Monday, December 17, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Hi. This is Philip. I am wishing all of our readers a very Merry Christmas a tad early because we will be posting somewhat erratically for the next month or so. During this holiday season I plan to spend most of my time with family and friends (my brother might even be coming to the island for an extended visit, and of course Lou Ann will be here for a while), and I may just turn off my computer! I also have some winter-time projects here at Village Craftsmen and at my home that need attention. So, I will be counting these next several weeks as my annual vacation.

While I am otherwise occupied I am hoping that Jude or Amy might share a few thoughts now and then. It will be good to have another perspective on island life. I'll be back at the Journal sometime in February.

But before I leave you all for six weeks or so, I want to share an Ocracoke Christmas story. It's about the wreck of the steamship Ariosto on Christmas Eve of 1899. You can read it here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wild Surf

Islanders woke up this morning to a warm breeze. Actually more than a breeze. It has been very windy today. The beach was powerful. Six or seven rows of wild, angry breakers were charging in and crashing onto the beach. The strong winds were coming from the southwest and blowing beautiful plumes of spray back off the tops of the waves. The early afternoon sun would occasionally catch the spray and transform it into a delicate veil of rainbow-hued mist. All the colors were, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.

This is a remarkable and wonderful world.

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Wind & Fog

It is cooler today, with overcast skies, and a forecast that calls for strong winds and rain this evening. As most of our readers know, weather plays an important role in daily island life. Wind, if it's fierce enough, can stop the ferries. Fog often has the same effect. It is the rare islander who hasn't ended up sleeping in his or her car on the mainland or Hatteras waiting for the ferries to resume operation.

A friend who recently moved to Ocracoke remarked the other day that he is gradually adjusting to our island pace. When the fog rolled in several days ago he biked out to the post office and saw the sign on the door: "No mail delivery today." Not having mail every now and then is a small price to pay for enjoying the rest of island life.

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Suit & Tie

Last night I attended an Ocracoke Preservation Society executive committee meeting. Five or six of us had already arrived and were chatting when Clayton walked in. Everyone stopped talking, stared at Clayton, and made some exclamation ("Whoa!" or "Huh?" or some such sound). Clayton was wearing a suit and a tie.

"Was there a funeral we didn't know about?" we asked. "What's going on, Clayton?"

Clayton explained that he'd been to a meeting "up the beach" (maybe in Nags Head or Kill Devil Hills, I can't remember exactly where), and had just gotten off the ferry.

We had finally quit talking about Clayton's sartorial idiosyncrasy when Ruth walked in, stopped short, and stared at Clayton. Ruth demanded an explanation, too.

Eventually we got on with the meeting and pretty much ignored the suit and tie. But it speaks a lot about Ocracoke that one man in a suit and tie elicits so much mild shock. As I write this morning I wonder why Clayton didn't remove his jacket and tie on the ferry. Maybe he was simply enjoying an extended evening feeling connected to the world beyond the inlets. We'll start worrying about him if he shows up at the post office in his suit and tie.

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Altered Ferry Schedules

I was recently sent the following press release re. altered ferry schedules in early 2008. As many of our readers know, a portion of Highway 12 will be closed from Jan 02 - Mar 15, 2008 while the NCDOT replaces all seven bridges between the campground and the pony pen. The NPS will open a beach access ramp at the pony pen to allow 4WD vehicles to drive on the beach in that area where the road is closed.

If you live on Ocracoke, or are planning a trip to the island during the first 75 days of 2008 you might want to print this schedule.

"Press Release, October 14, 2007
Ferry Schedules Altered during Ocracoke Beach Detour Project

To help accommodate traffic to and from Ocracoke during the bridge replacement project this winter, the NC Ferry Division has approved a schedule affecting Cedar Island, Swan Quarter, and Hatteras routes to Ocracoke.

According to a memorandum from Charlie Fearing, NC Ferry Division I, the Hatteras runs will be as follows:

A vessel will leave each side at 5 am and run every other hour from each side until 9 pm. The last vessel will leave Hatteras and tie up at Ocracoke and be in place for an emergency over night.

