Fishing Lessons: In Memory of DauDau

My grandmother was amazing. I know everyone thinks their own grandmother--or grandfather, or mom or dad--was amazing, but how many of them could do the splits at 70 years old? Or lean over and put their hands flat on the floor without bending their knees?

We called my grandmother "DauDau." Her real name was Camille Latham Burgess Campbell, descended from the Charles Latham family of Plymouth, NC. Charles built the pre-civil war era Latham House on the Roanoke River about 1837. As a toddler I remember visiting my grandmother's siblings when the home was still their private residence. I grew up feeling connected to something famous.

As a girl my grandmother exhibited her gymnastic skills by executing perfect hand springs from one end of the Latham House yard to another. She told us that the yard extended all the way to the river back then, but even if she was exaggerating, the property to this day spans the entire block between Main Street and Third.

When my sisters and I were little, we begged to hear my grandmother tell stories set in the Latham House. There was one about a little slave boy who froze to death because of his master's meaness, and another about Charles Latham's mother haunting him to stop his gambling and drinking ways. In high school I wrote a series of articles for our local weekly newspaper to share her stories, but the series stopped short when other descendants of the Latham's objected to the defamation of the historic family's character. DauDau admitted she made up all of the stories to entertain a gullible soldier who served with her in the Army.

DauDau served in World War II as a truck driver in the Women's Army Corp where she met my grandfather. They were married January 10, 1944 at The Church of the Transfiguration, still known as "The Little Church around the Corner" in New York City. After they were both discharged, they lived for some time in my grandfather's home state of New York before DauDau brought him home to Plymouth and made a "damn yankee" out of him. "Damn" was the only curse word I ever heard my grandmother utter, when she affectionately explained the difference between a yankee and a damn yankee. The latter, of course, came down here and stayed.

I called my grandfather by his first name, since that's what I heard everyone else calling him. I'm not sure why I scrambled "grandma" into DauDau. Don and DauDau taught my sisters and me how to fish at Rose Bay near Swan Quarter. In the summertime, we would load up the blue Chevy van with dozens of fishing rods and reels, a cooler or two, folding chairs, and the utility cart that Don had customized to easily haul everything down the long pier.

Don had fitted the van with bunks, clever hooks for hanging the rods and reels and other fishing gear, and the "Queen's Seat". One year for Christmas a gorgeous blue velveteen covered car seat came out of a huge box under the tree. Don replaced the passenger's seat in the utility van with this special perch for DauDau.

We sang on the 45 minute drive - "A fishing we will go, a fishing we will go, hi-ho a dairy-o, a fishing we will go." And we argued about which competition was in order--whoever caught the first fish, the biggest fish or the most fish, would get to sit in the folding chair between Don and DauDau instead of on the bunks in the back of the van on the way home.

We spent countless days slathered in Coppertone® in the sweltering heat catching nothing. Our lines drifted from poles abandoned, propped on the side of the pier, while we studied jelly fish in the brackish water through knot holes in the planks. I'm sure DauDau tired of hearing "I'm bored," but she simply answered, "An idle mind is the devil's workshop," and tightened her own lines.

DauDau fished out of one corner at the end of the pier. She used a large surf rod to take her shrimp far into the bay, and she fished for flounder close to the pier with cut bait on a smaller rod.

About once each summer, one of us would have a prize fish. For my sister, Julia, it was a huge flounder, probably 18 inches. The flounder was easily as big as her 10 year old torso. DauDau's monster blue fish had to be bent into a C-shape, almost a U-shape, to fit into the cooler.

Don started us all out with a pushbutton spincasting reel, but we soon graduated to an open-face spinning reel like DauDau's. Of course the transition wasn't easy. My youngest sister, Deborah, remembers her first big catch--a nice puppy drum.

"I was sitting on the end of the Rose Bay pier straddling one of those poles, with DauDau's little green open face reel just dropped straight down (she wouldn't let me try to cast anymore because she had already spent half her day untangling the back lashes) and it hit!" Deborah recalls.

DauDau led us in fishing on the way back to the van. Everything except the rods we were using was loaded onto Don's cart when the sun closed in on the horizon, and we would walk slowly, dragging our rigs along the side of the pier, hoping for one last catch.

It was on one of these walks that a puppy drum hit my line, but the net was packed away, and before I could pull him over the rail of the pier and claim the winner's chair for the ride home, he dropped from my hook. I was heart-broken. But among the fishing lessons DauDau taught us, the old clich├ę proved true: there are other fish in the sea.

Our fishing family tradition continued after DauDau and Don entered retirement and set up camp on a permanent site at Sandpiper's Trace campground. Sandpiper's was located on the Roanoke Island side of the old Mann's Harbor bridge, just before the Fort Raleigh and Lost Colony properties. They spent eight to ten months of the year in a pop-up camper, coming home for the winter in time to host Thanksgiving and Christmas in Plymouth.

DauDau spent hours on the little pier while Don finally admitted fishing was her passion and not his. He was happy bicycling around the island and feeding peanut butter crackers to the squirrels in the campground.

