I met Dorothy Grandy at her Rose Tree Gift Shop, with its stretch of grassy land that Dorothy’s been known to cut by herself on her riding lawn mower.
She was putting something in the weathered white pickup that belonged to her late-husband, Colon. Dorothy drives the truck to and from work most days when she doesn’t want to get her car dirty. The gift shop, which is located next to the family’s Grandy Greenhouse & Farm Market, is spotless. Inside, you can find artwork, beautifully painted furniture, and sweet, Southern — sometimes beachy — decor and souvenirs. Dorothy has had the shop for 31 years, before Walmart, Tuesday Morning and Amazon were a thing, and she’s seen quite a bit of change in Currituck County in her time, something I was eager to dig deeper into with her.
“I’m 85 years old, and I don’t know that I have anything to hide,” Dorothy said, laughing, when I asked if I could record our conversation for my notes.
Born and raised in Currituck County, Dorothy met her husband of almost 60 years in high school. Colon Grandy was also a Currituck native: The town of Grandy is named for his family.
The two met through a friend on a double date gone wrong when the young man arriving to meet Dorothy showed up a little too drunk. Dorothy, a Moyock High School cheerleader, asked Colon, a basketball player for Griggs High School, to drive her home. He did, leaving his date behind, and the two remained a couple from that night forward.
Years later, after they were married and Dorothy was 23, working in Elizabeth City, and Colon was 25 — working with his dad on his farm — Mrs. Carrie Walker approached the couple to take over Caroland Farm, the hunting and fishing lodge she and her husband owned near Poplar Branch.
“Treat them nice, keep it clean, and have good food,” was the advice Mrs. Walker offered and Dorothy and Colon agreed to try it for one year. That was in 1957, and with no experience, but a good supply of hard work and determination, Dorothy and Colon kept the lodge until 1992, working day in and day out and raising two sons — Colon Jr. and William — in the meantime.
Dorothy recounted stories for me in vivid detail, her eyes twinkling at the memories of times she shared with her lodge guests, hosting up to 14 men at a time — many of whom she and Colon remained friends with outside of the lodge.
Behind Dorothy’s stories and the tales guests would surely tell of their times at Caroland, is another story of women helping women. Dorothy gave me some books written by Currituck native Travis Morris featuring her, Colon and the lodge. In one of those books, this list of names appeared, and it makes my heart full to imagine all these women and Dorothy together, working hard to run a business all those years ago: Mary Dunston, Ruth Gallop, Bell Jones, Rona Saunders, Marie Simmons, Sarah Saunders, Miss Estelle Lane, Janice Beasley, and Miss Ann Brickhouse.
In the chapters in these books, the hunting and fishing seemed to take a backseat to the food and hospitality the guests experienced — something these ladies knew and did well every day for 35 years at Caroland. Mornings started at 3:30 a.m. by getting big breakfasts of eggs, bacon, sausage, grits, biscuits, and coffee on the table for lodge guests and packing their lunches with thermoses full of coffee, tea, soup, or hot chocolate, ham sandwiches and scratch-made apple cake.
While the guides escorted the guests on fishing or hunting excursions, Dorothy and the women would wash the dishes, clean the lodge, and make the beds before traveling to Elizabeth City twice a week for groceries. There were no big grocery stores in Currituck County at that time, but you could find meat, fish and whatever pantry ingredients you needed at the Freezer Locker, Globe Fish Company, and the A&P in Elizabeth City.
In the evenings, Dorothy and the ladies in the kitchen would prepare true Southern comfort dinners: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, roast beef, fried fish, collard greens, stewed tomatoes, biscuits, and cornbread. Dessert would be cherries jubilee, strawberry shortcake, or homemade chocolate pie.
“As I look back on it now, I don’t know how I did it all,” Dorothy said of the years she was caring for the lodge, her own family and household, as well as her parents and grandmother. “But when you’re young, you can do a lot, if you set your mind to it.”
As the years passed, nature took over. The salinity rose in the Currituck sound and the sought-after fingerling bass could no longer survive in it. In the north, where ducks and geese bred before flying south to Currituck, new residential neighborhoods were eating up the land, resulting in dwindling numbers of waterfowl. Here, on the OBX, the beach began to open up, and with Dorothy’s guides making less money than years prior, they began to search for other, more stable, jobs.
Eventually, the Grandys were ready for a change; that came in the form of the Grandy Greenhouse & Farm Market and the Rose Tree Gift Shop we all know so well today.
Back in the gift shop, sitting in comfortable canvas chairs, I asked Dorothy if she had any advice for young women today. She spoke about confidence and the value of hard work and said, “It never occurred to me that women couldn’t be what they wanted to be.” And of running a hunting and fishing lodge on a whim for 35 years, Dorothy said, “It never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it.”
As Hurricane Dorian loomed off the coast and our counties were being evacuated, I thought about Dorothy, who said she’d never once evacuated for a hurricane in her 85 years in Currituck County. I thought about her working a job for 65 years of her life, living on her own for the last seven years without Colon, running her gift shop every day, riding around on her lawn mower, and making plans to write a book this winter.
Just imagine what we all could accomplish, if it never occurred to us that we couldn’t do it.