A Place Called Home
There are some things that are so integral to a place that they are as much a part of the definition of home as where we lay our heads at night.
Like the scuppernong grapes that are now ripening on their twisting vines just as the school year gets underway here on the Outer Banks, or the shrimp that have just started to jump in the sound waters close to shore, leaving ripples in their wake.
There are the American beautyberries that transform into bursts of brilliant purple in our maritime forests as October arrives, and the misty salt air that manages to fill us at nearly any time of year as we step over the dunes and catch sight of all that blue.
Traditions also become so deeply ingrained in a place that they, too, help to define what we call home. Like oyster roasts in winter. Crabbing in summer. Fishing in fall.
Of all towns on the Outer Banks, Manteo has its share of traditions – from the Christmas tree lightings to annual festivals and art shows. But one of the more unique traditions that has lived on in this little waterfront community happens every summertime at a small bridge that connects the town’s waterfront with Roanoke Island Festival Park.
On most warm days through early fall, you’ll find anywhere from a few to a dozen or more children taking the plunge from the quaint little bridge into the water below. The locals will tell you the best spot for jumping is the peak of the bridge. The splash down below is followed by the 20-yard swim back to the ladder so they can do it all over again.
Some call it a rite of passage for local kids. Some call it a part of this community’s culture. Some may even call it a bit crazy. Watching my own kids make that first delightful leap one evening this summer, I wasn’t sure what to call it. But I did know it would be something they would always remember – and a place they’d ask to return to again.
Former Manteo mayor John Wilson says that seeing the kids today make that leap each summer takes him back to his own childhood. And even if you’ve never stepped foot in Manteo, I am betting the sight conjures up some feelings of being a child on one of those wonderfully carefree summer days.
“Just thinking about jumping off the bridge brings back 60-year-old memories of jumping off the docks as children,” Wilson said of childhood days in Manteo. “It is indeed a long tradition for children growing up on the Manteo waterfront.”
It’s become such a popular pastime along the waterfront that each year, the town hires a diver to check that no underwater obstructions have appeared near the bridge since the prior season. Ladders have been installed and life rings are in place to ensure safety.
“It has definitely become a rite of passage for the local kids,” says Manteo Town Manager Kermit Skinner, who said the tradition was well established when he first came to Manteo in 1988 and imagines it started soon after Roanoke Island Festival Park was developed and the bridge was constructed back in 1984.
Who the first kid to contemplate the jump on a hot summer day was, we may never know.
But Skinner says jumping off the Manteo waterfront goes way back in the town’s history – long before the bridge was built. “People have been jumping and diving off the Manteo waterfront for one hundred years or more. We are a waterfront community and have a long history of interaction with the water. We are proud of that.”
The town manager says he has jumped off the bridge once years back, and is proud to say he’s done it. “But once was enough for me,” he added.
The sight each summer, no doubt, conjures up a feeling of home among those who live in Manteo, a community that is so obviously steeped in tradition. “It’s just one of those things that makes Manteo so special,” Skinner concludes. “It gives it that hometown Norman Rockwell feel.”
The change of seasons, the salt air, the view outside our own windows, cherished traditions that stand the test of time – they are a few of the simple things that help us to define this place we call home.♦
Michelle Wagner is the editor at Three Dog Ink and has been living and writing on the Outer Banks for more than 15 years. Contact Michelle