Saturday, July 31, 2004

Green Gravel

Last night we spent a delightful evening across Howard Street with cousin Blanche. Talk turned to traditional childhood games on the island. One rhyming game that Blanche shared with us was "Green Gravel."

In this game all the children join hands in a circle and begin to move slowly as they sing these verses:

"Green gravel, green gravel
Your dress is so green.
As pretty, as pretty as ever did seem."

[At this point one child is chosen.]

"Miss [Mary], Miss [Mary]
Your sweetheart is dead.
He wrote you a letter so turn back your head."

[At this point the chosen child turns around and faces outwards. The song continues until all the children are facing outwards.]

A search of the internet uncovered several variations of this rhyming game, including this verse:

"I washed her, I dressed her
I clothed her in silk,
And I wrote down her name
With a glass pen and ink."

This is apparently an old Irish folk song for children that has been described as a "funeral game." The original opening line may have been "Green grave, O, green grave, O," and most versions have the second line as "Your grass is so green."

It has been suggested that "turn back your head" refers to an old funeral custom where visitors walk backwards into the death chamber when approaching a corpse that has been laid out for viewing.

I am compiling a list of as many island children's games, rhymes, songs, and hand-made toys as I can document. If you have any information about old-time Ocracoke games please drop me a line ( I'd really appreciate it.

Friday, July 30, 2004

An Historical Note

On this date in 1759 (that's 245 years ago!) my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, William Howard, purchased Ocracoke Island for £105.

Sometime in the next week or two my 4th grandchild (the 10th generation of our family to live on the island) will be born. Look for the birth announcement here!


Thursday, July 29, 2004

Opry Stars

Last night's Ocrafolk Opry, as usual, included stellar performances by Martin Garrish; Jule Garrish; "Coyote" (Marcie & Lou); "Speedy" of the Diamond Shoals band; Sudae, Rob, & Caroline; Aaron Caswell (budding young island guitarist); and Roy Parsons.  Ocracoke's award-winning band, Molasses Creek, is off-island this week so I helped out by emceeing and telling a short island story. 

A highlight of the second set was the debut Ocracoke performance by storyteller (and recent island resident) Lou Ann Homan.  She kept the audience spellbound with a traditional Scotish ghost tale.  Phyllis & Dick, I'm sure you're very proud of your multi-talented daughter!

Be sure to attend a Wednesday evening Opry show if you're planning a summertime visit to the island.


Wednesday, July 28, 2004

More Rain

Skies are gray and rain is falling steadily this morning.  Not the best day to go to the beach -- especially because there is a threat of rip currents.  But it is a great day to stay home and read or play cards....or shop.  So I suppose I'll be working all day! 


Tuesday, July 27, 2004


We left yesterday morning at 8:30 am, bound for Elizabeth City and eye exams.  We caught the 8:00 pm ferry and arrived home 12 1/2 hours after we left!  So, no journal entry yesterday.  But it was nice to get away for a day.  We both had great news from the eye doctor, bought fresh sweet corn and blueberries (neither of which is available on the island),  purchased shoes, had a new battery installed in my watch, and enjoyed a breezy day in eastern North Carolina. 

But the best part of it all was the sunset ferry ride home.  Like on a cruise (but free!) we spread out our sandwiches and cold drinks, watched the clouds roll across the sky as the sun sank into the horizon, followed the gulls as they whirled and floated above the deck, and held hands as the boat rocked gently from side to side when we crossed the inlet. 

It was good to be away for a day, but even better to come back home again.


Sunday, July 25, 2004

A Day of Clamming

Bare feet on a rusty old beach bike with the rear fender falling off; five long, gangly clam rakes; and bumpy, sandy Howard Street. Lou Ann managed with the old wire clam basket wrapped with a life ring sitting precariously on her bike basket.

We got to the dock and Capt. Rob & Sundae, and the kids, as well as Frank, were there ready to cast off. The sky was full of white billowy clouds against the bluest of backgrounds. Springer's Point's canopy of cedars and live oaks was a deep rich green. The breeze was gentle. Fish jumped out of the water and skimmed across the surface, bouncing time and again. "How do they do that?" we wondered.

Back home with 150 clams, we're getting ready for "clams casino" before marching off to hear Martin Garrish dazzle us with his guitar. So what if we didn't vacuum the living room!

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Pilots & Rascals

In 1718 the North Carolina colonial assembly passed an act for "settling and maintaining Pilots at ....Ocacock Inlett."  However, it wasn't until the 1730's that pilots actually began to settle on Ocracoke.  In 1783 an act made it the duty of commissioners of navigation to regulate the pilots.  They were examined and licensed only after they provided a bond for good behavior.  Clearly, there had been problems with earlier, unregulated pilots.  In fact, during the American Revolution some of the pilots at Ocrcoke had been accused of "rascality."  Oh my!


Friday, July 23, 2004


Although we've had a few thunderstorms and some heavy rain this summer, it's been widespread and generally during the night.  Today a light rain has been falling most of the day.  Even though it's not a good day for the beach, it's perfect weather for reading, baking cookies, playing board games, and especially for napping.


Thursday, July 22, 2004

Happy Birthday Lou Ann!

If you've shopped at the Community Store on Ocracoke (the old general store on the harbor) you might have noticed the chalk board on the porch.  Locals use it to post messages about civic meetings, births, and other happenings in the village.  It's also where the store employees list all the local birthdays. 

Lou Ann has been staying on the island all summer, and she's learned to know lots of folks, and become a part of our community.  So it was nice to see her name right up there with the rest of the islanders.  Having your birthday listed at the Community Store is a sure sign that you've really become a member of this wonderful community.

So, Happy Birthday Lou Ann! Here's hoping it's full of every kind of happiness and extraordinary good cheer!


Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Lighthouse Trivia

The historic Ocracoke Lighthouse, built in 1823, stands 77 feet, 5 inches tall, and has 86 steps.  The lighthouse employs a fourth-order Fresnel lens to magnify the small 100 watt incandescent bulb.  In 1999 ownership was transferred from the US Coast Guard to the National Park Service. 

In a few weeks look for a more detailed history of the light in our August Ocracoke Newsletter.


Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Family Cookout

Sons & daughters, grandchildren, cousins, and in-laws -- they're all here this week.  So, yesterday, after a quick afternoon dip in the ocean, we iced down some drinks, poured charcoal on the grill, made deviled eggs, cut up veggies, and by 6 o'clock we were ready for them all. 
We ate, drank, caught up on each other's lives, and made watermelon rind teeth (sadly, it was a seedless watermelon so there was no seed-spitting contest).  We did have a "Watermelon Slices Chunking Contest" though, and sang/played "Farmer in the Dell" (with a few local variations). 
It was old-fashioned and fun.   

Monday, July 19, 2004

Birthdays Potluck

Last night about 50 family & friends gathered at Julie Howard's home for a celebration of July birthdays.  My son, Stefen, his wife, Snee, and their three children, Zoe, Eakin, & Eliza, were also visiting from western North Carolina.  We enjoyed bean salads, zucchini casseroles, deviled eggs, Ocracoke fig cake, and other delectable dishes too numerous to mention. 
Sundae, one of the birthday girls, made flower crowns for the honored ladies.  After dinner we all went out onto the back deck.  Julian, Lanette, Karen, Sundae, Peer, Lou Ann, and Marcie were good sports, and stood in a row (according to July date order, not age!) while we sang "Happy Birthday" to them.
Children ran around and played in the yard or on the front porch, neighbors visited and shared stories, and family members enjoyed each other's welcomed company.  Community and Family -- two wonderful reasons to celebrate!

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Ocracoke Lighthouse

The picturesque Ocracoke lighthouse (and keeper's quarters) was built in 1823 at a cost of $11,359.55, and is the second oldest operating lighthouse in the United States.  The steady beam of the Ocracoke beacon can be seen 14 miles to sea. 
Starting this week, the base of the lighthouse will be open to the public every Tuesday, Wedesday, and Thursday afternoon (1 pm - 4 pm) until Labor Day.  Thanks to Ranger Gail for making this happen!
If you'll be on the island this summer make plans to stop by this historic landmark for a brief visit.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Schooner Windfall Wedding

I'm sure Ocracoke isn't the only place where folks ride their bikes barefooted to weddings.  But then to slip out into Pamlico Sound just before sunset on a two-masted schooner with red sails!   Yesterday evening was picture perfect -- an orange-red sun peeking from behind billowy clouds, a light breeze from the southwest, a bouquet of wild flowers, a boat full of family & friends, and a lovely wedding couple. 
Best wishes to Joy & Joseph.  May your days be filled with happiness.

Friday, July 16, 2004


"Younguns, hain't I been mommucked this day!" is a distinctive Ocracoke expression.  For all of you off-islanders, to mommuck means to harass.  The expression above generally indicates that you've had a rough day.  Maybe your grass cutter wouldn't start, the neighbor's dog tore up your garden, you burned the meatloaf in the oven, and lightning knocked out your telephone service. 
Mommuck can also be used to inidicate that one person harrassed or beat up on another.  Or it can be used to describe conditions in Pamlico Sound, as in "I was mommucked right, out there fishing my crab pots this morning," meaning that the water was choppy & rough. 
If this has been a difficult week in the office, just stand up and announce to your co-workers, "Younguns, hain't I been mommucked this day!"  Maybe it will remind you of Ocracoke, and help you feel a little better, even if you do get a few puzzled looks.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Fish & Shrimp

For $8.00 a plate the Ocracoke Child Care was offering a fish fry dinner yesterday. Fresh blue fish, cole slaw, baked beans, hush puppies, & iced tea. The line was long; the food was delicious.

Tonight Karen & Dave are coming over to our place for dinner. We'll steam fresh shrimp, roast ears of corn, and fix a salad. But the best part will just be visiting, sharing stories, and laughing together.

(By the way, look for Danny Gaskill's new seafood market on Highway 12, right behind Dolphin Cove gift shop. There's a large colorful "Seafood" sign on the roof. You can buy all kinds of fresh fish, clams, and shrimp there.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Stories are Everywhere

My Aunt Leevella was known from one end of the island to the other as a compulsive cleaner. My father claimed that she would even remove the screws from the hinges on her kitchen cabinets so she could clean underneath them!

Although Uncle Marvin would "hide out" in his workshop as much as he dared, Leevella would force him to help her clean whenever possible.

Yesterday while walking through the parking lot at the Community Store I stopped to visit with Roger Garrish. He shared the following short story about Marvin & Leevella.

Cleaning was a perpetual and ongoing endeavor for Leevella, but she was intent on also doing a once-a-year, thorough spring cleaning. She made sure Marvin was there to help her.

After several days of sweeping, dusting, and scrubbing a neighbor asked Marvin how it had gone. "Oh," he replied with an impish grin, "we found one fly wing that we missed last spring."

Stories are everywhere!

Monday, July 12, 2004


The sky is gray and rain looks likely today. It was overcast late yesterday also and we considered not going to the beach for our afternoon swim. But we went anyway. It was wonderful! The warm blue-green water was chest deep with large gentle waves. Perfect for swimming and floating. Maybe we'll be as lucky today.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

British Invasion of Ocracoke & Portsmouth

On June 12, 1812, because of long-simmering disputes, the fledgling United States declared war on Great Britain.

On July 11, 1813 (191 years ago today) British forces invaded Ocracoke and Portsmouth islands. Their intent was to blockade Ocracoke Inlet, thereby preventing seagoing vessels from reaching the mainlnd ports of North Carolina.

The large British force, consisting of 26 vessels and at least 750 sailors, attacked the brig "Anaconda" of New York and the "Atlas" from France. The "Anaconda' was sunk.

Reports indicated that the British forces came ashore and "behaved better than we supposed." British sentinels were stationed throughout the villages and money was offered to residents for provisions. At least one man from Portsmouth, attempting to escape with his family, was killed.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Carpenter, Electrician, Plumber

Finally it looks like we might be about to make some progress on the rehabilitation of my grandparents' home. Shingles & plywood are piled high in the front yard, along with nails, foam insulation & underlayment.

Thursday and today we walked through the house with the electrician and the plumber. We made decisions about knee walls, outlets, & return air vents.

My goal is to retain as much of the original structure as possible while making the house warm (in the winter), cool (in the summer), and gernerally comfortable for modern living.

It's an exciting project. Already I can envision summer get-togethers on the back porch, warm winter evenings curled up with a book in the parlor in front of the cast iron stove, and visiting across the white plank fence with neighbors who walk by in the evening.

In the weeks ahead look for more photos and updated information on our Ocracoke Newsletter.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Ocracoke Baby Shower

We will close the Village Craftsmen this afternoon at 3 o'clock so we all can attend a baby shower for my daughter, Amy, and her husband, David (Fiddler Dave to all you Molasses Creek fans). Their baby is due the first week in August. This will be my fourth grandchild (the other three wonderful younguns live in western North Carolina) but the first to live on the island. These four children are the 10th generation of the Ocracoke Howard family. Pretty neat, huh?

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


I know, it's hard to believe, but living on the island is not a 12 month vacation. Sometimes we actually work. Like today. No afternoon trip to the beach; no lounging in the hammock, no long lunch in the treehouse.

But I'm not complaining. There's also no commute to work (unless you count the 13 steps from my apartment above the shop); no dress code (bare feet are not uncommon at the Village Craftsmen); no cubicles (I've heard about them); and no hectic, stressful schedules (it's OK to walk outside for a few minutes to take the laundry off the line).

All in all, it's not a bad life.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Ocracoke Island Square Dance

This morning at 11:00 I will be presenting a porch talk at the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum. Since the topic will be the traditional island square dance and we hope folks will want to cut a step or two this will more likely be held in the yard, not on the porch. Let's hope there's plenty of shade. It's HOT today!

You can read a bit more about this dance here.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Independence Day on Ocracoke

We were having so much fun yesterday that there wasn't even a spare moment to make a short post.

July 4 began for us with the annual sand sculpture contest. We didn't win a prize, but it was no wonder, even though we worked on ours until noon. The fish, mermaids, turtles, ponies, & castles were fantastic.

Unfortunately, we missed the sky divers. Maybe next year.

At 1:30 "Blackbeard" appeared on the lawn of the Pony Island Motel and gave a riveting presentation. We were fortunate to spend a couple of hours with him and his wife later that afternoon. We wondered why we hadn't seen him Friday night at Springer's Point searching for his head under the full moon. He assured us that he would have been there, but that he had decided, instead, to stop by Howard's Pub for a brew. We should have expected as much.

As usual, the Parade was fun & funky & full of festive floats. Afterwards we joined friends and family for a cookout and then biked to the schooner Windfall for a spectacular view of the fireworks.

By the time we arrived back home the day was too far gone for a journal entry.

Here's hoping your Independence Day celebration was super, no matter where you were.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Springer's Point

We never got to the museum, or to the edge of the harbor to listen for Martha Ann's gasp, last night. But we did venture down the long path to deserted Springer's Point. We turned and walked up the small hill and meandered along a narrower path among ancient live oak trees and lush English Ivy.

At the graveyard, thick with vines and moss, we stopped and waited patiently. Quiet reigned. We peered into the darkness, looking for the smoky specters Roy Parsons claims to have seen down there after dark. I even sat on the edge of the old cistern listening for sounds from deep in the woods. Eventually tree frogs announced their presence, but no shadowy figures appeared.

We continued along the path, past some of Ocracoke's largest live oaks, and emerged on the sandy shore. Pamlico Sound was calm with tiny waves lapping at the beach. As we stood there, the moon, bright and full, rose slowly above the canopy of oaks and cedars, giving a ghostly hue to the entire point.

Talk turned to old Ned Teach who is reputed to roam this area searching for his head.

The walk back was quiet as we made furtive glances into the darkness at nearly every step.

By the time we returned home it was nearly 12 o'clock. Perhaps next time we'll be brave enough to stay until the stroke of midnight.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Full Moon

Tonight the moon will be full, its soft light illuminating the live oaks, the picket fences, and the moss-covered tombstones along Howard Street and in back yards throughout the village. Lou Ann and I will walk down to the David Williams house (the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum) to look for the ghost that peers out from the upper story window after dark.

We may wander down to Springer's Point, hoping to catch a glimpse of Blackbeard walking along the shoreline, searching in vain for his head. We may go even though Roy Parsons strongly advises against it. He's seen too many weird things down there, he says.

On our way back we'll be sure to stop alongside the harbor near Fannie Pearl McWilliams' home and cemetery. We'll recall her "Dream of Death" and sit quietly waiting to hear Martha Ann's chilling gasp.

Don't wait up for us. Who knows what specters we'll encounter!

[AOL users : please see our earlier post for today, directly below this one.]

Information for AOL Users

A special note for AOL users : Our latest Newsletter email was rejected by AOL, presumably because we use bulk mailing software. Of course, we only mail to folks who have requested our Newsletter, either in the shop, or on line, and we always honor remove requests promptly.

We are working to resolve this issue with AOL. In the meantime, you can use this link to access our latest Newsletter: the Story of the Search for Blackbeard's Skull.

See above for our regular daily post.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Stalking Ghosts

Sometimes you just feel like you are being watched. But on a secluded stretch of Ocracoke's beach? With no one within sight in either direction, in the middle of the afternoon?

Sure enough, those eyes were following our every movement. Dark, little beady eyes on stalks that bent and pivoted. First she'd venture two legs and a claw out of the sand hole, stop and look around, then warily move a few inches from home. After deciding that we were no great threat, the critter shuffled sideways to a clump of seaweed that had washed up at high tide.

Having arrived at her destination, the ghost crab picked up strands of grass and began stuffing it into her mouth. Nibbling and watching all at the same time, she ate at a leisurely pace. She wasn't even disturbed when we sat up to watch.

Eventually she had her fill, returned to her hole and scurried down, out of sight. At night she'll be joined by hundreds of her kin, stalking the nighttime beach.