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Interview with Leila Pigott, April 14, 1995 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Leila Pigott, April 14, 1995
April 14, 1995
In this transcript of a 1995 interview, Leila Pigott shares personal anecdotes relating to Southport's shrimp industry both pre-and-post Hurricane Hazel.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Pigott, Leila Interviewer: Date of Interview: 2/14/1995 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length 55 minutes

Interviewer: We're gonna' talk to Leila Pigott today and I guess the first thing to start is: Leila, could you tell us about yourself? If you were born in Southport, how long have you lived here, that sort of thing?

Pigott: No, I was not born in Southport, much to my sorrow, but I came here so young that I don't recall anything other than Southport. So, I usually don't even tell people I'm not a- a native, so to speak, because I feel like I am a native.

Interviewer: When did you come?

Pigott: I came in 1923.

Interviewer: And I guess we'll have to ask you also, how old are you today?

Pigott: I'm 78 years old.

Interviewer: Good for you; that's great. You've been here since 1923, so obviously, you must've gone to school here and lived here almost all your life?

Pigott: All my life, except when I was gone for a few months each year with my husband, with our shrimp boats in the shrimp business.

Interviewer: Who was your husband?

Pigott: My husband was Dallas Pigott. Dallas Cranmer Pigott.

Interviewer: Okay. That's good. A lot of times, the spin-off people are just as interesting as the main ones you talk about, so tell us about what life was like when you were young in Southport, and how did you get in the shrimp business?

Pigott: Well, as I said, I don't- I started school- I started in the first grade here. And I went to school in what is now the art gallery. I went three years there. And then I graduated to the Southport High School, where the post office is now. You know the schoolhouse burned? And I graduated, which at that time was 11 grades and eight months a year, instead of nine. Now, whether that means I didn't get as much education as they get today or not, I don't know.

Interviewer: Well, I sometimes think they got better, but that's different. Go ahead.

Pigott: But anyway, I graduated from high school and that was in 1934. Now, my husband had been here and went through school, through the sixth grade here in Southport, so I played with him as a-a child. And then his- his father was in the Coast Guard and he left- they left and- and moved back to where they came from, which was Calry County Straights [ph?], North Carolina. Uh.. Oddly enough, that's where our city manager's mother was when she died. She lived right across the street from their old home. I thought that was odd, after all these years, but anyway uh.. his father uh.. returned from the Coast Guard in 1935, so they moved back to Southport. Their home was right where the gazebo is, by the United Carolina Bank, now. And uh.. so, we renewed acquaintances after all these years. And the next thing I knew uh.. I was dating him, and I mean very steadily (laughs) for five years. And we were married in 19- April, in 1941, and the war of course, broke out in December of that year. And he was already in the shrimp business. He had been a- a shrimp truck driver, but he was working at that time for Louis Hardy [ph?], who I think you're gonna' speak to him.

Interviewer: Tell us what a shrimp driver is.

Pigott: A shrimp driver? They loaded each night after they- maybe I better preface this a little bit. Before the great hurricane Hazel, in 1954, there were at least 17, I suppose, fish houses on the waterfront. I mean on the cape here, where the waterfront park is now. There are none left, of course, but at that time it was- it was incredible. You could hardly move without bumping into a shrimp house and a dock. And as a child, a young person, we swam, we played there; we lived there, you might say. And uhm.. I'm sorry that the younger people now don't have that opportunity. Uh.. But it was a wonderful way to grow up. But uh.. he was working for Mr. Hardy and, first driving a truck and- a shrimp truck. When they would finish heading the shrimp and packing them up, they would put them on these trucks, and for the most part, all of the shrimp went to Fullerton Fish Market in New York. Now, sometime they would stock them and send them into Baltimore. It all acc- it- it hinged on what the market was. If the market dropped in New York and got better in Baltimore, they would send a wire. And let me tell you a little something about t- telegrams during those days. If you sent a telegram and mentioned the weather, you got it cheaper. So, you'd say, you know, maybe it would say, "Take shrimp into so-and-so in Baltimore. Weather beautiful." You know! And I have so- right many of those telegrams. I- I'm a rat pack and I have everything I've saved. But, that was a little thing, 'cause we were in the middle of the Depression, you must remember that. And uh.. but they would take the shrimp and they had to make the market, at a certain time. And I made one trip with him and my brother had to go with me because my mother would not allow me to go with the man I was going to marry, without my brother going too. And that was quite an experience, but at least I got to see Fullerton Fish Market in its heyday, and I- believe me, it was the heyday.

Interviewer: I guess they had left here, gone up Highway 301 all the way up to New York?

Pigott: 17.

