Follow by Email

Sunday, March 27, 2011

No. 17 "Mullet fishing, an old man, and World War I"

As I have gotten older, there is one recollection of my “mulleting days” that has grown both starker and more wistful in my memory. There was a member of our crew who was at the other end from me when it came to experience. He was old, too old to work for himself. About the only thing he still could offer was to share with me in jumping overboard with the forward staff and pulling on it until the ends were joined. His name was Luther Willis, and he must have been at least seventy years old by the time that we spent a few weeks together as part of Calvin and Neal’s mulleting crew. What I learned from Luther, or more appropriately what I did “not” take the time to learn, has been seared into my psyche as I have thought back on those mornings that we huddled and strained together to pull a cotton net along the sandy bottom of Core Sound.

No matter how hot summer days may be, it is always at least a little chilling to get waist deep in water before the sun has time to warm the morning air. When Luther and I climbed out of the skiff together, holding a wooden staff that he would grab at the top and I at the bottom, we always shivered as we stooped below the waterline. Then, while Calvin and Neal remained in the boat and ran out the net, we would talk about how cold the water was, wonder why the boat was making such a wide turn, or marvel at the beauty of the sun rising over the Banks. Then we would strain together as he reminded me to keep the lead line on the bottom and asked me if I had noticed anything jumping the net. Soon, after just a few minutes of jerking and pulling, he would lose the little energy his old body had left to spend, and would begin to stumble as we headed for the other end of the circle. Then, and several times every morning, he would exclaim to me, almost apologetically, “I just ain’t been the ‘saaaaame’ since France!” Not only that, as he offered his regrets, he would gasp for air at least once in each sentence he uttered. In fact, he hardly ever spoke more than a few words without seeming to struggle for his breath.

As I think back, I must have realized that in referring to “France” he was talking about having been a “dough-boy” who fought in Europe during World War I. I assume I might have known that the cause for his breathing issues would have been exposure to the poison gases that were used by both sides in the trenches of “no-man’s-land.” But what puzzles me now, what bothers me almost to no end, is why in all those hours I spent with him, alone, and with little else to occupy our time, why I never asked him to tell me anything about what his war experience had been like.

I have spent my entire adult life enthralled by the past and by stories. I majored in history at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in college. I have poured through countless books, documents and letters trying to understand, and even write about, how things used to be, and how they affect us even now. But for some reason, I never took advantage of what has proved to have been a once in a lifetime opportunity --- to talk privately and intimately to someone who was on the very cusp of the one event that history has concluded to have been the mid-wife to the turmoil of the entire last century.

Not that this tired and unsophisticated old man would himself have offered any profound insights into the causes or consequences of the “War to End all Wars.” That is not what I feel deprived of. Rather, I lament that I could have had him tell me what it was like to have been drafted into a  European War when he had never before left Carteret County. He could have outlined the experience of training for a few weeks and then being herded on board a transport ship for the long ocean crossing. He would have explained the feeling of arriving on the continent and seeing the beautiful “City of Lights” that Paris remained despite the fighting that was less than a hundred miles away.

He might have told of finally learning that his unit was being sent to the front, and of witnessing the devastation that years of scorched earth fighting had wrought on eastern France. How could he have avoided being terrified at the sight of wounded, dead and dying soldiers as he made his way forward to the trenches? He would have explained how he himself became a victim of the mustard gas that permeated the air on both sides of the battlefield. Why was he not wearing the protective gear that is so often seen in pictures of the front? Or, were the fumes so thick that even the protective masks issued by the army could not completely protect him? How was he treated after he was wounded? How long after that was he allowed to come home? What was it like to get back to Harkers Island and to his family?

Those are just some of the thousands of questions that might have been asked, but, at least by me, never were. I assume that he never would have mentioned “France” if he was unwilling to talk about it. Just by raising the subject, he gave me the opportunity to pursue my interests in any direction I wanted. But that is the point, at that time in my life I must not have had any interest beyond catching some fish, making some money, and enjoying my life as a young teenager on Harkers Island. I wish I had it to do over.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

No. 16 "... I want one so bad, I’ll take a pack of them.”

An oft told story on the Island is of an Island boy [nameless for now] who got a job working on a dredge boat in the Tidewater area of Virginia. His first trip to Norfolk was his first ever time away from home. Feeling less than comfortable in the new setting, he stayed close by his friends on the boat where he lived the two week stints on the job. Each dredge was in some ways its own little housing complex and the crew could find there all the basic necessities for living.

That’s exactly how life went on for the young Islander for the first few months of his time as a dredgeman. But, a crisis eventually arose when he gave out of cigarettes and learned that there was no one board who had any to sell or share. So it was that he was obliged to venture off from the boat and onto the docks and stores of Norfolk. He was uncomfortable as to how he would relate to strangers, but his friends assured him that the people there was just like folks at home and he had nothing to fear. Still unsure as to what he might find, he asked to know exactly what he should do when he found a store and went inside.

“Just like home, you tell ‘em what you want, they’ll find it for you, and you pay for it and that’s it. Just that simple!” So off he went into the city of Norfolk looking to buy a pack of cigarettes. The very first business he came to after leaving the port was brightly lit and displayed a large  sign of the store’s name, “Western Auto.” Anxious to get his cigarettes and head back to the boat, he hurried in the door and asked the clerk behind the counter where he could find a pack of “Winstons.”

