Remember When: Nell Hooper recalls the WB of her youth

BY Jenna Jones

Nowadays when crossing the Heide Trask drawbridge on a summer day it can be challenging to picture Wrightsville Beach without armies of anxious beachgoers uttering silent prayers for a good parking space or battalions of bikini-clad coeds or an ocean of surfers paddling for the perfect wave.

But there once was a time when it was a more peaceful place. That’s the Wrightsville Beach Nell Hooper remembers every time she crosses the drawbridge — fishing for hours in the empty surf playing the outfield in Sunday afternoon baseball games with her family on the south end of the beach where the sand stretched for miles and no one was around. Nell can’t help but remember the beach that way. The drawbridge the very gateway to our coastal community is named for her father.

“We moved to the beach when I was 8 years old — to the southern end ” 79-year-old Nell says. “The street cars stopped at Lumina where the curve is.”

One of 10 children Heide Trask started in the farming business with vegetables and later moved on to grow flower bulbs. Later they moved on professionally to the real estate business. He and his brothers slowly but surely came to acquire most of the land at the south end of the beach. The family bond remained tight throughout the years as many of the siblings spent their days and nights together at the beach.

“They called it Traskville (the area on the south end where the family lived) because Daddy’s brothers bought land and built there too ” Nell says. “So there were about four or five of us and we were the last house. I don’t know how they built the house down there with no road. There was nothing on the sound side but sand.”

Nell the oldest of three siblings and surrounded by cousins recalls a typical day at the beach back then was filled with fishing hot sand and unbridled joy as each new adventure unfolded. “We’d go out fishing at 5 o’clock in the morning and come back at 11 and the sand would be so hot ” she says making your feet burn. “And we would get so seasick but we went anyway. Then we played on the beach all day. Nobody told us that we couldn’t do that we just played…”

Although many of Hooper’s early days were filled with ocean swims and seashell hunts she does remember escaping Hurricane Hazel with her family … in a convertible.

“We didn’t have hurricanes then they were called nor’easters and when Hazel came Mother was out at the Surf Club playing bridge. She said she wasn’t coming home to take us to town ‘til the ocean and the sound met in the road. Well they met so she finally came home ” Nell laughs. “I think we were the last ones off the beach … and that was in a convertible!”

While the Trask family did not suffer much damage to their homes after the storm Nell recalls the damage in other areas of the beach. “I can remember the Causeway with all those big boats and yachts they looked like match sticks just thrown all over.”

Nell’s days on Wrightsville Beach did not end at childhood. After marrying Wilmington urologist Joe Hooper she was able to share the Wrightsville Beach life she loved with her husband and five daughters and is grateful for those nights on the porch of their Charlotte Street cottage — never having to worry about their children’s safety while here on the beach.

“It was just family life down there ” Nell recalls. “You didn’t have to keep your doors locked all the time and you could walk around at night. Where the Crest is (it has since moved again and is now Jerry Allen’s) that was a movie theater and the children would walk. They’d come back at 9 o’clock and we’d sit on the porch and wait for them. It was just a great way to live.”

Although the beach may look different these days there are some things that still remain. The Hooper cottage for instance still sits on Charlotte Street — affectionately nicknamed “Mimi’s motel and marina.” And just nearby the family can still be found swimming in the ocean collecting seashells and fishing all day.