A big city fish in rural N.C.

Published 10:22 pm Wednesday, March 12, 2014

By Frank Roberts

I’m a big-city fish (New York, that is) in a small-city pond. A good chunk of my “pond” life entails listening to family and friends moon about life in northeastern North Carolina.

They went to the same schools, had the same friends for eons. They talk about working on farms and about — here goes — the thrill of visiting “big city” — Elizabeth City, N.C., a 20-minute ride from my abode in Hertford.


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Sometimes, they even dared to cross the state line to visit Tidewater.

Every now and then, I try to sneak in memories of a 90-minute subway ride to school, of hearing the big bands in Times Square movie palaces. I try to get words in edgewise about Saturday visits to 42nd Street, about seeing oddball stage productions in Greenwich Village, about romantic trips on the Staten Island Ferry.

But I am outnumbered and out-vocalized by the natives here, so mostly I sit quietly, and listen to tales about growing up with the cows. I am not complaining, mind you, because for half a century I have been enjoying the quiet life around here.

How did I get here? I was doing background announcements for WVEC-TV when it was channel 15. A friend also worked there. Harry Doggett told me about the radio station in Edenton. He was the “D” in WCDJ. The other founders were Williams, Childers and Johnson. I used to call it, “World’s Craziest Disc Jockeys.”

Anyway, I was doing the morning show, and we spent part of our Saturdays spotlighting local talent. One of the ladies was my late sister-in-law, Shirley, who had a little country band. She insisted I meet her baby sister.

It happened eventually, although the first time I wanted to take her out she was in the Outer Banks with her boyfriend du-jour, an evil fertilizer salesman. Well, I really don’t know if he was evil, but he was a fertilizer salesman. (I vowed never to buy fertilizer).

Eventually, we got together and a year later, to the day, on May Day, we got — as y’all say around here — hitched. That was 52 years, three kids, five grandkids, and two great-grandkids ago.

Long ago, this big-city dude turned into a small-town shnook, and I’ve done all the small-town things. I was a Jaycee; I have learned to eat and enjoy grits. I have learned that farmers are not hicks. (Most that I know have the smarts and live quite comfortably).

Most telling of all, I have learned to say “y’all,” even though it’s done with a New York accent. Speaking of accents, I still have mine, even after being away from the Big Apple since ‘46. Often, when I open my big mouth, somebody blurts, “Oh! You’re from New York.”

I beat those odds once. I was visiting my old Sunnyside, Long Island, homestead, and went to a shoe store on Queens Boulevard. The clerk listened and said, “You’re from the South.” My bubble burst when he added, “South Carolina, huh?”

Here is a lovely thought: Kindness is the language the blind can see, and the deaf can hear.

Baseball fans might be interested in this tidbit: Lipman Pike was the first paid ballplayer. He played third base for Philly in 1866 for the princely sum of $20 a week. Philadelphia officials reasoned that he was an outstanding player.

Look at one small part of his record: On July 16 of that year, he hit six home runs in a single game, five of them in consecutive at-bats. That record remains untouched.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at froberts73@embarqmail.com.