Sat. Oct 28, 2006
A Pier That's a Peer
It’s about five decades old, a collection of weathered wood, nails, beams, and pilings. Battered by many storms over the years (mostly with the names of women), even partially destroyed a couple of times, it has been rebuilt, and survived to face the next one. Until now.
Though I’m describing a pier, Sportman’s Pier in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, I’m also describing a peer. One that was just a few years older than me in the 1960’s, when I spent the finest summers of my youth there, enjoying a freedom that in many ways no longer exists for kids today. And now, that pier/peer will soon be gone, too.
It’s a place I’ve written about here before. About three years ago, I offered A Prayer For A Pier, but my memories go back a lot further than that. When Grandmother passed away in 2002, Sportman’s Pier was a big part of the memories:
After a serious heart attack in the 50’s, Granddaddy retired, and with my parents, went in on a trailer at Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. Cora Lee and Eddie spent most of their summer’s there, specifically at a place called Sportman’s Pier. Granddaddy spent his days at the end of the pier, and set area records for tarpon and kingfish, caught a 500 pound hammer head shark, and once, even a huge sea turtle. Grandmother caught her share as well, but she spent her time supplementing their income by working in the tackle shop at the foot of the pier.
From the ages of about seven to ten, this is the magical environment in which I spent much of my summers. The now inconceivable freedoms of a child in the innocent 60’s, left to ramble alone on the beach, and up and down the pier. Mr. Bradley owned the pier, and had a son near my age, David, who now owns the pier. I’m sure for him as well, those freedoms seem so long ago, but I associate those times with my grandparents. Sun, water, and endless adventure (like finding a $5 bill on the beach, and revelling in richness). The perfect summer of childhood.
Granddaddy was fun to hang out with, but he was a focused man, and as you might imagine, I could be a handful. Rather than get distracted by some 7 year old who looked as if he was going to fall over the pier rails while watching Grandpa “work,” Grandpa would tie the 7 year old to a light post and finish his big catch.
The now very indignant 7 year old would eventually be calmed by Grandmother at the other end of the pier, by reaching into the ice box and pulling out a sparkling emerald green bottle of a then brand new product called Mountain Dew. I often collected empty bottles for the deposit money so I could buy my own Mountain Dew, but Grandmother usually saw to it I didn’t do without.
1968. Summer of Love. The beach. Surfers. Hippies. Comin’ into the tackle shop and restaurant to hang out, or play pool or pinball. And Grandmother. You can imagine. To this day, every time I hear “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones, I think of her. It was that summer it was a hit, and every time some hippie-type played it on the jukebox, it grated her every nerve. She just detested that song. And didn’t hesitate to go over and turn down the jukebox whenever it got to be too much.Daily Whim: In Memory: Cora Lee Hinton Stott, 1908-2002
The memories of family took me back to the pier again earlier this year when Dad passed away and I wrote Memories of Dad. When I wrote about “a freedom that in many ways no longer exists for kids today,” this is what I meant:
It’s a place that doesn’t exist anymore. A place where a seven year old boy can wander the beach alone for hours, with no fears and no worries. A place where, if you were accosted by an adult, it was because they saw you doing something that would have made your parents yell, too. A place where you could find a five dollar bill in the sand, and think you were rich beyond your dreams! I think it gave me a sense of freedom and independence at a very young age. A sense that there was nowhere I couldn’t go, on my own, and explore.Daily Whim: Memories of Dad
But memories are just that, entirely divorced from the reality of today. What gave me a sense of independence and freedom 40 years ago would today get a parent in trouble; “you can’t let your child wander the beach like that alone, it’s dangerous!” And what was once a profitable family business is now a valuable piece of real estate. Too valuable to stay a family business.
Weathered wooden benches lining the rails of Sportsman’s Pier have long served as love seats, recliners and easy chairs by the sea.
Now the benches are among the first pieces of the Atlantic Beach attraction to be sold and carted away as pier lovers grab for a memento of coastal culture.
The pier was the blue-collar fisherman’s path beyond the breakers, and it drew thousands from Eastern North Carolina’s mill towns and cities. Within three months, the leggy platform that has been a coastal fixture for decades will be closed and dismantled. Owners plan to sell the valuable property for condominiums.
