lovely Episcopal church, still in use, and a cemetery. Nearby are the only grocery store, a hardware store and the post office. The village has a permanent population of 178. The grocery housed a delicatessen that was our breakfast nook.

Although the island is small, it has played a part in two wars: During the American Revolution, it was home to Fort George, a British stronghold, and during the Civil War, the same redoubts served as Fort Holmes, a Confederate base of importance for shipping and smuggling.

Once settled in, we continued to talk about our youth, embarrassing moments and the Great Depression. We remembered old friends, old jokes and even limericks. We recalled working in a recent governor’s grandfather’s tobacco warehouse, the founding of Hardee’s by two high school friends and our town celebrity, Kay Kyser and his Kollege of Musical Knowledge.

We eagerly picked up the Raleigh News & Observer each morning to read by the neighborhood swimming pool. After a light lunch, everyone took a nap, including this insomniac.

The first night we ate at The River Pilot, one of three restaurants available, and were served a fine dinner, alfresco, and met an interesting couple who had just arrived by yacht from Charleston. The next night we had an outstanding dinner at Eb and Flo’s and were so impressed by the attractive and friendly waitress, Donna, that we returned the following nights. Business was slow, and she gave special attention to us old fellows.

A tour of the island by cart included looking at Old Baldy, which we didn’t climb. One evening, we saw a cub bear in the headlights of the cart. It scampered into a swampy area so we hurried off, knowing mama bear was nearby. Some folks in Chester, including our editor, know that I once saw a bear in our village. The sighting made me think of the story of Elisha and the bear in II Kings, 2:23-24.

It was a restful vacation for three old guys. Maybe we’ll go back – and see Donna.

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