The Old-Time Herald Volume 10, Number 8

Feature

 

Haunting Us Still:
Frank and Anne Warner on the Outer Banks

By Kent Priestley

Wanchese, a town barely large enough for its own zip code, is located at the southern point of Roanoke Island, along North Carolina’s Outer Banks. When folklorists Frank and Anne Warner visited there in 1940 and again in 1951, it was primarily a fishing village, with boats lumbering up Mill Landing Creek, their holds full of flounder, croaker and weakfish caught from the nearby sounds. Today the main industry is yacht building. But drive a car around the place, especially in the less clement seasons—during a spring fog, say, or in the teeth of a winter “blow,” when the smell of fiberglass resin is swept away—and it is possible to feel

Courtesy VT ImageBase, Digital Library and Archives, University Libraries, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
something of the past. Yards are low and wet. Southern magnolias and live oaks stand watch over old frame houses, their white siding flecked green with algae. Stacks of wire crab pots mark many of the property lines, and bigger lots are chockablock with old boats, hauled out and awaiting repairs.

This is the image of Wanchese that comes to mind when I listen to “Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still,” a song the Warners recorded during their 1951 visit.

I lived on Roanoke Island for nearly four years unaware that music had ever been “caught” on the Outer Banks. Frankly, it was hard to imagine what music might have been like there before the present Age of Jimmy Buffett.

But that changed for me three autumns ago when a musician friend from Asheville made the eight-hour trip east to visit me. During her stay, warm weather yielded to a persistent nor’easter, and the oceanfront cottage we were borrowing from friends, at Nags Head, began to seem a little too close to the sea. At night breakers thundered offshore; in the gray morning light, we watched foam lick the dunes, rushing nearly up to the cottage’s pilings. The storm held for days.

 One evening in that made-to-order setting, she sang “Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still”:

It’s been a year since we met
We may never meet again
I have struggled to forget
But the struggle was in vain

For her voice lives on the breeze
And her spirit comes at will.
In the midnight on the seas,
Her bright smile haunts me still.

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