Ocean fishing piers are vanishing as pricey development transforms the state’s coast. High-rise resorts are taking the place of small motels and low-key campgrounds, while private marinas replace community boat ramps.
Pier owner David Bradley recently began selling the benches at $25 apiece at the request of his regular customers [...] Bradley, 51, said it’s not economically practical to continue the pier, especially with oceanfront property in demand.
“It’s outlived its economic life,” he said. “It’s been an act of stubbornness to be here the last 10 years.”
Ten years ago, there were eight fishing piers jutting into the ocean from Bogue Banks, a 26-mile-long island in Carteret County. Now there are two other piers about 1,000 feet long, the Oceanana and the Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier, and a smaller pier at the Sheraton Motel.News & Observer: Pier’s benches now $25 keepsakes
David’s a couple of years older than me, and he and I sometimes played together back in the 1960’s, at the pier he later inherited. He knows about that freedom we had as a child. But now as an adult, he’s got to face an entirely different reality. One with a world of potential profit for his family, after decades of hard work. But he’s not forgetting those who share memories of the place he’s now closing:
The Sportsman’s Pier in Atlantic Beach has survived much, including losing 350 feet to Hurricane Gloria in 1985, and the pier house burning down in 1977.
But the pier can’t escape development. Five single-family home lots soon will occupy the space where the pier has stood since 1956.
The 1,000-foot structure and pier house will close its doors to anglers after Oct. 27, so on Sunday, owner David Bradley will hold Customer Appreciation Day, complete with free barbecue and sides. The food will be served from noon to 2 p.m.
“I wanted everybody to come back and just talk to each other,” owner David Bradley, 51, said. “Most of what I’m getting is that people are sad to see it go. It gets sadder the closer you get to the date. You can’t think about it too hard. You have to move forward.”
Bradley said that, down the road where the Triple S Pier sat, three lots were sold for $1.1 million each. He said that he is not sure what his lots will sell for.News & Observer: Closing pier’s owner thanking patrons
So, he’s looking at the income from 120 annual passes and 33,000 shorter term passes each year, minus the vastly rising insurance rates during to the threat of hurricane damage, versus about a $5 million sale. One can hardly blame him. But the memories lost are tough for many:
After nearly 50 years of casting a line from Sportsman’s Pier in Atlantic Beach, John and Sylvia Griffith have many a fish tale to share.
The fish tales are many but when the couple is asked about their best catch there’s only one answer: each other.
“It’s her,” said John Griffith, touching the arm of his wife of 49 years.
Sportsman’s Pier was their “courting” location, and the time they have spent together on the pier will always be Sylvia Griffith’s favorite memory of the place.
“Being with him, spending our first years together out here is (the best memory),” she said.
For Sylvia Griffith, it’s hard to imagine going somewhere else.
“It feels like a death,” she said. “I’m losing a good friend.”News & Observer: Anglers think about the ones that got away as fishing pier closes
That last line from Mrs. Griffith resonates with me strongly. That, combined with what I wrote about the freedom and independence of youth, a “sense that there was nowhere I couldn’t go, on my own.” After losing Dad this year, when I heard that Sportsman’s Pier was closing, and selling benches for $25, my first reaction was “I MUST have one.”
But I had to face the reality of a “today” entirely divorced from the memories. How will you get a 6 foot by 3 foot by 3 foot bench from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to your third floor condo in Atlanta?
Which triggered the next thought; “I must GO there for the closing. I’ll load the bench in my truck to bring it back.”
After all, why couldn’t I, a free and independent guy, hop in my truck and go where ever I want, whenever I want? Pretty much like that seven year old at the beach. After all, after the year I’ve had, it would seem like the perfect “spirit walk.”
So, why am I not there right now, eating barbeque and enjoying the company? I have clients with Nov. 1 deadlines. I have a wife recovering from a broken wrist (who will dry her hair?). I have a niece to visit today, who brings me much joy. I have Adult Obligations. Responsibilities that take priority over complete “freedom and independence.”
By choice. Just as David Bradley is having to make the difficult choice of closing the pier and making a large amount of money for the security of his family. Sure, he could probably keep it open and scrape by. But it sounds like he’s already been doing that for a while.
And the time comes we have to do what is best for our family. To meet our Adult Obligations. Regardless of our fond memories.
Because we’ll always have those.