My Grandmama and Grandpapa purchased a home in the newly developed Corolla Light resort community in Currituck County, NC on the Outer Banks in the late 1980s. I would say 1988, due to the founding of the community and the actual paving of NC 12 being pretty new when the Resort broke ground.
The sights and smells of the Outer Banks reminded them of what Panama City (Florida) had been for them growing up, albeit in a cooler climate, which in some ways was more comfortable and my Grandpapa’s horrific migraines were not triggered by heat or heavy pollen. They decided on a small home, not wanting to risk too much in a community that was brand new, with 240 undeveloped acres being a big risk so far off the beaten path and an hour north of the Wright Memorial Bridge.
I remember piling into Mom and Dad’s cars (sometimes they would drive separately so we could bring school friends with us – or maternal cousins close in age). We had a tape deck of Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time and the musical beat matched the beat of the bridge decking hit by our tires as we made the home stretch to the beach house. If you pull up that song and listen to the opening bars you will see what I am talking about.
Some of our first visits included boxes littering around the photos, but the top floor had an ocean view and we could open up that side of the house to hear the waves. I learned how to ride my bike in the greenway between the houses, a soft carpet that would protect me if I fell. I had a collection of fulgurite I kept on the side of the mostly-mulch landscaping beds. I’m sure today landscapers would discard them but over a period of almost 15 years I had made quite the collection. Shells I would take home… most of the fulgurite I would leave there knowing people likely wouldn’t care about it. (Fulgurite is petrified lightning. It isn’t glass, it almost looks like pumice and depending on the sand can be pale or dark grey in color… I love them!).
It was fun to have to put on the white owner’s bracelets for a long weekend or a week. My brother and I were healthy farm kids so my parents never felt bad for taking us out of school early – sometimes even on a Thursday prior to a break or just a random Fall weekend – to start the 6 hour drive to the beach house. I was a kid but loved the big hot tub in the Sports Center. The sauna. Fudge and Betty & Veronica comics. Eric of the Clubhouse Cafe (now Oceanside Grille) would let my brother and I eat dinner at the bar, charge it to our house’s account, get change for the arcade below, and then walk, bike or take the trolley back home… while my parents went to dinner at the Blue Point (a now icon in Duck, my parents were on a first name basis with the owners, and we had the early t-shirts with the red barstools that represented the number of years it had been open), and later, Ocean Boulevard.
Grandmama and Grandpapa sold the house suddenly in 2003 when my Grandpapa’s health started to get worse… any distance further than 2 hours one way was agony. All of us – my parents, aunt, cousins… we were bereft. It was like the loss of a family member. And Corolla Light? Well, it’s really different now… but the charm is still there… especially after Labor Day and before Memorial Day. But the summer months provide a lot of sweet memories and opportunities for families that can’t be compared on the Outer Banks.
PS. It’s pronounced Cohr-ah-la. Not Corolla like a Toyota Corolla. The AH being emphasized. That’s how you know you found this amazing place after the real estate explosion of the mid-1990s and locals will judge you (maybe silently, maybe not).