Promise Land, NC Stories & Story Tellers

Kib's Store and the Whale Creek Club

Rodney Kemp

The community store -- a Carteret County tradition -- has met the fate of most simple things; about the time you think it will last forever, it's gone. In my growing up in Morehead City, I remember Aspenberg's of Billy View, Ream's of Rabbit Hill, King's of Sunset Shores, Royals and Willis's on Arendell Street, Springle's of Conch's Point, Yeager's of Camp Glenn, Cherry's and El Nelson's of downtown Morehead, and Kib's of the Promise' Land.

They were all very similar and all very different. For the most part, they featured basic food needs, magazines, tobacco products, kerosene, soft drinks, candy and others treats. They all had personalized charge accounts with the family name in plain view neatly arranged in a Campbell Soup carton or White Owl cigar box. They were different in personality according to who ran them, who hung around them, and what the specialty of the house was.

Aspenberg's featured the pungent, earthy smell of fresh farm produce. Kib's had frozen drinks made from real soft drinks. King's had fresh Moon Pies, cold Pepsi's, and the best magazine rack on the east coast. Royal's had the friendly personalities of Mr. Boyce Royal and his prime time visitor, Coach Gannon Talbert.

The memory of entering the magical world of any of these with a nickel in tow -- even today some forty years later -- allows the nostalgic notions to ebb and flow.

But Kib's Store took on a whole new flavor. It was the "personality" of the Banks ... It was the hub of the Promise' Land and was owned and operated by the unelected, but official, mayor of the Promise' Land, Kilby Guthrie, Jr.

It began as a wooden, rectangular building of "shotgun" architecture. However, it soon developed its distinctive lean to the "east'ard" as if to bespeak of the Promise' Land's kinship to the "Bankers" who settled in that locale of Carteret County. Pictures don't do the lean justice. You had to walk in the door and feel the wall staring at you to understand the full significance of the angle. In Mrs. Helen Bailey's geometry classroom at Morehead City High School were displayed models of the common geometric shapes; a square, a rectangle, a triangle, an so on ... On the model of the trapezoid, some enterprising young student had written "Kib's Store." Legend says it was supported by one can of Ritter Beans; that's not so, I distinctly remember there were two of them.

Kib's personality was the spirit of the store. My sister was instructed to go inside and purchase a pack of L&M cigarettes for my aunt, who was visiting from Pennsylvania. Quickly Madelyn came back to the car and said, "He wants to know if you want plain or peanut."

Cliff Mason walked in one evening and Kib said, "I can tell by the look on you face what you had for dinner." Astonished Cliff listened in amazement as Kib correctly identified the stewed chicken, collards, light rolls, and apple pie that his mama had prepared, put on the table, and announced, "You crowd, take out and eat!" It never crossed any of the young'erns minds who were victims of Kib's psychic powers to realize he had boxed the order for their mothers earlier that day.

Being the CEO of a supermarket franchise, Kib was into "marketing." His familiar slogan, "Step right up, don't be ashame', go to Charlie Wallace's and get your purse seine," received national advertising acclaim. Kib was the first person to greet the "summer people" who would arrive in the spring. As they unloaded their entourage of children and support people, Kib was right beside them delivering their collards. The "summer people" thrived on such special attention and would have paid almost anything for those collards, which in fact they did.

Every spring the Dr. Pepper people would have their logo painted on the outside of that leaning wall. Apparently, the aged, dried wood absorbed the paint because they had to apply several coats to get it right. The smell of that paint was carried for blocks by the breezes, and to children on bikes it sort of announced their entrance into the Promise' Land.

Beside that painted wall was a wooden bench on which sat "the old salts" of the community, a group known as "The Whale Creek Club." Even as a child, I would read the lines in their weathered faces and marvel at the adroitness of their sun-splotched hands and bony fingers as they whittled on their cedar sticks. A "chaw" of "backer" was ever present, and when one of them spit, it usually indicated that the silence was about to be broken by a "short statement." If a young'ern like me wanted to listen to these pearls of wisdom from days gone by, he had to remain perfectly still, leaning on the corner of the store, and staring down the road as if planning to leave real soon.

Uncle Walter Lewis might say, "Wind's going to the nor'east directly." A few nods and firm whittles would acknowledge the validity of this meteorological forecast.

"Cold time a-coming," says Capt. Gib Willis following the obligatory spit.

Seconds and minutes would creep by until finally old man Eli Mizelle might say, "Winter of '86, son, talk about cold ..."

Deep silence would follow as they all would allow their minds to recall the life on Shackleford Banks in a very special, private, personalized manner. All memories are not to be shared. The best ones are tucked away in the mind's attic to be discovered during those special times when they can be properly dwelled upon and savored for what they represent. " 'Tain't nobody's business what I were a-thinking, son."

Those men -- The Whale Creek Club -- were treasures I appreciated then, but even more now. They represented the genuine independence of the Banker's lifestyle. They were the ones who had experienced the culture shock of having moved from the Banks to "civilization." They longed to go back. The concluding line of Gretchen Guthrie's poem, "The Old Man and the Child" says:

Out there, oh no, o'er there on Shackleford Banks
Are the wonder years of long ago.

It was always said that Kib's store was condemned and would be torn down when he died. This in fact must have been true, because a vacant lot represents its position now. I don't remember when it was razed. I don't want to know. I don't like change. Oh, I appreciate the wide aisles of the Food Lion, Winn-Dixie, or the A&P, and the convenience of loading up your own cart. Still, there was something mystical to a child in the way Kib would reach high on the shelf with his hooked stick, snare a box of Quaker Oats, and catch it as it tumbled down.

For now though, I'll just tuck that memory away and someday (maybe) I will be addressed as "Old Pa" and can share it in the manner of the Whale Creek Club.

Reprinted from “The Mailboat,” Vol 2 No. 4

From "Our Shared Past" prepared for the Diamond City & Ca'e Bankers Reunion, August 1999 as a collection of writings, research and recollections to tell the story of the Banks communities.
Copyright 1995, Core Sound Waterfowl Museum
All rights reserved.

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