Interviewer: 17? Okay.

Pigott: Uh-huh.. They went through Virginia; they went through Emporia, Fredericksburg, and up in that way and I don't really know from there on. I can't tell you. But I do know that he made- uh.. let me see, didn't think I'd ever forget this. He made something like 23 trips in 13 days, without sleeping. And uh.. they say that when he got off the truck, of course there were two people on the truck- when he got off the truck, they put him out. There was a big tree right in front of his house, the one I was telling you about where the gazebo is- that he leaned against the tree and went and hard and fast to sleep. And they reported it to the police that there was a drunk hanging on the tree, and it was Dallas, fast asleep! But anyway-

Interviewer: No interstate highways in those days, that's for sure-

Pigott: No, no. But they knew the short routes. But, from there out uh.. Dallas and Louis Hardy, whom I think you're going to talk with later uh.. went into business together, but that was after Dallas and I were married. Dallas and I were married on- in April of '41, as I told you, and we went to Morgan City, Louisiana. Dorothy and Louis had gone there; Louis had gone there with all of his boats and that- at that time, we had an enormous amount of boats that came from Carvery County to Southport during the shrimp season, because oddly enough, whether you believe it or not, we were known as the shrimp capitol of the world. We produced more shrimp in Southport than anywhere in the world. That would be something- a- a dozen of those track end trailers was nothing, to go out of here, every night. And of course, it took an awful lot of men to drive the trucks. It took a lot of men to catch the shrimp and to head them, pack them and all of this. Uh.. It was a big business. It was- that was big business. But anyway, Louis had gone to Morgan City with his because they found what they called the pink gold- they were the pink shrimp that looked like they had been cooked. And so we went there for our honeymoon. We stayed there two weeks, and while we were there Dallas and Louis formed a new company called the United Shrimp Company owned by Dallas Pigott and Louis Hardy. And we stayed together, I guess about 10 years. So, Dallas took care of all the business in Southport and Louis took care of his own business, the Colonial Shrimp Company in Morgan City. Then, after about eight maybe nine years, they moved back to Southport and uh.. shortly after that, Dallas and I took off on our own. We bought a shrimp house and uh.. right next to the one Louis had, as a matter of fact, behind the house is the- I mean, the grocery store Dan Harrelsons' is so famous- the picture of hurricane Hazel- our fish house was right behind that. You can't see it. And on the end of that dock was Rob- Mr. Rob Thompson and Walters Thompson gasoline uhm.. marina. I have wonderful pictures of that.

Interviewer: Fuel dock-

Pigott: Fuel dock. And we had to use a tramway. We had a rail just like a- a railroad. And we'd have to bring the sh- unload the shrimp boats down there and run 'em all the way down the dock, to get to the fish house. There are pictures that I have of that. That was a little interesting.

Interviewer: You've mentioned that you got married and started the business in the summer of 1941, basically, which was before Pearl Harbor. What did World War II do to the shrimp business? How did they get the boats out with all the submarines and that sort of thing?

Pigott: Well, number one: The government had activated Fort Caswell and turned it into a YP-boat that's yacht patrol. In fact, they took one of our boats. Her name was the 'Rebecca'. They took that- our boat and converted it into a yacht patrol boat. That place over there was crawling with converted shrimp boats from everywhere. And there were hundreds and hundreds of sailors plus a few army personnel. And they patrolled. But, somehow or other, the shrimp boats went on out shrimping, but everybody was, of course, very cautious. And of course, the boats were blown up and we could very well hear and see and as I went into nurse's aid training, Red Cross, so I was involved with the injured out at Dosher- that's where I spent the war, was at Dosher Hospital.

Interviewer: So you were there when they ______________ people?

Pigott: Yes, I was.

Interviewer: But were any of your boats damaged during the war or-

Pigott: No, I don't recall that anything happened to any of them. I don't recall anything happening to anybody's shrimp boats.

Interviewer: The Germans-

Pigott: Somehow, that kind of escapes me. I- for one thing, you see, the boats moved- they had seasons. You'd be in Georgetown in August; you'd be in Southport by September; you'd be in Saint Augustine uh.. in this month, or you'd be- as the shrimp migrated, we went with them. We went north. We went up to Pamlico Sound with the boats. I said we did; the boats went.

Interviewer: But the fish house here continued operating? How did that work? When they filled up they came back here?

Pigott: Nope. But they were always local boats that did not go. And we could- and we had those. It was a very interesting and very uh.. well, everybody fished. They shrimped or fished. That was the main thing be- and- because I want to throw in the menhaden. You see we had a big menhaden industry here at the same time.

