It’s been 22 days since I left Charleston. I haven’t had a day off. I haven’t taken a shower. Wind almost broke me. Shallow water drove me mad. Sand and salt are everywhere. But I kept hearing about Elizabeth City, the nicest town on the Intercoastal, the Harbor of Hospitality, the entrance to the Dismal Swamp.
I felt a bit like Dorothy walking the yellow brick road, hoping the Emerald City would solve all her problems. There’s no fake wizard in Elizabeth City though, no man behind a curtain, but there’s something better.
I was two years old when Joe Kramer walked in his yard on a Sunday afternoon and clipped a bouquet of roses. Somewhere else in Elizabeth City, Joe’s buddy Fred Fearing rounded up some wine and cheese. The two of them met up at the waterfront–Joe with the roses, Fred with the wine and cheese–and invited the crew from seventeen boats docked in the harbor onto shore for a party to welcome the travelers to town.
Every lady received a rose, everyone shared stories about where they were going and where they’d been, and all felt welcome. When those seventeen boats left, off to destinations far and wide, more replaced them and Joe clipped a few more roses, Fred found some more wine and cheese, and they did it again.
Other citizens of Elizabeth City joined them. Word spread on boat docks up and down the Intercoastal about the town’s hospitality. Someone started calling Joe and Fred’s gang the Rose Buddies and they kept clipping roses and pouring wine until a Sunday afternoon idea transformed into a tradition.
Joe died in 1987. Fred passed twenty years later. But the town moved Joe’s rose bushes to the park where boats dock and new Rose Buddies still clip flowers, find some wine and cheese, and throw parties where all feel welcome, even a ragged kayaker who hasn’t showered in three weeks and is coated in salt and sand.