Tuesday, May 31, 2005

An Evening's Entertainment

An off-island friend recently purchased one of Ocracoke's older island homes "down point." She is here for the week and looking forward to this year's Ocrafolk Festival. To celebrate the Memorial Day holiday she invited friends over for a cookout last night. We grilled hamburgers and hot dogs to go along with the various side dishes we all brought. We had a grand time.

I left at 8 o'clock to meet with Donald & Merle Davis and their workshop group of storytellers. We met in my living room where Al Scarborough and I shared island stories about wandering ghosts, eerie shipwrecks, phantom encounters, and "dead" people turning over in their caskets.

On a lighter note, before we started the tales I told the group that earlier in the day a customer had asked me if our pottery was dishwasher safe. I assured him that it was, but I added, "actually I don't have a dishwasher, myself." He looked at me, and with genuine astonishment asked, "How do you get your dishes clean?"

Donald took that as a cue to share an encounter with school students at one of his programs off the island. When he explained that he and Merle didn't have a television one of the students asked incredulously, "How do you know what to buy?"

I guess that wasn't really a "lighter note." Actually, it's more than a little bit frightening. I can only hope that enough folks have resisted the commercialization of modern life to have retained a genuine appreciation for family, community, history, and stories, and that our lives are enriched by each other and not by the things we purchase.


Monday, May 30, 2005


Ants, mosquitoes, horseflies, water bugs, gnats, deer flies....we have them all (though no one I've heard of has seen any of those elusive deer for quite a while). It's summer now and the bugs are arriving. Just thought I'd provide "the rest of the story" for our readers. Of course most of you know that, as wonderful as Ocracoke is, and as much as we sing its praises, we do have occasional "issues" with tiny critters.

Luckily we have a mosquito control program that is quite effective, and the rest of the insects are mostly just minor nuisances. Of course you can always buy repellent from one of our local merchants if you need it. Let's hope you don't.


Sunday, May 29, 2005

Good Neighbors

Blanche was about 20 minutes too late. I had just about finished my lunch out on my back porch (the weather today has been just perfect for enjoying a screened porch), when I heard a "yoo hoo" at the front door. Blanche was standing there with a bowl of stewed chicken and dumplings in one hand, and a dish of pears and cottage cheese in the other.

I've closed the Village Craftsmen for the day. I can go out and enjoy the last hour or so of daylight, and when I come back home at least I will know that dinner is in the fridge, just waiting to be warmed up. Blanche is such a sweetheart!


Saturday, May 28, 2005


In a recent post Bob McKinnon commented that over the years I have "told many tales about [my] dad." He wanted to know if I have stories about my mother to share. I am delighted he asked. And l will take his inquiry as an opportunity to write an upcoming monthly newsletter with some stories about my mother, Kunigunde.

Briefly, however, the reason my on-line stories have focused so singularly on my father is quite straightforward. I have always considered my web site (especially the monthly newsletters and daily journal) a way to share Ocracoke history, stories, and photos. Ocracoke, not my life in particular, is the common thread that connects our readers.

As many readers know, my father was born and raised on the island and our family history is intimately connected with Ocracoke's history. My mother, on the other hand, was born in Pennsylvania to first generation Hungarian immigrants. It is not that her story is less interesting or less influential on my life. It is just that Ocracoke does not play as prominent a role in her history.

Nevertheless, Bob's question is all the prompting I will need to tell you about a kind, sweet, honest woman who had a major influence on my life. Look for her story in an upcoming monthly newsletter.


Friday, May 27, 2005

School Volunteers

Last evening I was invited to a dinner at the Ocracoke School to recognize community members who had volunteered during the current school year. All of the dishes were brought by teachers -- turkey, pork, bean casseroles, vegetables, salads, homemade breads, and scrumptious desserts.

There were 85 volunteers honored -- almost as many folks feted as there are students in the school. Two volunteers, Eden Honeycutt and Kathy Ortman, received special recognition for more than 200 and 400 hours of service respectively. Reflecting on their outstanding contributions (and my meager service) I thought perhaps I should only have eaten maybe a half of a dessert!


Thursday, May 26, 2005

Happy to Have Run Ashore

Yesterday evening I sat at table between Mildred O'Neal & Roy Parsons. Mildred's husband, John Thomas, and Roy's wife, Elizabeth, were there also, along with other islanders. The occasion was a potluck dinner at the Ocracoke Assembly of God church. Their preacher, John White, and his wife, Kristin, will be leaving the island, and the congregation hosted the dinner to acknowledge and thank the Whites for their contributions to the church and the community.