Interviewer: Was there a shrimp packing house here at that time, or a cannery?

Pigott: Yes, we had canneries. I remember those. But, that was earlier than I'm talking about. They were gone by the time we- mo- for the most part.

Interviewer: Yeah, you packed it out fresh and loaded it with ice-

Pigott: That's right.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Pigott: In hundred pound boxes.

Interviewer: That's from the ice plant that was up by the Black Cemetery on Leonard Street.

Pigott: Uh-huh.. At one time, my husband and I owned that. We bought it.

Interviewer: Oh, okay.

Pigott: But that was after we were down on the old yacht basin, in the new building, after Ha- Hazel.

Interviewer: We all know what Hazel did to Southport and we've seen the before and after, where you mentioned 17 shrimp houses before Hazel?

Pigott: They were all gone.

Interviewer: They were all gone. Well, what did that do to the business though?

Pigott: Well-

Interviewer: I mean obviously people still got shrimp somewhere-

Pigott: The world literally turned to shrimp. We've never seen anything like the shrimp that were caught after hurricane Hazel. Now, there were a lot of boats that could not get out. They were up in the woods; they were up in the streets; they were everywhere. But, those that could get out, they just came back loaded. I will tell you this, their nets were torn all to pieces; they had parts of refrigerators. They had beds. They had houses; they had a little bit of everything, but shrimp, I have never seen so many shrimp in all of my life! And there was- there was no where to pack the shrimp because all the shrimp houses were gone, even down in the county- the rest of the county. So, my husband and I had started our shrimp house down in the old yacht basin. We had the flooring down, not the cement part, but the flooring was there. And they were getting ready to raise- start raising it up. And of course the storm took it about a block up the street, and I had read and seen things all my life about what I'm going to tell you. The storm was on Friday. Saturday morning, our carpenters came to work and started ripping the floor up. And the next thing we knew, retired men, young men, kids, you wouldn't believe the kind of people came down with a hammer and everything they needed, and they ripped up- after the while, the carpenters didn't have to do anything. These men did it. And they would carry 'em down and Liam Smith [ph?] would nail 'em back. They worked all day Saturday, all day Sunday, they worked all day Monday. The city had a generator, a big generator over here at the fire station. They ran a special wire from there down to where we were working and used the Christmas lights that they put up every Christmas- big bulbs. The last time I heard, those bulbs were still up in the attic of that fish house. And we packed, I have no idea that you'll be able to get this picture, but that is the- what we call the outdoor shrimp house, because we packed shrimp that belonged to anybody in the county. We had what was known as a community shrimp box pile. They brought 'em from all over town and we piled 'em up and just used- didn't make any difference who owned them. There was no way of telling. But slowly, everybody got their own place.

Interviewer: That's a wonderful story because everybody realized how important that was.

Pigott: Oh, yes! You've never seen such lovin'- tender, loving care that we got. It was great. I don't want to go through it again, but if I- if it had to be here, I can't say that I- I'm glad that I saw what I did. I learned a lot.

Interviewer: Tell us- the kids, especially I'm sure have no idea how all this worked- the shrimp house. Tell us exactly what happened when the boat would come in. You mentioned the tram running down the dock. What did they do after that? And people who worked in the shrimp houses-

Pigott: You're talking now about before Hazel?

Interviewer: Yes.

Pigott: -that we did that. You want to know about that?

Interviewer: Sure.

Pigott: Okay. The- the closest they could get would be at the end of the dock, which was way out. We would unload the shrimp there from one boat and put it on a- a trolley-like thing. And they- they'd roll it down on these tracks into the fish house. And we used the same procedure that we did when we finished, I guess. Uh.. We'd weigh the shrimp and they were weighed by the pound, but they- that was converted into bushels with the heads on. I'm not sure that you understand what I'm talking about, but there is a difference in the way that the shrimp- the head takes up more room than the body. And then we'd throw the shrimp on the tables we had and the headers would pop the heads off. They went overboard. And then I would weigh the shrimp as they brought 'em up in buckets. At that time we didn't have the government involved, so we didn't have to pay any income tax; no withholding; no social security- you paid cash. Gosh, th- things were simple then. They got very complicated before I got out of it. And then they packed them up in hundred boxes- that held a hundred pounds with like a layer of ice; a layer of shrimp; a layer of ice; a layer of shrimp until you had a hundred pounds in there.

Interviewer: How many shrimp would a boatload be?

Pigott: Oh, there was no telling.

Interviewer: An average? Several hundred pounds?

Pigott: Oh, yes, yes. There'd be sometime oh! They'd say, "How many bushels did you get?" "10 bushels, 7 bushels, 6 bushels, 15 bushels, 20." It varied.