Leave Ocracoke
5 am
6 am
8 am (etc…)
8 pm – last run

Leave Hatteras
5 am
7 am
9 am (etc…)
9 pm – last run

The Ocracoke/Swan Quarter run will be the same as the summer schedule:

Leaving Ocracoke: 6:30 am, 10 am, 12:30 pm, and 4 pm
Leaving Swan Quarter: 7 am, 9:30 am, 1 pm, and 4 pm

*Tolls will be waived on the Ocracoke/Swan Quarter run.

The Ocracoke/Cedar Island run will follow the newly adopted winter schedule:

Leaving Ocracoke: 7 am, 10:30 am, 2 pm, and 5 pm.
Leaving CedarIsland: 7 am, 10:30 am, 2 pm, and 5 pm.

The Tuesday 7 am ferry from Swan Quarter to Ocracoke will be designated for LP Gas and gasoline trucks.

The Tuesday and Wednesday 4 pm ferries from Ocracoke to Swan Quarter will be designated for their return. This will limit the passengers allowed on the vessel as per USCG.

Please plan accordingly.This schedule will be in place from January 2 to March 15, 2008 unless otherwise notified."

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Those Little Cat Feet

At the beach yesterday, pewter was the dominant color. Fog had rolled in early in the morning, and the sky melted into the Atlantic Ocean. There was no horizon. By mid-afternoon the sun, like a shiny tin disc, hung in the southwest sky, peering through the thickening cloud cover. Ferries were tied up at the docks and the sense of isolation was palpable.

Late at night, long after the sun had set, I walked down Howard Street. It was quiet, dead quiet. Not a sound was to be heard, and all was dark, save a dim light visible in Blanche's living room window and beams from a security light some distance away. Wispy layers of fog floated above the tombstones in the cemeteries.

I unfastened the latch; the hinges creaked; I stepped inside. The distant light cast ominous shadows across the graves. Gnarled oak limbs swayed slowly, and every movement sent my heart racing a tad faster. I moved gingerly among the markers, careful not to trip on foot stones, or step on graves. The fog hung heavy in the warm December air.

I stayed a while. Not too long. Just enough time to greet the ancestors and assure them that we were looking after their beloved home.

I stepped back out onto Howard Street and walked home, savoring the eerie quietness of a foggy Ocracoke night.

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Beach & Cookies

Several days ago I mentioned starting my beach walk with a long sleeve shirt and ending in a t-shirt. Yesterday afternoon I started barefooted, and in a t-shirt, and ended by pulling my t-shirt off. I can't remember when it's been this warm in mid-December.

I'm told that the fishing is not good, but I did see quite a few pelicans diving for their dinner.

The Library cookie swap is this evening. Maybe I'll bake a batch this year and come home with a variety of other kinds. It sure sounds like a good idea.

(One note about comments: Sometimes I reply to comments by adding another comment on the same post, and sometimes I address comments and questions in a new daily post. If you leave a comment or question and don't see a reply, please leave another comment. By the way, thanks to you all for reading regularly, and for posting comments. We like to hear from you.)

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cracker Quilt

Christmas is approaching, of course, and I am reminded of the present my daughter, Amy, gave me last year. It was originally intended as a birthday present, but August came and went, and the present still lay unfinished on her work table. She did complete it by December, though.

Amy came upstairs the other day (to give me advice on my leaking toilet -- "I've fixed lots of toilets," she informed me....but this one has proven to be a challenge for us both!). We both stopped to look at the cracker quilt on my bed.

" I love the quilt," I told Amy. "Thank you so much for taking the time to make it for me."

In case you haven't read our journal entry about island quilts, this design is Ocracoke's most popular quilt, and to my knowledge is virtually unheard of anywhere else after the colonial era.

Here is a photo of us at Christmas last year. (I guess she still had a few stitches to complete). Thanks again, Amy!

