Saturday, December 15, 2012


As we have done the last several years, we will again be suspending our Ocracoke Journal for several weeks in order to more fully enjoy the holidays with our family and friends. This will be our last post until January 6, 2013.

In the meanwhile, we wish all of our readers a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah (I know it's almost over), a Delightful Winter Solstice, a Wonderful Kwanzaa, and a Joyous New Year filled with peace and love.

We will be back here January 6. Be sure to join us in 2013.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Another Poem

Today I share one more poem written by Vernon Ward. It is not exactly about Ocracoke, but it does have a nautical theme.

Silver Night

A silver ship in a silver sea,
And hardly a stir at all,
A drooping sail and an idle wheel
And a lazy lift and fall,
The hot air of a heavy night
And a song for you and me:
No silver night is idle, Lad,
When we are off at sea.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the day Charles Lindbergh landed at Ocracoke. You can read it here:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Beyond This Present

Several weeks ago a neighbor discovered a sheaf of poems by Vernon Albert Ward, Jr. (1913-2000) who procured a summer job on Ocracoke in 1938, and helped establish an "Artists Colony" on the island in 1940 & 1941 ( The 48 pages of poems are yellow and brittle, but they reveal an idealistic young man struggling with life, beauty, love, sex, politics, war, and peace.

Most of the poems do not refer to Ocracoke, but one political poem does. "Beyond This Present" references "The meeting of four great men in Europe this week, The dismemberment of Czechoslovakia" (almost certainly the 1938 "Munich Agreement" by which Nazi Germany annexed portions of Czechoslovakia, which was signed by Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Italy).

The poet writes:

"Here on this island
All outwardly is quiet.
The sun warms the sand,
The sea runs gently,
And the forests are still.
Fisherman steer their boats
Into the sound
And fish their nets.
Housewives milk in the morning
And quilt in the evening.
Young people dance
At the Village."

He goes on to say:

"But underneath the calm
A strong tide is running.
The people are restless,
Disturbed inwardly."

He ends his poem this way:

"For I am not one
Of this mad generation.
Mine is the land of universal love.

I look beyond the war that is coming
To the time of peace and rebuilding,
To the time when all men of all nations
Will join hands in brotherhood,
When every man will work for the good of all
And the earth will be returned to man.

"I, for one,
Look beyond this present
To the time of peace.
For beyond this present
A new light is shining."

Let us join with Vernon Ward, and again hope that this coming Christmas season will bring us closer to a "time of peace" with a "new light shining."

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the time Charles Lindbergh landed on Ocracoke. You can read it here:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Charles Temple

Mark your calendar for this Thursday December 13 at 7:00 p.m., and meet at the Ocracoke Library.

In May of 2011, Charles Temple, Ocracoke School’s high school English teacher was the winner of Jeopardy’s first Teachers Tournament. He will share his experiences and more in his talk entitled: "Alex, I’ll Take Lifelong Learning for One Hundred Thousand Dollars! An Insider’s View"

Reception to follow.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the day Charles Lindbergh landed on Ocracoke. You can read it here:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Aunt Thelma

My Aunt Thelma Howard Babb (born December 23, 1912 on Ocracoke Island) died on Tuesday, November 27, 2012. As her daughter Becky put it, she was 99.92 years old!

Aunt Thelma moved away from Ocracoke when she was a teenager, and lived in Norfolk for a number of years. She did return to live on the island for a while when she was young, and throughout her life she loved to come back to visit family and friends. In recent years she lived near her daughter in Texas. Becky remarked that "Ocracoke was one of the last things she remembered. She loved the island immensely."

Aunt Thelma was my father's sister. She was only fourteen months younger than my dad, and they remained close friends throughout their lives. A number of older island residents remember Aunt Thelma well. "She would always keep you laughing," is a frequent comment made by people who knew her. Aunt Thelma had an infectious smile, a twinkle in her eye, and a knack for telling entertaining stories that are told and retold (some of them best saved for family get togethers over a glass of wine!).