Interviewer: Okay.

Pigott: There was just no way of telling.

Interviewer: It was not the huge numbers that you got with the menhaden?

Pigott: Oh, no, no, no. Our boats were nothing to compare with those boats. They were huge. Ours were mostly- well, very small compared to what they have now. We had what they call super trawlers now. We'd never heard of a super trawler.

Interviewer: Alice Bell was probably the last of the shrimp boats-

Pigott: Uh-huh.. I guess she is-

Interviewer: -size that you're talking about-

Pigott: Uh-huh.. Yes.

Interviewer: Yeah. About 30 feet.

Pigott: Uh-huh.. But there were uh.. other boats that were bigger than those were. I can remember they got up as high as- I think ours were about 55 feet and 18 feet maybe wide. I'm not sure about that. Louis would know exactly. (laughs) Because he built them.

Interviewer: A lot of the shrimp boats today look like converted Pogy boats, but-

Pigott: No, they're not as big as a Pogy boat. Not any of them are as large as a Pogy boat.

Interviewer: Okay. Some of the old shrimp boats- they're still using a lot of those older ones and-

Pigott: They are now, yes.

Interviewer: Still using them?

Pigott: Because the shrimp business died down to where they really- the super trawl- they don't even need those big boats, anymore. We do have some and the- I understand that this year has been fairly good. Uhm.. I was glad to know because I had seen like many of the boats coming from uh.. south of us, down- Howler's Beach, Barnham [ph?] _____________ and all that.

Interviewer: Of course Calabash is the famous name in shrimp-

Pigott: Yeah.

Interviewer: But that's the cooking, rather than the catching-

Pigott: You've got it. Uh-huh..

Interviewer: How would you define Calabash cooking?

Pigott: I'm sorry you asked that. Would you mind taking it back? (laughs) Uh.. I can see where people would think it was wonderful, but that's not the way I cook shrimp.

Interviewer: How do you?

Pigott: You do.

Interviewer: How do you cook them?

Pigott: How do I cook them? Well I don't- when I cook shrimp, my cole slaw and my potatoes don't also taste like shrimp.

Interviewer: Okay. That sounds right.

Pigott: Well, I like uh.. crab boil for one thing, which now I think they've got a shrimp boil, which is the same thing. It's a lot of spices in a bag. I like that in 'em. I never saw any I- any sense to putting a can of beer in there. I tried that. That- that was wasting a can of beer. (laughs) But uh.. I can remember my husband saying, "You can never put too much salt in shrimp." And I only did it once. He was almost right. You simply cannot get too much salt in a shrimp.

Interviewer: What do you remember about the USO building?

Pigott: What do I remember about the USO building? You have brought up a subject that makes me cry. I have wonderful, wonderful memories of that building that will never leave me. I was uh.. all through the war- I was an official hostess when I could be there. As you know, Mary, I play piano and I play by ear, so I spent the war playing the piano in the USO building, what time I wasn't at the hospital because I had regular eight hour shifts at the hospital, with no pay. But, I was devoted to it night or day. And many a time, I'd been on that road thumbing it, because see, gasoline was rationed. But I never failed to get a ride, not any of us. We always got a ride. (laughs)

Interviewer: Was your husband in service?

Pigott: Yes, he was.

Interviewer: In World War II?

Pigott: He was in the Coast Guard.

Interviewer: So he was shipped away from here?

Pigott: No, by some miracle, he was left right here at the Wilmington- port of Wilmington and Oak Island, so he was never very far away. I was still cooking supper for him. (laughs) And I can remember him coming home and he'd say, "Smell." And I'd be smoking- I mean I'd be cooking lamb. That was about the only meat you could get and he'd open the door and holler, "Goat again." (laughs) That's what all service people say, "Goat again." -cause they got so much in the service.

Interviewer: Well, what happened after Hazel to the shrimp business? You mentioned the start up-

