Thursday, November 26, 2009

An Ocracoke Thanksgiving Story

Over the years Ocracoke has been home to many a colorful character. Don Wood was one of the more interesting. If I remember correctly, he sold a marina in New Jersey and moved to the island sometime in the early to mid 1970s. He built a modest home at Oyster Creek that he never quite got around to completing. His half-finished living room and workshop melded together seamlessly. His table saw, sanders, hand tools, and other equipment competed for space with tables, chairs, and floor lamps.

Don kept his homemade house boat tied up to his dock, and in the yard he parked an old school bus (loaded with hoses, wire, compressors, and assorted other paraphernalia).

He often took his houseboat out into the sound for days at a time to get away from crowds, there to live au-naturel, feasting on the fish, clams, and crabs he caught. Periodically he traveled in his bus to New Mexico, where he also owned property.

In spite of his occasional need for solitude, Don was exceptionally friendly and out-going. He was especially fond of old-time native islanders, and often invited Fowler O'Neal, my father Lawton Howard, and others to his house for home made clam chowder and biscuits. Don told me more than once that Fowler (with his nautical tattoos, colorful language, and independent spirit), was the true "hippy," not any tie-dye-wearing, college educated, pseudo-rebel.

Don was intelligent and talented...and particularly unpretentious. I seldom saw him in anything but well-worn tan coveralls or cut-off shorts. He was often bare footed, and the grime on his hands betrayed endless hours tinkering with outboard motors, transmissions, bicycles, and the like.

Whenever Don purchased a new item (outboard motor, bike, or wheelbarrow, e.g.) he immediately painted it (with a brush) a nondescript, muddy brown. That way, he explained, he wouldn't have to worry about anyone being tempted to steal it. Don's ex-wife once told me that Don was "creative with ugly things."

It was with great delight a number of years ago that Don told me one of his favorite stories. He had been invited to two Thanksgiving dinners. Of course he had dressed in his usual fashion (no one expected anything different)...old tan coveralls and work boots. Late in the afternoon he was walking down Lighthouse Road, pushing his badly painted bicycle. With his long unkempt hair and shaggy gray beard he stood out, even on Ocracoke.

A well-to-do tourist couple had just left the dining room at the Island Inn where they had enjoyed a traditional turkey dinner with all the fixings. They had brought their leftovers with them, and were slowly driving down Lighthouse Road in their black Lincoln Continental when they spied Don.

The car stopped next to Don, and the window went down. The woman, impeccably dressed, with well-coiffed hair and fancy jewelry, handed the bag of leftovers out to Don. "Please take this, and have a Happy Thanksgiving," she said with a note of compassion in her voice.

"Thank you," Don replied, as he slipped his third Thanksgiving dinner into his bike basket, and walked back home.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers!

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a transcript of a letter written in 1949 by a visitor to the island. You can read the letter (which provides a glimpse into Ocracoke life sixty years ago) here:


  1. Debbie Leonard10:28 AM

    What a great story! Thanks so much for sharing. And thank you for your work all year in telling stories from a place that I love to visit. It helps fill in the Ocracoke void I feel during the year! Blessings to you all!

  2. Thanks for the story. I always enjoy reading your posts!!!


  3. Anonymous6:33 PM

    OMG I thought you were going to tell us your friend is no longer living on the Island. Well actually I can't tell if he has gone to the big houseboat in the sky or not . One thing I know for sure there are no OI stores opening up at 4 AM to offer blockbuster deals on their big sale day of the year the day-after thanksgiving .

  4. Don Wood (born, 1936) died in 1998. He was such a colorful character that his stories will live on for many more years. Don never wanted to have a funeral, so, instead, he threw a big party for the community several years before he died (I don't think this was prompted by any distressing medical information; I think he just wanted to do it). It was quite the event!

    After Don died his daughters honored his request and, instead of a funeral, hosted a smaller get-together for family and friends at their home.

    Don would have liked the image of him in his big houseboat in the sky (throwing clam shells at pesky gawkers trying to get too close).

  5. Anonymous10:31 AM

    Thanks for the story, Phillip. When I first heard there was one written, I thought you might tell the one about the Thanksgiving Don ended up in Brigetta's hot tub....unbeknownst to Brigetta! But I guess that's a story for another day...thanks again.

  6. I don't know about the Thanksgiving that Don ended up in Brigetta's hot tub! I can only imagine. Please tell me the story. If you don't live on the island, just email me at piphoward at