Aunt Thelma leaves behind three granddaughters, six great-grandchildren; five great-great-grandchildren; and many other dear family and friends.

After her mama died Becky discovered the following hand-written passage that Aunt Thelma read at her own mother's funeral in 1950. Becky read it at Aunt Thelma's funeral last week. 

In Memory of Mother

The Midnight Stars are shining above her silent grave,
Beneath it sleeps the one we love and the one we could not save.
What would we give to hold her hand, her dear face just to touch,
 Her loving smile, her welcome voice, that meant so much to us.
Just when life was not quite the best....
The gates of heaven opened and God took her home to rest...
The hills were hard to climb...
He gently closed your eyes and whispered, Please be mine.

Gone but not forgotten...

Monday, December 10, 2012


One day last week, as I was walking along the high tide line, I spotted a thin pink object protruding from under a pile of seaweed. Thinking it was a plastic streamer or a deflated section of a balloon, I reached down to rid the beach of it. To my surprise, I discovered that it was a piece of hard coral in the shape of delicate and graceful tentacles. Within a half a mile I found another specimen. I can't remember ever before finding such a coral on Ocracoke's beach.

Pink Coral Found at Ocracoke, Dec. 2012

An Internet search yielded only the following Wikipedia photo of a similar, but differently colored coral:

Corail_à_Myrtle..._le_retour.jpg by Maniacduhockey

Perhaps one of our readers can identify the coral I found on the beach. Please leave a comment if you can.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the day Charles Lindbergh landed on Ocracoke. You can read it here:

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Still More Christmas Traditions

On Friday & Saturday I shared some Ocracoke Island Christmas traditions, and promised a few more for today.

Many years ago (at the turn of the twentieth century) some island children kept an old custom of visiting family and friends at Christmastime, and holding out their hands, palm up. "Christmas treats," they would say, and be rewarded with a few pennies or a nickle or a dime.

 I'm sure this practice hearkens back to the tradition alluded to in the seasonal song "We Wish You a Merry Christmas":

Oh, bring us a figgy pudding;
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding;
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer
We won't go until we get some;
We won't go until we get some;
We won't go until we get some, so bring some out here

For a number of years Ocracoke had two Methodist churches. The Southern church was located on Howard Street (where Dicie's Cottage is today); the Northern church was located on the Back Road (where Zillie's is today).

One year two local carpenters built a large faux fireplace and chimney for the Christmas celebration at the Northern Methodist church. After the children's program of scripture reading, carols, and a pageant, Ben Gaskill (1871-1953), dressed as Santa and hidden in the chimney, was to descend from the fireplace to distribute bags of fruit, nuts, and candy. Unfortunately, his pack was too large, and he got stuck in the chimney, and had to be rescued. Still today, a few older residents get a chuckle thinking of the time Santa Claus got stuck in the chimney!

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the day Charles Lindbergh landed on Ocracoke. You can read it here:

Saturday, December 08, 2012

More Christmas Traditions

Yesterday I shared a few island Christmas traditions. Today I share a few more. (Also be sure to read the two messages I posted earlier this morning.)

Amasa Fulcher opened the Community Store in 1918. By then Christmas gift giving had become more common on Ocracoke. At Christmastime Mace would rearrange the center shelf of his store, and pile it high with toys, gifts, and other enticements for the holiday season. Blanche remembers books (Bible stories and fairy tales), dolls and other toys, games (dominoes and checkers), and clothing.

Of course, Sears & Roebuck and other mail order stores provided Christmas presents as well.

In many communities turkey or ham provided the main Christmas dinner. On Ocracoke goose was the preferred dish. Smothered in giblet gravy, and served with collards, sweet potatoes, and pone bread, it was a true southern holiday meal. Popular desserts were sweet potato pie and pineapple layer cake.