Pigott: Well, we finished the shrimp house, and as I said, everybody else was starting. But by that time, everybody was building in the old yacht basin we abandoned. Only one man rebuilt back on the waterfront and that was Bill Wells. He- he reb- rebuilt. That was at the foot of South Atlantic Avenue. But, everybody else went around to- we had already bought the property. You see, that yacht basin, a lot of people are not aware of this, but that yacht basin was built by the government for commercial fishermen. And the other one, of course, was a marina for yachts and etcetera. So, there's always been a little rivalry there and uh.. I think we've handled it pretty well. But uh.. we all built in- but now, that- the odd thing about it, when we bought this property, sometime we weren't even here. We'd be maybe in Florida and we'd buy a piece of property up here in the old yacht basin while they were dredging it. So when it- it ended up- we had a slip way down there on- almost in the river and we'd have two up here on uh.. on Brunswick Street, or maybe one or two where I- we ended up. And you would be amazed at the deeds, the old deeds that I have, where we changed. It was simple. But, Dorothy and Louis, Dallas and Leila exchanged until everybody got in their own little niche. And we all got together, but to get it started and- and get the catwalks and the bulkhead- we already put that- that was the first thing we did. We all pitched in and paid for the catwalk. I mean the uh.. bulkhead and stabilized it. But, we had to have a catwalk on every piece of property. I think they were uh.. around 30 feet, I'm not sure. I can't believe that I've forgotten it, but I have. But, that was the way you counted them and the way you measured 'em was by the catwalks- the number of feet.

Interviewer: How many of the 17 fish houses that were here before Hazel, came back?

Pigott: Well, let's see. I told you Bill Wells rebuilt down here. Some people didn't rebuild. There were right many that never rebuilt, they just went out of the business. There was uhm.. let me see if I can remember- Do- uh.. Louis Hardy, Bill Wells, Wiley Wells, Charles Wells, Dallas Pigott, Mariot Moore. Uhm.. Charlie Swan did not rebuild at all. Offhand, that's all I can think of right now. The Potter boys built much later than that. They were so young at that time, but as they grew older, then they built one. And it's still there.

Interviewer: Hard to believe it's been 40 years since Hazel, isn't it?

Pigott: It's been a long time.

Interviewer: How many shrimp boats are left down there, do you know?

Pigott: No, I don't. I'm out of the business now and I don't pay a great deal of attention uh.. I'm still used to the noises. Uh.. My daughter has recently moved back in with me and she's having to get used to the noise of the shrimp boats now. The only thing she remembers is the sound of the ca- the pilot boat. She says, "When it starts up, I know that's the pilot boat."

Interviewer: When 'Wayne' starts up-

Pigott: Scuba South makes a little noise, too, yes. (laughs) We've discovered that, but that's all right. We're used to that.

Interviewer: What do you remember about Dosher Hospital? Did it look the way it looks today?

Pigott: No, ma'am. No, ma'am. But to us, it was beautiful because it did such wonderful things. That hospital, will I suppose go down with people like me, as probably the most wonderful thing Southport ever had. And it's too bad the county didn't feel that way about it, but uhm.. a lot of 'em do. They still come, but that hospital has the same atmosphere that the new one has and I'm so glad that it did. But, I think that was done intentionally. I think it was meant to be. We didn't want- we wanted the new and I never worked any harder in all my life, than I did to get the hospital and to fight- that's a whole new ball game trying to tell you about that hospital. It would take me a week. But we, we won the battle. We went to the Supreme Court with it, but we won! But, the tender loving care and the family oriented oh, it- it's the same to me. But, the- that old hospital lacked so much. You can imagine.

Interviewer: Sure.

Pigott: Of course, they didn't even have the things that they have now. But, the- it was makeshift. I can remember Dr. Brown and Dot Smit and Betty Leggett working up there in Dr. Brown's garage at night, making something a- for traction or something. He was very creative, my Dr. Brown. He was my doctor for his entire career, 30 years I was with him and cried like a baby when he retired. But anyway, he- the last I heard, there were still some things that he had made that they were still using in this new hospital- how true that is, I don't know. But, I like to think it's true.

Interviewer: What restaurants did we have in Southport?

Pigott: Not many. We had Mac's. Mac's Café; now of course, Mac's café did not start where it was that you probably remember. It was on Front Street about I don't even know what's next to Stanley Reeder's jewelry. It was just the side of that.

Interviewer: On More?