I had just finished off the last piece of my coconut pie when Roy turned to me and asked, "Have you run ashore yet?" Of course, I had. To run ashore is a local island term meaning to have your fill at table. And it was "good some," too.

Next time you eat out on the island, tell your waiter when you've run ashore. If s/he takes your comment in stride without looking puzzled you can be fairly certain that s/he is a native or long-time resident.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

On This Date

It is overcast and chilly today -- unseasonably cool actually -- with a light breeze and a chance of showers all day. If I weren't working I'd be curled up on the sofa with a good book, or maybe baking cookies or an Ocracoke fig cake.

This date must have been stormy in 1884, for it was then that the Scottish steamer "Glasbolt" wrecked on Ocracoke's South Point. On May 24 in 1921 the schooner "Mary J. Haynie" was lost on Ocracoke's beach.

Today's weather is unlikely to be a hazard to navigation, just a bit disconcerting to visitors. Forecasts are calling for warmer temperatures and more sun in a few days.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

It Was a Dark & Stormy Night

Rain almost canceled my Ghost & History Walk tonight. It had been sunny and warm most of the day (a great day to be outdoors), but by early evening clouds had rolled in with a chance of precipitation. Seven folks were waiting on the Village Craftsmen porch at 7:30. They were all good sports and eager to commence the tour in spite of the threatening skies.

We got about 1/4 of the way when streaks of lightning lit up the heavens and rain began to fall. We made a group decision to go back to my house and embark on a "virtual tour." It was a good decision. We no sooner settled into the parlor when the heavens opened up. But we were warm and dry.

My group tonight had an added advantage. Not only did I have time to tell several additional stories, but one young lady even got to sit in the "ghost rocker" from the British steamship, "Ariosto," which wrecked on Ocracoke's beach Christmas Eve, 1899.

I hope you are snug and comfortable, wherever you are tonight. And I am hoping the spirits of the island dead will remain quiet this evening. It's too dark & stormy for any shenanigans.


Sunday, May 22, 2005

Sunny and Clear

Just a short note today. The village is quiet (weekends are generally the quietest -- since cottages on the Outer Banks rent from weekend to weekend Saturday and Sunday are "moving days"). It is also a bit breezy today, but quite sunny. I think everyone must be on the beach enjoying this wonderfully gorgeous day. Of course, I am working at the moment, but in a few minutes I will be outside absorbing energy from the sun. Hope you can join us soon.


Saturday, May 21, 2005

Howard Street Graveyard Fences

Some are pine, some cypress. Others are wire, entwined with vines. Some of the wooden fences have horizontal or diagonal planks, but most have pickets. Several picket fences are squared off at the top, all at the same level. Some are staggered, every other picket a few inches shorter than its neighbor. Other pickets are pointed or rounded.

Most of the gates rise up to a point in the middle, but not all. One graveyard has cement posts; one, metal; the rest are wooden. The older fences are showing their age. Moss and lichen have turned them green & gray. Some are leaning at rakish angles. An occasional picket is broken or missing.

The new white picket fence along the lane is gleaming in the afternoon sun, but dappled with shadows from the overhanging cedars and live oaks. It is stalwart and sturdy.

When I lived above the Village Craftsmen I would look out at the cemeteries every morning as I ate my breakfast, and recall stories of those lying beyond the fences. Now I feel some of their presence in my restored home, but I still visit their graves now and then with nine-month-old Lachlan. One day, I hope, he will grow to appreciate his unique island heritage.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Princess Speaks of Roses


Today's journal entry has been written by erstwhile Village Craftsmen employee and island princess Sundae Horn.

I'm here behind the counter for the first time since October 1994, when I ran off with a sailor that Philip introduced me to. Eventually the sailor made an honest woman out of me and we settled here on Ocracoke, bought a house and had two young'ns. Now here I am back at the VC again, an older, wiser, and much-less hungover worker bee.

