COTTAGE ROW, 1938
By Penelope Carroll
The floating road causeway between Elizabeth City and Camden had been a bit flooded, so the McMullans were running later than expected this clear May morning. Speeding past acres of farmland, mother singing out “Moo, cow” each time she spotted the black and white beasts, they finally arrived at the confluence of the Albemarle and Currituck Sounds, where the long, wooden bridge stretched out before them. In less than an hour, they were pulling into the sandy driveway of their cottage.
“Big Boy, you get back here and help unload the car!” Anne’s father hollered as her little brother Phil disappeared beyond the front of the house. That little asthmatic twerp could make it to the ocean in seconds flat, but when asked to carry a few boxes into the house, he would soon be wheezing and out of breath. Anne toted boxes of supplies to the kitchen, then lugged her own bags upstairs. When she was younger, these two rooms had been a glorified attic, but after a hurricane damaged the house five years before, her father took the opportunity to raise the ceilings and add dormer windows, turning them into real rooms with plenty of light and airflow. Still, as she pried open the sashes and propped the shutters, Anne knew her mother would insist that she climb out onto the roof and wash those windows before the week was through
In the entry hall, her mother was unpacking and sorting linens, directing Anne to start making up the beds. “Phil is old enough to make his own bed,” she complained, picking up a stack of sheets and heading for her parents’ room to the left.
“Big Boy needs to wait until we’ve dusted this place down a bit. Besides, that’s a girl job,” her mother dismissed. “When you’re done with that, could you prime the kitchen pump, please?”
Anne was heading back to the car for another box of canned goods when the ice truck pulled in the driveway. Expecting Mr. Hollowell, her stomach leaped when, instead, his son Frank swung down from the driver’s seat. She had mooned over young Frank Hollowell last summer, but she’d been just a little girl then. Now she was almost sixteen. She smiled and waved.
“Hey, Annie, good to see you!” he bade, grabbing the ice handles to wrestle a block out of the truck. Anne flinched a little, blushed and smiled. She couldn’t think of a thing to say as he carried the giant cube up the stairs. Another truck pulled into the driveway, and she yelled to Miss Mizell, the cook, that the vegetable man was here. She moved under the house to hide behind a piling so she could watch Frank return to his truck. As he moved the gear into reverse, he turned his head and caught her, flashing a broad smile before she could duck back, her heart racing.
Her mother kept her hopping for the next few hours, sweeping and dusting, then had her help Miss Mizell shuck corn and snap beans. Finally, Anne joined her father, rocking on the front porch, watching Phil as he shadowed Jethro Midgett and his men pulling their nets onto the shore. Papa would be driving home to Edenton the next afternoon, back to work running the cotton mill, and she would miss him terribly until his return Friday.
“You’ve been a good help to your mama, Anne,” her father said. “Why don’t you go on over to Maddie Midgett’s and get yourself a co-cola?” He fished a nickel out of his pocket.
The store was just beyond the Nixon cottage next door, and as she walked she could see someone sitting in the shadows on the bench outside. It wasn’t until she had crossed out of the sunlight, under the overhang, that she realized it was Frank. Her nerves started flittering away again, but she determined she was not going to be a silly. She noticed a pineapple on the table beside him.
“Where’d you get that?” she asked, girding her courage.
Frank was sharpening a knife on a whetstone. “My brother Tim. He’s been working for one of those fruit boats, runs out of Norfolk. Just brought a couple of these back home yesterday, this one for Miss Maddie. I’m fixin’ to cut it up for her.” He flashed that smile again. “You want a piece?”
Anne wrinkled her nose. “I don’t really like pineapples. Apples, now … I sure wish I had some of those.”
“But Miss Annie,” he teased. “Pineapples are so sweet!”
“My mother’s name is Annie. I’m Anne. With an ‘e.’” Cringing inside, Anne held her breath, her ears hot.
Frank laughed. “Okay, Anne with an ‘e.’ I guess we’ll have to see if we can find you some real apples!”
“We only ever get them in the fall,” she said, inspecting her bare feet, just now noticing how dirty they were from her afternoon chores. “We keep them out on the back porch so they’re nice and cold.”
By the time Anne returned home, the fishermen had nearly finished gathering their catch, so she ran down on the beach to see what was left. Jethro picked up a horseshoe crab by the tail and flung it back into the sea. Back at the cottage, her mother made her and Phil stop on the back porch so she could clean the tar off their feet with kerosene, then she shooed them upstairs to get dressed for supper.
The first night at Nags Head was always so restful. With all the windows open, a cool breeze swept through the rooms as the rhythmic ocean played a lullaby. Anne woke early, feeling as if she’d never slept better and determined to get out on the beach to see if she could find any interesting shells. She crept quietly down the stairs, then opened the front door and gasped. She smiled.
On the porch sat a bushel basket filled with bright, red apples.