Pigott: On More Street, yes. And uh.. that's the first place I remember that he was. I had a very funny experience- a couple of funny experiences there. But, that was the very popular place. He and Mary were wonderful. Well, of course, Mary and I grew up together, so uh.. and Mac was with the CCC Camp and it was a very successful marriage. Then they moved down to where the ship's chandler is now. And that was there during hurricane Hazel. And when the roof of our shrimp house went, it went- that's where it went, in- in his roof, across the street. That's where it ended up. We had uhm.. Quack's Sea Shack down on the corner of the yacht basin and West Bay Street, and it was completely destroyed, practically. I would tell you that the storm was on Friday. We lost all of our records. We had no idea how many shrimp a boat had caught; how many shrimp the headers had headed; we didn't know how much we owed. We didn't know how much they owed us. Every record we had was gone. There wasn't anything left. We got part of the stuff off- but we had a runway and the water got it. And Dallas, my husband was upstairs in our office and he had piles of shrimp boxes full of our records. Well, they ended up, I think- I found the most stuff down at- on the corner- on Lord's Street, just where Roy and Cheryl live now, right in that area, at the foot of Lord's Street. That's where I found most of my things, and I plowed and plowed, knocking the snakes aside as I went, because the place was lousy with 'em. But it was surprising how much I did find. And some were very important. But anyway, the next morning, we paid off on Saturday morning. Everybody did on Saturday. And I have a picture of uh.. George Whitely, who was working for us at that time, and he's sitting at one of Quack's Sea Shack tables, from his restaurant, sitting in one of his chairs, and all around you can see other chairs and tables, in my yard. And his wife took the picture and underneath it she wrote: George Whitely, October 16, 1954 in his outdoor office. And that's where he paid off. And another lovely thing about this town, George said when it was all over, because Dallas just told him, he said, "George, it's just up to you; you have to take care of it the best you can. I've got to work on that shrimp house." And when he got through, George came and he says, "Dallas, it's all over. It's finished. I've paid everybody and I want you to know that not one single soul argued. All they said was, 'Mr. George, whatever you think is fair enough." And George would say, "Well, what do you think you had?" Because see, these men knew exactly- when they came in, they knew almost to the pound how many shrimp they had. Believe it or not, they were very- just a few pounds off. So, George would ask them, "What do you think you had?" And they would tell him and George believed him because he knew- they knew- and the headers, the same way. And he said, "I never had the first complaint. Everybody said whatever you think is fair. Write the check and that'll be fine." Isn't that a lovely story?

Interviewer: A Southport tale.

Pigott: Yeah, that's a good Southport story.

Interviewer: How many people did you have working in your-

Pigott: Oh, gee. Well, each boat had two to three people on it and there were five boats. We had about 30 or 40 headers, I guess. And we had about six, seven, eight maybe men, working in the fish house. I guess that pretty well takes care of it.

Interviewer: That's some 50 people-

Pigott: 50-60 people, yes.

Interviewer: Do you remember the name of your boats?

Pigott: Oh, yes. The General Mac-Mac-Arth- General Douglas MacArthur. I- I say that because I had written it on the boat, and it took me about a week to get all that written- (laughs) one on each side and one across the back. That ain't easy. Uh.. The Miss America, The Dorothy and Leila, named for me and for Louis Hardy's wife, Dorothy, and uhm.. the Dorothy and Leila- the Rosina, the uhm.. let me see. I think I wrote those down. The first boat we ever owned before hur- hurricane Hazel, I guess 1941-'42 was the Happy Valley. And there was a kid that lived across the street from us, who was just a little thing. And hung around there, and he called it his boat and called it the "Happy Balley", so we always referred to her as the "Happy Balley". Anyway, there was a General Douglas MacArthur, The Rosina, The Miss America, The Royal Flush, The Leila H., for me- and Linda Rose, for our daughter. They were the boats we owned.

Interviewer: Where do you live, Leila?

Pigott: Where do I live? Right across the street from our shrimp house. I live on 316 West More Street, which is next to the last house. If you don't start- if you don't start slowing down when you get to my house, you will go overboard.

Interviewer: That's great. The Leila must've been the best boat because it was named after you.

Pigott: Well, she wasn't my favorite.

Interviewer: Oh-

Pigott: In fact, I was delighted when we sold her and oddly enough, she was the last one we sold. And I asked the man, when he bought it, I said, "Mr. Van Cannon," I said, "Are you going to change the name of this boat?" And he said, "Oh, no," He says, "I think that's a pretty name." He said, "It's your name, isn't it?" I said, "Yes, it is." And he says, "Well, I'm gonna' leave it," and leave it he did. And I wanted to say, "Mr. Van Cannon, if you will change it, I'll pay for it." I never wanted to see her again. And do you know that she kept coming in here and coming in because she was stationed- she was out- it was stationed- good enough word, in Wrightsville Beach. So, she'd come and I'd hear him talk on the radio and it would kill me every time I'd hear him say the Leila H. (laughs) I think they left the- the Linda Rose and I think she was my favorite. However, anybody on the waterfront that goes far enough back, will tell you that The Rosina was the finest shrimp boat ever built. And I- she was one of my favorites, too, but we had sold her long years before. She was a yacht patrol boat, The Rosina was.

Interviewer: Any of them left, still in use?