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


I don't know what the temperature was today. I only know that I walked on the beach this morning in a long sleeve shirt, but by half way through I was down to my t-shirt. This afternoon Lachlan and I spent two hours at the beach. In short order Lachlan was barefooted and bare-chested. As Lachlan played with his trucks and shovel, and ran up and down the dunes, I lay in the sun and watched pelicans and dolphins.

As we sat there by the walk-over ramp quite a few folks passed by. Everyone was local, so we stopped and chatted. People were walking dogs, running, strolling, doing exercises, or just enjoying the day. Everyone had a comment about the day: "Isn't it glorious!" "What a beautiful day." "Can you believe it's the middle of December?" "Isn't it wonderful!"

We know it won't last, but it sure was nice. I was even tempted to jump in the ocean!

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


Yesterday afternoon for my walk I thought I would have the whole beach to myself. The wind had died down, the temperature was rising, the sky was clear, and there was no one to be seen in either direction (actually there was one young man down by the water, but he soon left, and then it was deserted).

Because the wind had subsided the water was calmer than it has been these last few days. Gentle waves washed up on the beach, but beyond the breakers was a soft rolling surface. I kept my eyes trained a hundred yards or so off shore, and sure enough it wasn't long before I spotted the first pod of dolphins. I wasn't alone after all.

In the winter, when the water is not too choppy, dolphins are almost always in sight. Yesterday was no exception.

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Christmas Concert, Jimmy's Garage & Ferries

Last night's Christmas Concert at Deepwater Theater was an evening of outstanding music, good cheer, and delicious treats. I am continually amazed at the talent in this small community. If you have never been to one of our shows, be sure to make time at your next opportunity. This time of year, of course, virtually everyone in the audience was a local resident. I did see a half dozen folks I didn't recognize, however. I spoke with one visiting couple who told me that they had heard about the musical traditions on the island but had no idea there was so much quality and talent here.

Jimmy and Linda Jackson were in attendance last night and I had a chance to speak with them briefly. Not long ago a reader of this journal had asked this question:

"You mention an event hosted at Jimmy's garage. In my visits to Ocracoke, I've noticed no other auto repair facility on the island. Jimmy's is kind of tucked quietly away and, happily for me (not so much for Jimmy, perhaps), I've never had occasion to patronize his business, though it would seem Jimmy is a community-minded fellow (opening his business for the dinner/dance) and likely very busy, as possibly the only game in town when it comes to getting you car fixed. I also heard, on my last visit to the island, over Thanksgiving, that Jimmy's is the only place with a public air pump to refill your car tires. Mind telling us a little bit about Jimmy and the realities/implications of auto repair and maintenance on your remote island?"

Jimmy's Garage is a family owned enterprise. Jimmy Jackson was born and raised on Ocracoke (he is a few years younger than I am), and is descended from a long line of islanders. He has been operating his garage since at least the 1970s. In the early years he operated the service station/garage, and then later he worked out of the small garage behind his house. A number of years ago he moved his operation to a brand-new facility across from the Pony Island Restaurant.

I was sitting next to Karen Lovejoy last night when Jimmy & Linda walked in. Karen, who moved to the island from Rochester, NY in the early 1970s, told me that the first time she pulled up to the gas pump in her VW "bug" Jimmy looked at her and remarked, "You're that new Yankee teacher, aren't you? You know we don't work on those foreign cars!" Karen didn't know what to think.

Of course, Jimmy was teasing. I know he's worked on Karen's car many times.

Jimmy works with his son, Jamie, and both of them are top-notch mechanics. Linda, wife & mother, tends to the scheduling and bookkeeping. If you need repairs made on your automobile Jimmy's is the place to go, not only because his is the only garage on the island (!), but also because he and Jamie provide excellent, reliable service. By the way, I believe he does have the only commercial air pump on the island.

Every Christmas season Jimmy, Linda, & Jamie move all of the cars out of the garage, scrub down the concrete floor, haul in picnic tables and chairs, and host THE community pot luck gathering of the year. Everyone, it seems, is there -- old time natives, young folks, residents in wheelchairs, children of all ages, newcomers, off-island natives, people who used to live here, distant relatives, long-time residents, and even a few visitors.