It was beautiful this morning on Ocracoke, sunny and warm, although as I've sat here under the artificial lights, it's gotten overcast and chilly and looks like it might rain. My garden will like it, but my husband, who can only work when it's clement, won't. He needs to go sailing! (Shameless promotion: please check out www.villagecraftsmen.com/windfall.htm)

If I were outside today, I'd be able to see all the amazing roses in bloom all over the island. The prettiest one is on my own backyard, where it was planted in 1998, in celebration of my daughter Caroline's birth. It's an old, pink climbing rose, rescued from a development site and divided up among several island gardeners. Caroline's rose is more spectacular this year than ever -- thanks to Hurricane Alex. A few weeks ago, the rosebuds all appeared even though the roots were under a foot of saltwater from a nor'easter that blew a steady 80mph. Roses, like Ocracokers, weather hurricanes and nor'easters with style and thrive on an occassional dip in the sea.

The old girl climbing the fence at the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum greets visitors with yellow buds, creamy white flowers and a heavenly scent. Off to the side, waiting to make her entrance, is another hardy rose, all adorned in hot pink buds. They enjoy a salt spray from the sound every time we get a blow.

As I bike and walk around the village, I see beautiful gardens and yards that are testaments to perserverence and a lesson in working with nature. Alex drowned everything that wasn't meant to live on an island, and if an Ocracoker was naive enough to replant with not-salt-tolerant speciens -- well, the last two nor'eaters took care of that foolishness.

If you get a chance to get to Ocracoke, be sure to stop and smell the roses -- and marvel at their beauty.


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Island Life

Yesterday I was standing in line at one of the local grocery stores with one small item. Just before my turn I realized that I didn't have any cash with me. I didn't want to run a tab or use my charge card for only $3.50, and I didn't want to get out of line and go back home for money. So I did the next best thing. "Byron," I said (Byron was ahead of me, in the process of paying for his purchases), "would you pay for this too? I'll pay you back later today or tomorrow."

Of course he did, with a smile, and a comment: "Only on Ocracoke!"

Today I was driving down Highway 12 when I noticed that Michael had pulled out directly behind me. I wanted to ask him a question so I made an educated guess about where he was headed. He stayed right behind me. When we parked side by side I told him that may have been the first time I ever followed someone by driving in front of them.


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Home again

Hello there. My name is Aimee, Mr. Howard was kind enough to offer me to write today's thoughts from my favorite place in the world. I first came here in 2000 as a lone woman fresh out of college seeking solace and the beauty of nature. I most definitely found it here. This year I am here with my husband Shane and our 11 month old Libbie. It is truly special to see Ocracoke again in the eyes of the two most important people in my life. Libbie saw the ocean for the first time yesterday and she crawled to it, in the likeness of a sea turtle. She crawled with fierce will and joy. What a sight to see. Anyway, it is a beautiful fresh day, the sun is deciding to slide out of the clouds and I feel that I am at home once again on the island of Ocracoke. Until next time...


Sunday, May 15, 2005


I took my lunch hour on my back porch yesterday (I moved into my rehabilitated house on May 1). The weather was perfect -- a very light breeze, clear & sunny, not too cool, not too warm. The porch is roomy (16' X 16'), secluded, and directly off the kitchen. I propped up my book (Jared Diamond's "Collapse"), read, listened to the mocking birds, and enjoyed a leisurely midday meal.

As one of my neighbors commented a few days ago about having moved into my grandparents' house, I guess I've "throwed out my big anchor."


Friday, May 13, 2005

Friday the 13th

No misfortunes on the island today....at least none that I know of (but "Friday the 13th" just makes too good a title). Let's hope there are none.

This morning's ceremony at the British Cemetery was well attended and, as always, moving and memorable. The British Union Jack fluttered in the breeze. For the first time a representative of the Cunningham family (Lieutenant Thomas Cunningham's son) was in attendance. The cemetery and surrounding grounds were neat and well-kept, thanks to the Ocracoke Coast Guard personnel. A new black granite marker engraved with a likeness of the "Bedfordshire" and listing all of the crew members has been placed at the site by Ocracoke residents and friends.

Be sure to visit the cemetery on your next visit to the island.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

British Cemetery

Tomorrow at 10 am Ocracoke will again be the scene of the annual ceremony honoring four British sailors who lost their lives off the Outer Banks in May of 1942. Sub-lieutenant Thomas Cunningham, seaman Stanley Craig, and two unidentified sailors are buried in a small plot just outside the Williams cemetery on Ocracoke Island. They were serving on the "H.M.S. Bedforshire" when it was struck by a torpedo from a German U-boat.