Pigott: I imagine, probably uh.. I don't know. I- I really don't know. I can't answer that question. I do know that several years ago I went up to the art gallery during the 4th of July, and I saw a print of a drawing of the Leila H. I went right up and it was the only one the man had. It was Johnny Wye [ph?]. You have something of his. And I went up and just lifted it off and put it in my arm. Well, he comes trotting over. He says, "May I help you?" And I said, "Yes, this is mine." He said, "I beg your pardon." I said, "I said this is mine." Kind of kidding him, you know. And finally, I explained to him, I said, "That was my boat." And he was delighted. I said, "Mr. Wye," I said, "Where did you see this boat? You took a picture of her, I know." And he said, "Yes, ma'am I did. I saw her at Wrightsville Beach." I said, "Yep, that's where she went." So, I have that. I bought that picture for us.

Interviewer: Great. Super. When did you stop in the shrimp business?

Pigott: Well now, that's a little story. And it happened- we were down to, I think two boats, I'm not sure, but anyway, it was before that. We were having trouble with crews, getting efficient crews. You couldn't depend on them and it was- the shrimp were getting scarcer and scarcer and we were so tired of going to Key West- we went years and years and years- it was every day after Christmas, trot to Key West, but we would stop, in between time, you know, we'd stop in Bernadina Beach [ph?], New Sumnerna[ph?] and- and then we'd go on and stay the rest of the time in Key West and I- I disliked it very much. However, it's kind of strange because half of Brunswick County went. And we stuck together and we really had a wonderful time, but gosh, what a vile town that is. Oh it- it's vile. But anyway, I always- I love Southport. I never want to leave Southport. I don't even like to go to Wilmington, and don't go unless I have to. (laughs) Your question was-

Interviewer: What year was this that you decided-

Pigott: Oh, to stop. As I said, the shrimp got scarcer and scarcer and my husband's health failed. And- and I was running the business, which I- I did all right. Because he was sitting in the rocking chair to tell me what was- and one of his favorite expressions was, "Give me a reading of the minutes." And that meant how much money do we have in the bank? I knew what he meant by that, but I could ask him questions, you know, but uh.. I was running the business, which I didn't mind doing, in fact I thoroughly enjoyed it. I- I had a nice life down there. Uhm.. But, I told my husband one day, something had happened. I said, "The time has come. We need to get rid of these boats." And uhm.. we were down uh.. I think that the two boats, as I said, "I want you to put the boats for sale in the yellow sheets," Now you- I know you've never heard of the yellow sheets. But, they used to put out and I don't know if they still do or not, but there was a- a company that put out a- a sheet-

Interviewer: 'Boats and Harbors'.

Pigott: It- 'Boats and Harbors'? Well, we called it yellow sheet, and it was just full of marine things for sale. I said, "Let's put- put 'em for sale in the yellow sheets." And we did, and we sold them. And uh.. we're down to those two and the captain of one was sick, so the other captain said, "Do you mind tomorrow," Which was Saturday, "Do you mind if I take his boat out since mine is broken down?" And I said, "No, go ahead and take it." So, he did. Well, there's never been a time that all shrimpers were not in by 12:00 on Saturday. And he didn't show up. And I had called him. We had just put black based Johnson radios on all of them, so I- I had called and called and called, and he didn't answer. So, finally I went to the pilot boat and got uhm.. Floyd Dilsaver [ph?] to call a dredge out there and ask them if they had seen a shrimp boat. And they shot right back and said, "There's been one anchored all day long." So, I called the Coast Guard and they brought him in. And I told him, the- the captain. And I said, "Why didn't you answer me when I called you?" And he says, "I tried to, but you never came back to talk to me." I said, "I never heard you." He says, "Well, the radio's broken." Well, I got the radio man down there and he said, "There's nothing wrong with it." He wasn't pressing the button. So, I went down the next morning, I met him at 4:30, Monday morning. I met him down there. And I said, "Start the engine." And he did. And I said, "Now, turn the radio on." And he did, looking at me like I was- he didn't know what. And I said, "Now, take that mike down in your left hand." And he did. I said, "Press that button right there and call the small boat harbor." And he did, and they answered him. And he stopped and looked at me, and he said, "Is that what you do?" Then I told- I went back and I woke Dallas up. The time has come. They don't- they don't go out anymore. I said, "He's gone today, but when he comes in, we tie it to the dock and neither one leaves the dock again," and they didn't. That was it, I said, "That- that's it."

Interviewer: What year was that?

Pigott: I have no idea, sir. Couldn't tell you to save my life. (laughs)

Interviewer: 1970s probably?

Pigott: Well, Dallas died in 1982. It was in the '70s, yes. I was thinking maybe 1970 was the year we quit. I think it was, 'cause I know I started this- this shell shop in '77 and we didn't have any boats then. We turned it into a marina. We- we got rid of those boats and uhm.. started renting slips and we have a fuel business. We sell diesel fuel and gasoline. And I had the shell shop inside.