Although several Ocracoke families continued to celebrate "Old Christmas" even after the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar in 1752, it is only at Rodanthe on Hatteras Island that the tradition continues.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII proclaimed a new calendar to replace the old Julian calendar which had miscalculated the length of the year. In order to bring the calendar back into sync with the seasons he eliminated 10 days.

Protestant Europe initially would have none of this foolishness. But they would eventually capitulate.

By the time England adopted the new calendar, Christmas (on the Julian Calendar) now corresponded with January 5 (on the Gregorian Calendar). The town of Rodanthe still celebrates "Old Christmas" with an oyster roast, revelry, and the appearance of "Old Buck." Do an Internet search for "Rodanthe Old Christmas" for more information.

Look for still more Christmas traditions tomorrow.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the day Charles Lindbergh landed on Ocracoke. You can read it here:


Today (December 8) is Blanche's birthday. If you see her be sure to wish her a Very Happy Birthday! Blanche is an island treasure.

Today's Island Christmas Events

Friday, December 07, 2012

Christmas Traditions

Several days ago a reader asked about Ocracoke Island Christmas traditions. As in many rural areas, Christmas on Ocracoke was a much more modest holiday in the nineteenth century. Although a detailed history of Christmas celebrations is too long for this blog, keep in mind that Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, a novel that greatly influenced our perceptions of Christmas and the way we celebrate the holiday today, was written only in 1843.

My father was born on Ocracoke in 1911. Blanche's father, Stacey Howard, was born on the island in 1885. We both remember our fathers remarking that Christmas presents were rare and modest when they were children. Some years there were no presents at all; other years children might receive an apple or an orange. One Christmas my father had a single orange in his stocking. He remembered rolling it back and forth across the floor with his sister for several days before finally eating it.

Although Blanche says she remembers always having a Christmas tree (a native cedar) in her house (she was born in 1919), earlier generations cut cedar branches and yaupon sprigs (with red berries) to decorate their homes. In later years paper streamers and "fold-out" paper bells festooned living rooms.

For a century and a quarter the Ocracoke Methodist Church has provided a large tree as the centerpiece for the community's Christmas Eve celebration. In earlier days parents would bring presents for their children and place them under the tree, or hang them from the branches. Inevitably some gifts were larger or more expensive than others which led to the abandonment of the practice. Instead, the church began providing "Christmas bags" filled with apples, oranges, peanuts, and candy for everyone in the community.

Santa Claus has long been an attendant at the Ocracoke Methodist Church's Christmas Eve service. He makes his entrance after the benediction, visits with children, and distributes the bags of goodies. Of course, the church's Christmas bags are no longer the primary holiday present for island children. The church still provides the bags of goodies as a unique island tradition, but nowadays only for those who request them.

Look for more Ocracoke holiday traditions in tomorrow's blog.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the day Charles Lindbergh landed on Ocracoke. You can read it here:

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Holiday Cookie Swap

This Saturday, December 8, at 11 a.m., the Ocracoke Community Library will host their annual tradition of The Holiday Cookie Swap

It's simple. Bring some cookies to the library, and bring some home. There will be a poetry reading by the 3rd grade students of Ocracoke School and this year Jocelyn and Jessica will be hosting a special Christmas Trivia Contest just for the library!

Everyone is welcome! This is how the Cookie Swap works: 
Bring a dozen or more homemade cookies to share.
Take home an equal amount of assorted cookies made by other island bakers. 


Please bring an extra container to collect your cookies.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the day Charles Lindbergh landed on Ocracoke. You can read it here:

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Christmas Tree

I suppose this might become an annual Ocracoke holiday tradition. It seems as if every fall a storm washes a dead tree up on the beach. Last year someone planted a  driftwood tree in the sand near the lifeguard beach, and hung a few flotsam & jetsam "ornaments" on it. Others added their own findings.

I was thinking about last year's tree when I noticed another dead tree lying on the beach a week or so ago, but I never propped it up. Then a few days ago I was walking near the Pony Pen beach when I saw this year's tree. It was already planted in the sand, festooned with seashells, a flipflop, a Milk Dud box, and assorted other items.

