This is the story of a Wrightsville shrimper who carried on a love affair with his family, with the sea, and with his grandson.
He has been described as “larger than life.”
“I am forever grateful for our special memories,” his daughter Hayden said at his celebration of life service in November 2023. “He started us young on the boats and in saltwater fishing and shrimping; it’s in our blood.”
Born Aug. 9, 1956, as Arnold Roland Melton Jr., he was known as Bimbo. A waterman, he followed in his family’s footsteps of fishing and shrimping.
His 28-foot aluminum trawler the Sea Bird was docked outside Motts Channel. Bimbo typically fished out of Wrightsville Beach, following the shrimp, wherever they were.
The Sea Bird is now out of the water, in the backyard of his home on Allens Lane, the house that had been moved from Stokley Drive to make way for a new house approximately 35 years ago.
Bimbo purchased the Allens Lane land, cleared it, and took the house to the site and set it up. Then he set about redoing the house. Much of the work he did himself.
Bimbo had grown up on Stokley Drive. His parents were Arnold Roland Melton Sr. and Jean Irving. They lived in a little rented house opposite Babies Hospital on the hill between Wrightsville Avenue and Stokley Drive just before the drawbridge on the mainland side of Wrightsville Sound.
His dad, Roland, was one of 12 children, equally boys and girls, and they were out on the water very early too.
This was a family with nicknames. Fishermen started calling Roland “Castro” because of his dark black bushy beard. He was known for catching some pretty big ocean fish.
“Ms. Melton had 12 children. They just weren’t like any other family I had ever been around,” Bimbo’s mother, Jean, says.
Rough and tumble might be an adjective used to describe this large family.
“I for sure was always proud to say Bimbo was my dad, no matter what reaction I got from someone,” Hayden says.
They were industrious.
“The Meltons had a fish market to sell the fish he caught and vegetable market to sell the vegetables they grew on Wrightsville Sound where Babies Hospital was. Lilly Melton ran the vegetable side and Sap Melton ran the fish market. All that has been torn down now,” Jean says.
Mr. Melton also built boats for use in the sound and did marine construction.
“He was always helping out at the Gulf Terminal (a filling station dock, marina and boat ramp in the area where the Dockside sits now), at the gas pump where he kept his boat,” she says.
She and Roland married young. When Bimbo was born, they named him after his father. But Jean says Roland didn’t want to call him by any of his proper names, or Junior.
“His daddy decided to call him Bimbo,” Jean says.
She believes the name came from Roland’s familiarity with the commercial barges pushed by tugboats that plied the waterway north and south. Each barge had a name, and one was Bimbo.
“He started calling him Bimbo. I wasn’t aware that up north Bimbo wasn’t a good name. I asked a neighbor why it wasn’t a good name and she told me, and it made me feel bad,” says Jean.
Also Sounders, Bimbo’s uncles Marsh Grass and Cobb were watermen of legends in their time. Cobb would also cook for groups of people. The story is, Marsh Grass got his moniker because he was a short person and, when he got out into the spartina marsh grass, you couldn’t see him.
When he just 16 Bimbo lost his father to a car wreck. He would meet Kim, his wife of 40 years, at the Bridge Tender, the local hangout. The family likes to tell the story of how she got dressed up in a red dress for their first date. Bimbo took her shrimping.
“He left his mark on everybody, for sure,” Hayden says.
Bimbo was rarely idle. Constantly on the water, when he wasn’t shrimping or oystering, he was dredging or installing pilings for many of the houses on Wrightsville.
He is remembered as always doing something for someone. For a time, he worked for an auto glass company. He could run a backhoe and a bulldozer. He worked as a welder. It is said there seemed to be nothing he couldn’t do.
One extended family member says, “Bimbo had a lot of friends, and he did a lot for other people. You could depend on him. If he told you he would do something, he would come do it. For example, a friend bought two brand new shipping containers, and set them up. Bimbo knew how to level them up and he did it. Or, if somebody needed a fence, he would go do it.”
He had a passion for cooking for a crowd, preparing seafood of course, but there were annual pig pickings and oyster roasts.
“We also shared even more meaningful events, like high school graduations, him walking me down the aisle at my wedding, and even getting to meet my son Banks, who he loved with all his might. These are events that we sometimes take for granted because not everyone gets to share those moments with their parents,” Hayden said in her eulogy during the memorial service.
She spoke about her father’s outwardly grumpy demeanor, but at the same time he would give you the shirt off his back and help in any way he could.
“He could be grumpy at times, probably most of the time; however, he became a little softer in his older age. I don’t know if he just got tired of being right all the time, or he figured out it just wasn’t worth it,” she said.
Always keeping busy, his daughter says he did not spend much time with his children. However, he did with his only grandson, Banks, born four years ago. “When Banks was born, he became super soft,” Hayden says.