On Saturday, April 30th, as part of the Legacy of the Chesapeake segment at the upcoming Chesapeake Storytelling Festival, I’ll be emceeing a Waterman’s Story Swap.
The first Chesapeake Storytelling Festival aims to help preserve the tradition of storytelling that defines the character of our Eastern Shore, and for an hour that afternoon, during our Waterman’s Story Swap, a small panel of working and retired local watermen will spend it reminding the audience why Eastern Shore folk are known for their down-to-earth candor and eccentric saltiness that comes natural to people making their living out on the water.
One of the watermen on our panel will be Charles Bryan.
Born on Marshy Creek in Grasonville in 1932, Charles Bryan has been working on the water since he was 11 or 12 years old. He’s oystered and crabbed, eeled and fished nets, worked on oyster propagation for the state of Maryland, and ran fishing parties for over 40 years.
Charles tells good stories.
One is about the sense of adventure working on the water inspires:
“First time I went oystering up the Potomac was in 1963, right after I bought (my) big boat. I’d never worked that far before. I had a nice compass and a depth finder that would show you the bottom and that was about all, they weren’t that good back then. Oyster season was going to start down there on a Tuesday and we were going to go down on a Sunday, but it started blowing a gale out of the southwest so we didn’t leave until about 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Uncle Coursey (Bryan) was in another boat with Billy Jones, pulling a smaller boat behind. We got down around the Patuxent River and it got dark on us. We were running from light to light. Went up the river far as Piney Point then it jumped out and blowed again, but from the northwest. We got to shore, tied up. Next morning we went on up the river. It’s a long way from the mouth of the Potomac to the Potomac River Bridge. When we got up there, the sun was just about going down. I could see the bridge, but far as knowing where the oyster bar was I didn’t have any idea. All of a sudden, in about ten foot of water, the depth finder jumped right up. We were running a northwest course. I said “Billy, grab that oyster pole and see what it feels like.” He stuck that pole in the water, and said, “There’s oysters here.” We anchored down, ate a little something, went to sleep and got up the next morning, fiddling around, eating a little something, cleaning up a little, when all these damned boats came from everywhere! Right toward us! We were right on top of Cedar Point – one of the best spots around there! We didn’t even pull the anchor up, caught 57 bushels, not knowing yay from nay.”
Cabin Creek in Grasonville, c. 1970 from the Charles Bryan Collection
Charles’ sons, Charlie and Kirby, learned to work the water alongside their dad:
“One time we were oystering,” Charles says, “and Charlie was up on the bow tonging. George Lantham was with us, he worked with me for several years, nice fellow, had a band he played music with. I always liked to work the left side of the boat. George was working on the right side, I was on the left side and Charlie was up on the bow. Kirby was culling. All of a sudden I heard the motor start! George was starting her up! I looked and Charlie had fallen overboard but landed on a chunk of ice about this big.” Charles holds his hands out arm-length. “He was floating down the channel! Barry Coleman was behind me (in his boat), he’d seen Charlie fall overboard. He started right up too and was there almost immediately. All Charlie got wet was his feet. In cold weather I always kept fire up in the cabin, some clothes. Charlie got himself up there and got right and we all finished oystering.”
Aftermath of Hurricane Hazel at Grasonville’s Kent Narrows, Oct. 1954 – Charles Bryan Collection
The Chesapeake Storytelling Festival will be held at Chesapeake College on Saturday, April 30th.
Nationally known storytellers who will be appearing include the good-old-days Southern singer-songwriter Michael Harrell Reno and the “Robin Williams of Storytelling” Ed Stivender. The Legacy of the Chesapeake presentations include Eastern Shore Heritage with Mindie Burgoyne, Tom McHugh’s beloved Bay Songs and Stories, and Jay Fleming’s Working on the Water. The Waterman’s Story Swap will be from 1:40-2:40 p.m., and we’ll be followed by the wonderful Black Captains of the Chesapeake film documentary presentation.
Don’t miss it. Tickets available at: http://www.chesapeakestorytelling.com/