This past weekend, I drove my family down to Lowland, N.C. Lowland is a very small community on Goose Creek Island and it is where my family (paternal) settled hundreds of years ago. Lowland is an interesting little place. The land is flat, flat, flat, and there are creeks and canals on either side of you while you drive down. Houses that once sat on regular foundations have now been elevated on pilings due to the constant threat of flooding that has become increasingly worse as the years have passed. Our family’s home has not been elevated, and it is still standing even after Hurricane Irene flooded the entire downstairs. She is a beauty of an old house, built in 1925 by my granddaddy, Jewell Mercer, and all nine of his children were born and raised there. My great-aunt still lives there today.
I have been meaning to take the children down to Lowland for the last few years. They are now old enough to understand and (I think) appreciate the history behind our family. I had the perfect reason to take them down, our family reunion. My father’s family (the Mercers) have a reunion annually, and have started holding the reunion down in Lowland where it all started. I love that I get to see my Papa (who will be 90 in March) so proud and happy at these reunions. Out of nine children, he was the second oldest and has been the patriarch of the family for the last 40 years. He and three sisters are all that are left of Jewell and Joella Mercer’s nine children.
I took my children by the Mercer home, remembering the smell of cooking rutabagas and chewing tobacco that permeated the air when I was a little girl. I remember running around that house barefoot, playing with my cousin outside as the grown- ups sat in the house and talked. Shrimp boats, trawlers, crab pots, and shrimp nets dotted the landscape like trees. My Grandma Jo (great-grandmother Joella) always had a spit cup by her chair, and I loved to hear her “Down East” accent. She grew up on Portsmouth Island before her father moved them to Lowland and she had the iconic “Ocracoke Brogue” that those who lived on remote islands in N.C. tended to have.
Being a waterman is the Mercer way, and has continued through the generations. My great-great-grandfathers on both sides were fishermen, their sons were, my grandfather was as a young man before becoming a state trooper, and three of his four sons (my father and uncles) were commercial fisherman. My uncles and father have moved from commercial fishing to other occupations on the water. My father is the ferry captain from Cedar Island to Ocracoke, one uncle works on a tugboat, and the other has started his own oyster farm (Bay River Oysters, Mercer Seafood Co.). Now, bringing it full circle, my brother is moving back from the West Coast to continue the tradition and work for Bay River Oysters. The cycle is continuing.
Saltwater runs fast through these veins. The vibrant green of summer marsh grass, the sparkling of the blue waters of the Pamlico Sound, and the distinct smell of salt and plough mud bring sweet memories of my childhood. I’m so thankful that my children were able to see it, smell it, and feel it in their hearts.