Good spirits dominate the garage as people greet each other, laugh, tell stories, introduce new friends, share jokes, and toast the season. Long lines form to fill up plates with some of the best fare anywhere. There is plenty of food and drink for everyone.

Eventually everyone is full ("run ashore" as O-cockers will say) and satisfied. The serving dishes are cleared away, the tables carried outside, and the chairs arranged around the walls, under the radiator hoses, fan belts, and air filters. That's when the Ocracoke Rockers set up their instruments and sound system. In short order the garage is filled with classic rock & roll dance music, and the floor is a whirl of people gyrating to the pulsing music.

The dance continues until late in the evening, and then folks return home filled with memories of a small, but diverse village coming together to celebrate the season, their community, and the goodness of life.

Many thanks to Jimmy, Linda, and Jamie for making this wonderful event possible!


We recently had another question on the journal:

"[R]e. your return ferry trip to the island, when the deck hands reopened the gate to let you board. Just wondering whether there was anyone else on the ferry with you. I imagine the traffic load would be very light at this time of year. Do the ferries ever occasionally run empty?"

Oh, there were other folks on the ferry, maybe eight or ten if I remember correctly. Most were locals who had gone "up the beach" like we had, for doctor or dentist appointments, or to do some Christmas shopping, or maybe just to go see a movie. And there were a few visitors, I think. And yes, the ferries do run empty at times, especially in the "bleak mid-winter." They must keep their schedules though, because there might be vehicles on the far shore ready to go the other way.

(A weather note before closing -- it's been cold these last few days [in the low 40s, and very windy at times], but it is warming up today. Yesterday's walk on the beach was brisk. Today's should be much easier.)

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

A Few Answers & Photos

Several folks posted comments and/or asked questions this past month. I had configured the journal so that I receive an email notification every time someone posts a comment here. Unfortunately I changed my email address and forgot to make the change on the blog settings. So I wasn't notified when comments were made. I went back through the blogs and am posting replies here.

A reader asked why Michael Lawrence Piland is buried in the Howard (or Howard-Wahab) cemetery. I am sure the reason is that he was married to Lucretia Credle Wahab. But then why is Miss Lucretia not buried in that cemetery? I don't know why. Perhaps she is buried on the mainland. To my knowledge she is not buried on the island. I'll do some research.

I was asked to post some photos. Below are a few pictures of some island Christmas decorations. You can click on any photo to see a large image.

The tree at the OPS museum:

A decorated fence near the lighthouse:

The Preservation museum:

The Pony Island Horse:

One of many community "power pole" snowflakes at night:

And a shot of the James Henry Garrish home. This is the home for which Michael and Paula Schramel won this year's OPS "Old House Award."

And, finally, David & Lachlan at last night's Wassail Party at the OPS museum:

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Upcoming Events

Ocracoke may be quiet in some ways this time of year (few visitors, most restaurants closed, shops closed or with reduced hours), but in other ways the village is quite busy. Below are some of the activities, meetings, and get-togethers scheduled for December:

Anne Runyon's Book Signing at the OPS museum, starting at 4:30. Her new children's book "The Sheltering Cedar" is set on Ocracoke Island.

Wassail and Tree Lighting at the museum, 5-7 pm

Ocrafolk Christmas Concert at Deepwater Theater, 7:30 pm

Community Christmas Potluck & Dance at Jimmy's Garage

Ocracoke Methodist Church Women’s Christmas Potluck Dinner at the Community Center, 6 pm.

Friends of the Library Cookie Swap, 7 pm. Bring two dozen of your favorite cookies and swap for two dozen of your choice!

Ocracoke Civic & Business Association Potluck Dinner at 6 pm, Meeting at 7 pm

Children’s Christmas Party at the Community Center, 2:30 – 4 pm

Assembly of God Christmas Program, 6:30 pm

Live Nativity at the United Methodist Church, 6 – 7 pm

Ocracoke School Christmas Program, 7 pm

Christmas Caroling. Meet at the United Methodist Church at 5 pm. Enjoy chili and hot chocolate afterwards at the Assembly of God Church.