The tree is a visual testament to islanders' creativity and quirkiness. Take a beach walk down by the Pony Pen and add a seashell, some seaweed, or another treasure.

Beach Christmas Tree

 Don't worry, we'll undecorate the tree after Christmas.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the day Charles Lindbergh landed on Ocracoke. You can read it here:

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Wassail Party

"Waes hael," ("Good Health!" or "Be Ye Healthy") is how English revelers many years ago greeted friends and neighbors as they held up a mug of spiced cider during the winter holidays.

Eventually, the expression came to mean the drink as well as the greeting. Later, the toast that was traditionally floated atop the wassail drink became our "toast." When you hold up your glass and announce, "I'll toast to that," you are acknowledging this very old ritual of floating a bit of toast in a mug of spiced cider.

Join the members and staff of Ocracoke Preservation Society this afternoon from 5 - 7  for the island's traditional Wassail Party and lighting of the OPS Christmas Tree.

Good Health to You All!
Wassail, first started as a greeting or as a toast. Waes hael, revelers might say holding up a mug of spiced cider. Eventually, as things go, wassail referred less often to the greeting and more often to the drink. Similarly, the toast that was traditionally floated atop the wassail eventually became our toast; that is, when you hold up your glass and announce, “Let’s have a toast,” or ”I’ll toast to that,” you’re paying homage to this very old ritual of floating a bit of toast in a spiced ...

Read More at © Nourished Kitchen

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the day Charles Lindbergh landed on Ocracoke. You can read it here:

Monday, December 03, 2012


Whale sightings are most common from Ocracoke in November and December, so it wasn't too surprising when Amy called me two days ago from the beach to say that she and Laura had just seen a whale off shore. I am almost always ready to take a walk on the beach, especially this time of year, so I drove out to the "Lifeguard Beach" to take a look.

By the time I arrived the whale had apparently swum away, so we walked and chatted for a half hour. When we returned to the walk-over ramp we stood for a while, gazing out to sea, hoping we would get one final glimpse of this majestic creature.

Sure enough, we were quickly rewarded with a spout of water and air far beyond the breakers. Immediately afterwards the great dark form of the whale rolled up, out, and then back down. This was repeated a number of times. It was impossible to tell if we were seeing one whale, or several. And the display was too far out to get a decent photo.

If you are walking along the beach this time of year, be sure to pay attention to what's going on off shore. There are almost always plenty of dolphins to entertain...and occasionally leviathan pays us a visit also.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the day Charles Lindbergh landed on Ocracoke. You can read it here:

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Whelk Egg Case

Back in March I posted a few paragraphs about whelk egg cases ( But the specimen I had was just eight capsules long. A few days ago I found a long, fresh serpentine string of egg cases. Sometimes they are called Mermaids necklaces.

Whelk Egg Case

The whelk shells inside each capsule are so tiny (about 4mm) that I could not get a decent photo. I had to use a magnifying lens even to see them clearly.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the day Charles Lindbergh landed on Ocracoke. You can read it here:

Saturday, December 01, 2012

"Calling the Mail Over"

Many of our readers have heard the expression "calling the mail over." Back in the days before ferries and paved roads, mail was delivered to the island by mail boat. When the boat pulled up to the dock every afternoon at 4:30 almost the entire village was there waiting.

Canvas mailbags were carried to the post office and sorted. Then the postmaster stepped outside and "called the mail over." Names were called out, and letters and packages passed around.

Since the recent damage to NC Hwy 12 on Pea Island, mail and package delivery some days reverts to the old ways. If the driver doesn't have time to deliver his packages before the next Swan Quarter ferry leaves, we all just gather in one place as boxes and parcels are "called over" and passed out.

A Full Parking Lot, Waiting for Package Delivery

Islanders Waiting at the PO for the Mail to be "Called Over"

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the day Charles Lindbergh landed on Ocracoke. You can read it here: