Was that a frying pan she was toting up the stairs to our rented beach condo? The condo with the fully panned-up kitchen but, more important, easy access to some of the freshest seafood at more restaurants than you could count?
Well, yes, but it was not just any frying pan. It was Mama’s fried-chicken frying pan. The one with years of built-up grease and, uh, grime. These days, we’d call it contamination; back in the day, we called it seasoning. And it was the only pan she trusted with her fried chicken.
It was an inevitable part of my family’s beach vacations. Saturday was always fried chicken day at the Parker house, and just because we were getting away for the week was no reason for an exception.
So packed somewhere among the beach books, flip-flops and SPF 50 sunscreen was that favorite frying pan that would enable her to uphold another family tradition: Home-fried chicken every Saturday.
Atlantic Beach was our destination of choice, with plenty of time at the pool or in the sand, along with of-course-we-will visits to Tony’s Sanitary Fish Market on the Morehead City waterfront. (Hey, it’s hard to argue with the branding when talking about fresh shrimp and oysters.)
Late in the week was a nighttime visit to the amusement park in “The Circle” — which, as I found out in a recent quick trip down Memory Lane, is no longer there. “The Circle” is empty, but little boxes that real estate agents describe as the perfect beach cottage are springing up all around what used to be cotton-candy booths and throw-the-ball-at-the-prize games.
I was too much of a chicken to ride the Ferris wheel, but occasionally I’d take a twirl on the Tilt-a-Whirl. Just as a reminder that I didn’t have the stomach for amusement-park rides.
Back in the day — and by that, I mean the 1960s — the Parkers began taking a week out of summer for a family getaway. It would usually be either the week before or the week after July 4th to take in a beachfront fireworks show.
In those early days, we’d get a room at Fleming’s Motel in Atlantic Beach. Nothing to write home about; but we never wrote home during vacation anyway. It was kind of a horseshoe-shaped motel with a pool in the middle. The Fleming family lived in an apartment above the office. My parents became their friends and looked forward to a summer retreat.
Usually, Mama and us kids would head to Atlantic Beach on a Monday. Many times, her sister, Aunt Betty Lou, would join us with my two cousins. The “menfolk” — my father and Uncle Ernest — would join us by the end of the week. They had work to do to pay for our trip, I’m guessing, and just maybe they were enjoying a vacation of their own.
If we were lucky, we’d have adjoining rooms with my cousins and could coordinate “pool days” vs. “beach days” and maybe bicker over what to watch on TV at night. A trip to the Fort Macon historic site was always in order to add a scholarly note. And on the way back to the motel, there was always a stop at Dairy Queen to make the excursion worthwhile.
We moved up to rented condos when my niece and nephews came along. That turned the focus to a younger generation and trying to ensure that, one day, they would look back on treasured memories of their own.
I still have the shells that they collected on the beach to bring back to me when I had taken some quiet time for a nap or some music. And then countless rounds of Uno on the screened-in deck.
I’m ready to go back to the beach.
In this issue
My buddy, but not my brother, Scott Parker tells of hiking to the Lost City in Colombia, the homeland of his endearing soulmate, Liliana. It’s a journey of discovery and physical perseverance.
Jami McLaughlin learns about the strong connections of Greek American families in Fayetteville with their ancestral homeland. Heritage is not something we should ignore.