Christmas Eve Service with children’s pageant and candle lighting at the United Methodist Church, 7 pm

Ocracoke Seafood Company Fish Fry and Oyster Roast at the Fish House, starting at 2 pm

New Year's Eve Service at Ocracoke Assembly of God

New Year's Eve Dance with the Ocracoke Rockers at the Community Center, 8 pm - 1 am. Benefit Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Dept. $25.00 (includes food and beverages; tickets only available ahead of time, at the Island Ragpicker; no tickets sold at the door).

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Off-Island Schedule

Amy and I went to Nags Head today. I just thought some of our readers might like to see a typical daily schedule for an off-island trip. Here goes:

5:30 am Wake up & get ready.
6:30 Leave for Hatteras Inlet.
7:00 Board the ferry.
9:15 Arrive at dentist's office (Amy & I both had appointments).
10:30 Leave dentist's office.
11:00 Stop at Alltel to extend contract and get new phone.
11:30 Stop at a small strip mall. Philip buys new shoes; Amy buys a few items at the Thrift Store.
12:00 Stop for sandwiches (Amy is still numb, so she doesn't eat much).
12:30 Go to a shopping center. We buy a few small items (specialty light bulbs, plastic file holder, chocolate truffles, a rubber washer [for my leaking toilet])
1:30 Leave the northern Outer Banks.
2:45 Meet David at his dentist in Frisco, take Lachlan, and hightail it for the ferry.
3:00 Arrive at the ferry just as it is ready to pull out. The deckhands look at us, then at each other....then open the gate and wave us on. We smile and thank them all. It's windy today and the water is rough. We roll a bit in the inlet.
3:45 The ferry docks at Ocracoke.
4:00 Arrive in the village, check our post office boxes, and drive home. It's been a 10 1/2 hour day. We're glad to be home.

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


On my drive to the beach this morning I couldn't help notice the parking lot at the Variety Store -- only one lonely car.

I walked over the ramp at the lifeguard beach (of course, there are no lifeguards this time of year), and walked about a mile. Not a single person was in evidence. When I turned around I did see four people near the ramp, but three of them soon disappeared back over the dunes. I only passed the one other person as I made my way back. The tide was high, broken shells were washed up on the beach, and there were a few other footprints. But other than that it was quiet and peaceful. Walking north I had my lightweight sweatshirt pulled tight around my neck (the cool wind was blowing into my face), but after I turned around I took off the sweatshirt, rolled up my sleeves, and removed my hat. At a brisk pace, and without the breeze it felt rather warm.

Winter at the beach can sometimes be dreary and lonely, but it is often a great time for reflection and contemplation.

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Living on an Island.... wonderful. Easy and quick access to America's number one beach, a vibrant and creative community of interesting people, security & safety, a relaxed, laid-back lifestyle....I could go on and on. And Ocracoke is all of these things.

And there is a certain level of frustration now and then. I have a slow seeping leak at one of the water connections on my toilet tank. For several months I dealt with the problem by placing a plastic container under the leak. I was just too busy to tackle it.

Today I took wrench in hand to tighten the plastic nut. It didn't help. I put plumber's putty between the nut and the tank. Still it leaked. Then I took the tank off, removed all of the internal parts (more involved than your standard toilet tank -- it's one of those new-fangled, high tech models), and rearranged a large custom shaped gasket inside. No help. Finally I decided that a large flat rubber washer on the outside bottom of the tank might do the trick. Of course, no such item is to be found at our local hardware store. They carry all of the standard items (even several not-so-common parts), but no washer like the one I need.

So I cut an inner tube in the shape I wanted. It is not ideal -- too thin and flexible, but it seems to be helping some.

I guess I'll add one more item to my list of things to pick up on my next trip off-island. In the meanwhile, I'm keeping the plastic container under the toilet tank.

Our latest Newsletter is about the old Howard cemetery on British Cemetery Road. You can read the stories here.