Loss of a Dear Old Friend

Published 5:43 pm Wednesday, August 8, 2018

By now I feel sure you have heard about the tragic loss of Cypress Grill – one of our beloved Roanoke River treasures. Waking up to the news the morning after the fire was like hearing about the death of a dear old friend. It just didn’t seem possible that I’d never have another chance to visit this iconic shack perched on the bank of the Roanoke.

My earliest recollection of Cypress Grill takes me back to the sixties. My dad loved nothing better than fried fish. I have fond childhood memories of family treks to Jamesville during the spring run.

As luck would have it, in my twenties I met and married a farmer who brought me closer to the Roanoke River. While dating and after we married, we continued the tradition of heading to Cypress Grill during the narrow window of opportunity that came with the approach of spring.

The last time we were there we had a prime window seat right by the river. Jimmy had fried herring and I had roe. If I had any idea it would be my last time, I would have ordered pie!

Over the days that have passed since we got this sad news, lots of folks have weighed in with their memories of Cypress Grill – who they came with, their favorite thing to eat, etc. It seems that dignitaries, professionals and plain old everyday folks all converged for the food and time-honored tradition that Cypress Grill offered. To some, it may seem strange such a humble place had such a big reputation.

But Cypress Grill was so much more than a place to eat. It was a reminder of the good old days. It was a reminder of a more prosperous time—when herring, shad and strippers filled the Roanoke on their migratory run up the river. For three generations, Cypress Grill stood as a sweet reminder of our roots and deep connection to the Roanoke.

Is there a lesson that we can all take from this loss? I can think of a couple.

First, let’s never take our simple pleasures here along the Roanoke for granted. Let’s savor them and do what we can to encourage those keeping our traditions alive. This loss has me looking around to see what other “mom and pop” places working to draw folks to our region might need a little encouragement.

Second, the far-reaching ripple this loss has caused is a telling example of how a simple, authentic place can attract a devoted following from far and wide. We can all learn from their example. There are some other special places in our region – some old, some new and upcoming. Let’s look for ways to support them. When they do well, we all do well.

I don’t know about you, but this has taken a toll on me. I am feeling a deep loss for the Gardner family that operated Cypress Grill for so many years, for the Roberson family that owned it, for the small town of Jamesville and for our entire Roanoke River Region.

This seems like one of those times we should all pull together, first, to honor the passing of an old friend and, then, to look for new prospects. They are out there and I feel sure by working together we can cultivate some of them.

Carol Jones Shields is the Executive Director of Roanoke River Partners, Inc. You can contact her at (252) 798-3920 or director@roanokeriverpartners.org. You can learn more about Roanoke River Partners at www.roanokeriverpartners.org.