Interviewer: Tell us about the shell shop.

Pigott: Oh, that was wonderful! Everybody should have a shell shop. That was- that was fantastic. In Key West, every time the boats would go out, they would get the most oh- gorgeous shells you ever saw. And they'd bring 'em to me. So, I had boxes and boxes of gorgeous shells. And I had no problem because when they got ready to come home, they would put everything like plants that I bought, whatever- they'd put in the hold of the boat and bring it to Southport. And if they were plants, they would water them for me; they kept them alive for me. So, I had no problem with taking things back and forth. And uhm.. of course they all did that. But uh.. I- I had the- the garage was full of boxes of shrimp- I mean of shells. And uhm.. I had always loved driftwood and my husband thought I was stupid. He says, "How can you think a piece of wood is pretty?" And I- anyway, he was always pretty good to me. So, when I'd see a place, he'd stop and we'd buy this piece of wood, or I'd pick it up or whatever. So, I had driftwood- well, Dallas had uhm.. cancer and he had surgery. And he was very depressed afterwards and uhm.. he decided- we had always had a play boat- a boat to jump in and go, but uh.. we lost the last one we had in hurricane Hazel and just never picked it up again. We didn't have time; we really could not leave. We loved to ski; we did that. We learned to ski when we were in our 40's- old people. But anyway, he said, "I'm gonna' buy another boat. I'm going back on the water," that's what he told his doctor and that's just what he did. Well, the first day he went out, he had a little tiny McKee craft and a 10 horse motor that he borrowed from somebody, Ernest Parker. And he left by himself. Well, it got later and later and later and he didn't come back. And I got fidgety and fidgety and fidgety. (laughs) I got very upset because he didn't come back. And I had I- I just kept my eyes glued to that- so that- where I would see if he came in. And finally I looked, and here came a boat, piled high with wood. And on the top was a little bit of grey hair about that much. That's all you could see of my husband was his grey hair. He was loaded down with driftwood. That is why the shell shop is called The Driftwood Shell Shop. He came in and he did that all summer long. People went with him because it was fun. They'd go up all the creeks and everything. They'd have to drag it sometime. They couldn't get it in the boat, it was so large. But, he filled it to the top- to the- to the roof of the fish house, until we got outside. Well, tourists started stopping and saying, "Is this driftwood for sale?" We sold every bit of it. And I said, "Well, Dallas, if people are crazy enough to buy driftwood like that, you thought I was crazy all these years. What about all those shells I've got over there?" He said, Tchoo- and he was gone. And when he came back, he was loaded down with shells and I started the shell shop with my own little collection. Then, I began getting in touch with uh.. companies and- it- it got to be quite a big business before it was over. And I loved every minute of it. It was great.

Interviewer: Where was your shop?

Pigott: Right in the shrimp house.

Interviewer: Oh, okay.

Pigott: We tore the ice house out. We had an ice box that was huge- as big as from there, I guess, out to here, like this that we stored our ice in. We tore that all out and turned that all into one- into the building, to give us more room. And I had every inch, even the roof, Mary can remember that- I had net hanging from everywhere. It was nice. The water came up and the kids loved that.

Interviewer: This is something I was gonna' ask. Tell us a little bit about your family. You mentioned your husband, of course. Do you have children and grandchildren?

Pigott: We adopted a little girl when she was four years old. And uhm.. she's my joy. She has now moved in with me. She married and had a little boy who is now 29. And has been married and he has a ch- child, but he has divorced too. And uh.. I had my father and my mother and I have a brother. My brother was a 30-year army- he went in the army out of- out of the same school, of course, Southport and uhm.. retired. He wasn't but 52 when he retired. And my mother died when she was 88. My father lived to be 99. He- he died- what's the date?

Interviewer: Today is February 14, '95.

Pigott: I forgot. Daddy died Valentine's Day. And I didn't think about it until right now. He was 99. if he had lived until October, he would've been 100, but he didn't make it.

Interviewer: Well, that's close enough.

Pigott: But that was uh.. I had a wonderful family.

Interviewer: How many of 'em are still in Southport?

Pigott: Just me- my daughter and- and I. Yeah.

Interviewer: The others are just all over?

Pigott: Most of my relatives are in, of course, in South Carolina. I do have some in North Carolina, but uhm.. the biggest- of course my brother is in Virginia and his family up there.

Interviewer: We appreciate you talking to us and I think this was great.

Pigott: Well, I've enjoyed it. It's nice to remember-especially when you get to 78.

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