ON A MERRY DAY IN MAY, we Three Amigos---my Virginia sister Mary, my husband Bob and I---had been staying at a Sandbridge condo at Virginia Beach, between the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the peaceful Back Bay.
With Mary's son Bill as our congenial chauffeur, we all headed from Virginia Beach to North Carolina to meet finally meet up with "Uncle Willie Dough"---in the form of a life-size statue at Wright Brothers Memorial Park at Kitty Hawk. Not until last fall, in a visit with my Carolina cousin Rachel Dough Smith, did I learn of our family connection with the historic First Flight of the Wright Brothers.
In 1901, Dough had become a surf man at the Federal Life Saving Station at Kill Devil Hills. He and the men of that station befriended the Wrights and kept them supplied with food and any help and supplies they might need as they prepared for that historic flight. The Wrights would later write of the surf men as "hospitable and indispensable." (The Stations later evolved into the U.S. Coast Guard, and its entwined history with the Wrights at Kitty Hawk is well recorded in Coast Guard archives).
On Dec. 17, 1903, the day of the flight, the Wrights raised a flag as a signal to the surf men that help was needed. Willie was one of three who answered the call. Willie helped to push the plane into place for take-off and pushed it off the rail for take-off from the hill. Later when WIlbur and Orville Wright returned to the Hills for further flight experiments, Willie continued to help. In 1907 he settled the name Wilbur Wright Dough on a newborn son. Later he testified before a Congressional Committee as to the details of the First Flight, and in 1928 as a witness and survivor, he helped to lay the cornerstone of the Wright Brothers Monument at Kitty Hawk. He died in 1931.
On that sunny afternoon at Kitty Hawk, Bob and my sister and I, with my nephew, frolicked around the park like little kids, knowing full well that this idyllic weather was far different from the harsh day when Wilbur and Orville had changed history.
WE LATER RE-UNITED with my cousin Rachel and her daughter Donna Smith Rose, but the big pajama party we had planned at the big old beach house did not materialize. Donna and her family live and operate a commercial fishing operation along the beautiful Albemarle Sound, in a section designated as "Old Fishing Village," and the women were in the middle of the 24-hour work-days that surround the busy soft-shell crab season.
The Rose Family product is shipped to many places up and down the Atlantic Seaboard. Although soft-shell prices have collapsed this year, due to competition from Asia, the season was fortunately producing a record harvest, and the family's financial bottom line would be maintained despite the extra work.
At Donna's place, we got some lessons in the work they do, and we were served what the women called "a left-overs lunch" which included freshly fried crab, barbecued chicken, corn bread, homemade dessert, and that southern staple---sweet tea. Donna later escorted us to the waterside to photograph our visit for posterity.
From here, we Three Amigos expected to enjoy more days at the beach house. That evening we sat above the slip of water that would allow us to maneuver the resident canoe out into the waters of the Bay, if we so chose. As we watched a heron fishing patiently, we lazily considered whether we would canoe to the bay in the morning.
WHEN MORNING ARRIVED, a certain event at the house made that decision FOR us; a shocking sewage back-up had occurred in the night! The management company offered no replacement, but assured us we could sleep there and they would "fix the pipes by evening and clean up the mess in the house tomorrow."
For us, that was a far-from-acceptable option, and as a result, Beauty and the Beach lost all her appeal. Mary wryly renamed it Beauty and the Beast---beauty for the setting; beast for the house itself---and we quickly packed up and headed for home.
But we had packed a lot into our time together, and we'd also left some things undone. Superstition says that leaving at least one thing undone will draw you back again. And we pray that's true.