We continued to fish with DauDau into adulthood, visiting at Sandpipers until after my grandfather's death, then returning to Rose Bay. My youngest sister, Deborah, became the driver of the old blue van, and DauDau returned to the Queen's seat when her eyesight started to fail.

My grandmother remained the pillar of our family, supporting us with her inner strength and remarkable example through the death of her youngest daughter, my mother's divorce, my youngest sister's divorce, and then my own. For all of the pain we shared, she treasured her great-grandchildren and our family time together. DauDau's house was where everyone came home for the holidays, where we sat for hours at the dining room table playing rummy, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.

DauDau never met my current husband, Ken, but I know she helped me "hook" him. When she knew cancer would soon take her life, she told us to "Do what you have to at the church, and then go fishing."

The ladies of the Plymouth Presbyterian Church packed us coolers of soft drinks and fried chicken, and the immediate family and a few close friends, including Ken, went to Rose Bay.

The pier and bath house were gone, but we spread out along the shore and spent the afternoon in the sun, crying a little, laughing, smiling and reminiscing a lot.

We only caught tiny fish that day, baby spots and croakers. But everything she taught me about fishing helped me impress Ken: I could bait my own hook, cast my own rod, loosen a snag from the stumps without breaking my line, and take my fish off the hook without squealing.

DauDau taught me patience. I didn't know, until I was old enough to live through my own trials, that life was really not perfect for my grandparents. She set an example for me of love and forgiveness and trust in God.

People have always said I favor my grandmother. I have her hair and her stature. And lately I have that catch in my hip that causes me to hesitate when I stand after sitting too long. I hope to be a lot like DauDau in my old age, and I hope people go fishing after my funeral.

Copyright Dineane Whitaker 2008 - Please do not copy and paste this article, but feel free to post a link using this url:

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Comments 16 comments

obxdeborah 8 years ago

She spelled it Dawdaw! You never listen to me!

DonnaCSmith profile image

DonnaCSmith 8 years ago from Central North Carolina

No, its Da Da. You don't get to decide how to spell your own name;o) Mama didn't spell it right, LOL.

Darn if you didn't make me cry again.

dineane profile image

dineane 8 years ago from North Carolina Author

I just decided to stick with the way I always spelled it since none of us can agree :-)

Lupo profile image

Lupo 8 years ago from Boston Area

I have some of my own interesting and poignant fishing "stories" that involve my grandfather. He had a summer house at the beach (I did not know how lucky I was when I was growing up to spend my summers there) and he took my brothers and I fishing many, many times. I have so many happy memories of those days. Some of those came to mind as I read your hub.

Thanks for sharing your fishing grandparent stories.

dineane profile image

dineane 8 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks for the comments, Lupo! I'm glad my happy memories reminded you of your own!

smwizzz 8 years ago

Thanks. Brings back memories of my own Grandma... maybe a tear of my own.

Zsuzsy Bee profile image

Zsuzsy Bee 8 years ago from Ontario/Canada

Dineane! What precious great memories you have. I wish these great old-timers were still around. I could never get enough of the stories they could tell. Thanks for sharing

regards Zsuzsy

dineane profile image

dineane 8 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks, Zsuzsy. I do cherish these memories, and I do miss the stories.

countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

Dineane - Your "DauDau" is an ideal grandma who has given so many valuable lessons both through her words and deeds. She has told the younger generation by her own example the ability to stay fit (do splits and all)then never to speak bad words (damn isn't a bad really) then teaching you all to fish and do so many things. You all have been blessed to have such a strong figure to guide you all. Great hub.

dineane profile image

dineane 8 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thank you, CW, yes, she was a special lady!

trish1048 profile image

trish1048 8 years ago

A beautiful, heartwarming story filled with such wonderful memories. These are what make up the fabric of our lives. I have many warm memories as well of my grandparents, and I recall them often :)

Thank you for a lovely story, you were truly blessed.

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

It seems your warm and cogent story has ignited memories in more than one of us, dineane. I kept thinking of my grandfather, a prizefighter, who I didn't spend a lot of time with, but one I loved dearly. I'm planning to write about him soon in HubPages. There's something about family history that makes it more endearing as we get older. I used to love to hear my parents talk about their heritage and their old friends, and now I wish I had asked more questions about them. Your grandmother was obviously a strong person who lived life to the fullest. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

dineane profile image

dineane 8 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thank you Trish and William. Oh boy do I know the feeling of wishing I had asked more questions. I look forward to your hub about your grandfather, William.

Jamie Lynn 7 years ago

I read fishing lessons and hung on every word your Grandmother was an amazing woman all 3 ways of spelling DAW DAW are spelled with LOVE!!!!!!!

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

wonderful hub - I really enjoy reading about people's relatives on hubpages, and your Granny sounds very special indeed.

dineane profile image

dineane 7 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thank you LondonGirl. DauDau was absolutely a special grandparent - as was Don. I love when a comment pops up on this thread - always encourages me to re-read and remember. Thanks again for visiting.

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