As in years past, representatives of the British government and the U.S. coast Guard will be present, along with local and regional dignitaries.

A highlight of this year's ceremony will be the presence of Lieutenant Cunningham's son, Thomas Cunningham, Jr. Twenty-eight year old Lieutenant Cunningham died in 1942 just months before his son was born. This year marks the first time any of the Cunningham family has visited this foreign field "that is forever England," although a number of Ocracokers have initiated and maintained contact with Mrs. Cunningham and Thomas Jr. through the years.

Also present this year will be L. Vanloan Naisawald, author of the book, "In Some Foreign Field: The Story of Four British Graves on the Outer Banks."

Ocracokers are proud to honor the memories of all British sailors who gave their lives to help protect the coast of the United States during World War II.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Fog & Mist

I stopped on Howard Street last night just before midnight. A light, misty fog had settled quietly over the village. I felt strangely alone, as if the entire island belonged just to me.....my only companions the long-dead villagers reposing on the far side of the cemetery fence. Even the stars and new moon, so bright and luminous only a short while before, had retreated behind the encroaching mist.

I was in no hurry to move along. Somehow the fog felt protective rather than threatening. I walked slowly home, content with life and my place in it.


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A Full Day

It's nearly 11 pm and it's been a busy day. This morning I ran a gas line to the kitchen range in my newly restored home. It will be good to be able to cook once again. After lunch I trained our new summer employee, Amy Owens. She is excited to be on the island and we are looking forward to a great summer. Please welcome Amy to Ocracoke the next time you visit our gallery.

After work I joined a group of neighbors and friends for a potluck dinner and annual meeting of the Ocracoke Preservation Society. I left early to lead a ghost & history walk. Nine folks joined me for a fun walk through the village along narrow, winding paths and beside silent old graveyards.

My son-in-law, Fiddler Dave, is back from Molasses Creek's 2005 Spring Tour. It's wonderful to have him back on the island. Lachlan was smiles from ear to ear when he spied his daddy.

I just got home from visiting with Dave, Amy, and Lachlan. As I was walking down Howard Street, under the ancient live oak trees, & beside the old family graveyards, I noticed a foggy mist creeping into the night. Off in the distance I could hear the lonesome wail of the Cedar Island ferry's fog horn. Thoughts turned to spirits of the nearby dead. They were comforting thoughts, in spite of the otherworldly , almost surreal scene I had entered.

I was glad to be home.


Monday, May 09, 2005

Things You May Not Have Thought About

So much more is taken for granted if you don't live on an island. You may have read about the misfortune of Friday's fire in the village, but you may not have thought about the difficulties and hazards of fighting a house fire on Ocracoke Island.

High winds often contribute to firefighting problems, especially when homes are built close together as in Ocracoke village. But those problems were exacerbated Friday because of the hurricane force winds.

The storm was raging relentlessly and ferry operations were suspended. This meant that no backup was available from Hatteras Island (a time-consuming option under the best of conditions). Nor was help forthcoming from aircraft. Our small local fire department was completely on its own in a very stressful and difficult situation.

I am told that water pressure became an issue at some point and that water plant personnel made every effort to provide adequate pressure for the firefighters.

In the end our fire department, along with a number of community volunteers, was successful in containing and extinguishing a very threatening fire. Unfortunately the Joy Bell house is likely a total loss. The good news is that no one was injured, and the fire never spread to neighboring homes or vegetation.

If you have the opportunity, please thank our fire chief, Albert O'Neal, and his crew for a job well done. You might even want to send a donation to the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department, Ocracoke, NC 27960. They can always use additional funds.

Also, be sure to be exceptionally careful with fires on the island. We want to protect our trees, our historic village, and the lives of residents and visitors alike.


Sunday, May 08, 2005

Storm & Fire Update

Reports now indicate that Friday's storm had sustained winds of up to 61 mph, and gusts to115 mph! Several trees in the village came down and at least a few under-the-house storage & workspace enclosures were innundated. However I have heard of no major storm damage or flooded vehicles.

The rental house that burned was the "Joy Bell" house on O'Neal Drive. I understand that the combination of fire and water damage will probably render the house a total loss.

For most of us the village is back to normal today. Just a bit of cleanup and drying out.

I believe I'll pour me a cold drink, sit on my front porch, and prop my feet up on the porch railing. Wave if you're walking by.


Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Great Storm is Over

It's breezy today....and sunny. What a contrast to yesterday! Wind and rain pummeled the island on Friday from morning until late at night. High tides added to the already standing water. Tide water on Howard Street stood a foot and a half deep in some yards. Wind gusts were reported at 90 mph. Power was out for a while. Debris of all sorts floated down the roads. It was a classic Nor'easter.

Of course, no ferries made trips to the mainland, or even to Hatteras. The National Park Service closed the beaches yesterday and Ocracoke's 22nd annual fishing tournament was canceled for Friday. To add to the drama, a rental house caught fire and burned through the roof. High winds hampered firefighters, but the torrential rains kept everything wet.

We're drying out this weekend, hoping for a respite from this severe weather.


Friday, May 06, 2005

Rubber Boots

High winds, torrential rains, & rising tide -- it's just like a hurricane outside today. Many roads in the village are flooded 8 - 10 inches deep from the heavy rain. The ditches and tidal creeks are swollen to overflowing with salt water in places. Tree limbs are banging against the building and windows are rattling. Ferry operations have been suspended.

And almost everyone who is out and about is wearing high rubber boots. In a way they are an island fashion statement. We wouldn't trade them for oxfords or high heels any day.


Thursday, May 05, 2005

Is My Mind Going?

I realized after I posted yesterday's journal entry that I'd written almost the same thing just two days earlier! Some folks might think it's my age (I am 60 years old), but I believe it's more a reflection of life on Ocracoke. As one resident put it recently, "We're all here because we're not all there."

It keeps life interesting. We wouldn't have it any other way.


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

A Large Sandbox

Nine month old Lachlan loves to go to the beach. He enjoys the breeze on his cheeks and he follows the gulls and terns with his eyes as we push his stroller along the tide line (modern, fat-wheeled strollers are wonderful!). But most of all he likes to explore at the base of the dunes. He crawls for yards, sometimes straight ahead, at other times in grand circles.

Of course he stops often to examine broken shards of seashells, blades of grass, or sticks that have washed up on the beach. He leaves tracks that resemble those of a loggerhead turtle laying her eggs. His most enduring fascination is with the sand itself. He wiggles his toes in the powdery dry sand and lets it run between his fingers. Then he looks up at us and smiles from ear to ear. What a joy!


Monday, May 02, 2005

Ocean Report

This afternoon Amy & I took Lachlan to the beach. We pushed his stroller through the soft sand (not as difficult as it might sound) and then along the hard-packed sand near the surf. The water was the "bluest green," truly extraordinarily beautiful. And the waves were gentle but steady. One lone swimmer was cavorting in the breakers (I think he was about 14 years old).

After a two mile stroll we let our youngun explore along the dunes. He crawled, first in circles, then made a bee-line for a pile of shells some distance away. On the way back he stopped frequently to examine a lone strand of beach grass, a twig washed up on the tide line, or simply a handful of tiny grains of sand.

What better way to spend an afternoon? None that I can think of --for him....or for us.


Sunday, May 01, 2005

Harbingers of Summer

No, not tourists. There haven't been so many of them around recently. I'm talking about birds, toads, and turtles.

Several days ago I noticed a house wren pair building their nest between the rafters on my new back porch. I hated to disrupt their endeavors, but the porch will be screened in before their chicks would fledge, so I reluctantly removed their nascent home. They will rebuild in a more appropriate place, I'm sure.

Last night, as I rode my bike down Howard Street, I noticed the first toad of the season hopping across the lane. Before long a number of them will be foraging in my back yard each night. And it's only a matter of time until the bright green tree frogs once again take up residence in my outdoor shower.

The most impressive critter that I have encountered lately, however, was a medium-sized snapping turtle ambling along the loop road "down point" past the lighthouse. He was easily a foot long and in no hurry to get out of the road. I stood by and watched him until a pickup truck approached.

Not wanting to get my fingers anywhere near this fellow, I picked up a short 2 X 4 that was lying nearby, and gently prodded him. Unfortunately, he was quite recalcitrant. In the end I was forced to be more aggressive. He eventually got my message and, in his turtle kind of way, quickly made his way under a nearby porch.

I suppose he thought I was engaged in turtle harassment. But I just might have saved him from becoming another road statistic.