On our way south from Little Wicomico River to Deltaville, we detoured to Tangier for lunch, dodging lighthouses, fishing boats and crab pot floats.
It was a calm, nearly windless 12.5 nautical miles on smooth water. As we approached the island we were impressed with how low the land profile was. Not much on the island is more than a few feet above sea level.
Tangier preserves a culture that is unique to only a few areas of the U.S. Some of this is evidenced in the Eastern Shore/Tangier accent. You run into this manner of speaking mainly amongst the old timers. A few words stand out – hoose for house; abote for about. Then I lose track of what is said and how it’s said. For instance, when we pulled into Parks Marina on Tangier, we spoke to (I presume) Mr. Park. He didn’t seem to have any trouble understanding us, but I understood nearly nothing that man said the first time he said it. And it wasn’t just the way words were pronounced, but the selection of words and the order they appeared – the expressions he used – were very foreign to us. Dumbly, I found myself often saying “I’m sorry… could you tell me again?” Or “excuse me?” My family roots are in Delaware, and I’ve encountered a similar dialect through my infrequent visits. I always have to listen carefully when conversing with folks who speak like this. It’s funny – I’m a pretty good mimic of foreign accents, and American regional accents – but I have no idea what makes this accent sound the way it does. Guess I just haven’t spent enough time listening to the dialect.
The town of Tangier is isolated. They get daily tour groups in, and of course TV, internet, radio communicate with Tangier just like everywhere else, but the population is small, the island culture obviously different. They are hard-working folks – many families of watermen many generations deep – and they run the various businesses on the island too, of course. The streets are narrow, presumably to accommodate horse-draw carts originally. There are a few cars, but transport is predominantly electric golf carts, scooters, and bicycles. There are several newer houses, but homes are mostly older and well-maintained. Some of the historic homes are magnificent in preservation. Most of them tend to be smaller – even the larger homes are likely smaller inside than we imagine, divided into a number of smallish rooms, as that was the custom.
Island population for the 2000 census was 604, down by half at its peak around 1900 of 1190. I don’t think there are many newcomers to Tangier – not those who come to stay. I imagine most of the residents are “home-grown.”
After walking around town for 45 minutes, we had lunch at Lorraine’s, very near the marina. I ordered a crab cake, and Ruth had a flounder fillet sandwich. We both had a cup of crab soup. It was, without a doubt, the very best crab and fish we’ve ever had anywhere. I’ve never had seafood that fresh or tasty. The soup (thick, cream-based and crab-filled) was the very best. Simply incomparable. We had lunch with the police force as well. Don’t know if there is more than one policeman, but this one was in the restaurant with us. I liked his uniform: grey T-shirt and blue jeans, police utility belt, ball cap. He looked relaxed, comfortable.
After lunch, we made our way back to the boat and prepared to cast off.
Mr. Park advised us (several times – I couldn’t understand him the first couple of times he said it) to go directly south along the island once we left the channel, and proceed to the marker several miles south of the island tip, then head southwest to get to Deltaville. We discovered, as we studied the chart, that his directions would keep us out of a restricted area (Navy operational area). Thanks Mr. Park!
The Tangier folks are nice. Obviously, there is a sense among them that they are ‘on display’ and I think that must get old for them. It must be difficult living in a famously unique community and having tourists gawk at your homes and way of life.