The clerk was not nearly as sensitive to his request as he might have hoped and answered with more than a little sarcasm, “I’m sorry sir, but we don’t sell anything here but hardware.” Unsure of exactly what he should do then, the young man from Harkers Island responded with a mixture of urgency and frustration. “We’ll, I want a cigarette so bad, I’ll take a pack of them.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

No. 15 Danny Boy Lewis, "I know twice as much as my father!"

Danny Boy Lewis was the son of Brady Lewis. The latter was and is the icon of boat-building on the Island. Even today his name is spoken of with awe and even reverence when it comes to having designed and built the wooden boats that once lined the south shore of Harkers Island --- from Red Hill to Shell Point. Sometimes Harkers Island flare bowed boats are referred to simply as “Brady Lewis” boats.

Brady’s son, Danny Boy, carried on his father’s tradition of boat building and was true in every way to the example his father had set. Like his father, he not only built boats, always using his father’s basic design, but often adding a “tunnel” that allowed the boat to maneuver in more shallow water. And, again like his father, he was fascinated with speed on the water, and worked on making his own the “fastest boat on the Island.”

Neither Brady nor his son ever let functionality get in the way of making a boat “pretty and fast,” and their lead convinced many other Island fisherman to follow their example. One oft-told story is that when Brady was building “The Francis” for Telford Willis, he asked if he would prefer that the boat be designed for “fishing” or for “speed.” Without any hesitation my Uncle Teff responded , “you make her fast and I’ll fish her the best I can.”

"The Ralph" swinging at her mooring off Hancock Landing.

Brady was of my father’s generation and built for him “The Ralph,” the thirty-five foot trawler that was my father’s most prized possession for almost forty years. Danny Boy was much older than me, but I got to know him when I worked at “Hi-Tide Boat Works” in the summers of 1967 and 1968 (see post no. 13). Almost every day he would nod to me or Eddie or Curvis and say, “Young Man" (the name he used for all of us), go to the store and get me a BC.” I promise that there was never a day that went by without him swallowing at least one of those renowned headache powders - sometimes without water.

He was much too involved with his labors to get to know any of us younger boys who worked beside and around him. In fact, after almost two whole summers of being somewhere near him for eight hours every day, and after he had beckoned me yet again with his usual “Young Man,” I got up the nerve to ask him if he even knew my name. Looking at me more amused than annoyed, he responded that he did, in fact, know my name. When I followed up by asking him what it was, without any hesitation he let out, “you’re that youngest boy of Charlie Hancock’s.”

Along with his skills as a carpenter, Danny Boy was also known for how well and how long he could wield a disk sander. Standing beside or even laying underneath a juniper-planked boat he would lift the twenty plus pound grinder into the air and work unceasingly for hours at a time, stopping only every ten minutes or so to rub his hand over the wood to assure that it was smooth enough to paint. (Danny Boy once bragged to us that he had “sanded his own boat so slick that it wouldn’t sit still in the water!” Think about that for a moment.)

Though he was always Brady’s son, Danny Boy was not content to be known for that alone. He took pride in his own skills and felt that he was every bit the innovator that his father had been. In fact, when someone once sought to compliment him by comparing him with his famous father, Danny Boy replied by boasting that not only was he as good as his father, but that he “knew more than him when it comes to building boats!” Somewhat taken aback by that, the listener asked him how in the world could that be? “Simple,” he explained, “I know everything he knew, and I know everything that I know. So I know twice as much!”

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

No. 14 "The sweetest sound in the whole world"

Dallas Daniel Guthrie (“Dak” to his contemporaries) was a fixture of life for boys who grew up with me in our neighborhood. The same age as my brother Mike (ten years older than me), he helped to tend his father’s store. By the time I came of age, many afternoons were spent there, along with a score or more of other neighborhood adolescents. Dak could entertain us for hours telling stories of what he had heard from the parade of shoppers who had come in and out his store in the course of a day.

One day he shared with us an account of a conversation he had followed some time earlier with several of his friends. As related by him, the subject had arisen as to what was “the sweetest sound a man would ever hear?”
Dak had been the first to offer his opinion. An avid hunter who kept a large array of hounds in a nearby kennel, he maintained that the sweetest sound he had ever heard was “the special bark and howl of bird dogs as they locked in on the smell of a deer in the woods.” That special sound alone would arouse the thrill of the chase and hunt that was soon to follow. “Nothing,” he explained, “could ever be sweeter than that.”

His cousin and neighbor, “Peter” (Weldon Edward Willis), who lived nearby, was the next to chime in with an opinion. “No,” he interrupted, there was something even better than the sound of dogs on a chase. For Peter, a waterman through and through, the sweetest sound in the world was the one that could be heard only on a calm summer evening when “setting a mullet net” around a shoal or rock in the marshes off Shackleford Banks. If everything went just right, in the stillness of a moonlit night you would hear the a chorus of “swashes” that meant a school of mullets had just hit your net. “That,” he argued, “was the sweetest sound a man could ever hear.”

Listening nearby was a somewhat older friend (who shall remain nameless) who had built (and earned) quite a reputation as a rounder. He had paid close attention as the younger boys gave their take on what sounds aroused the fondest emotions a man could imagine. “You’re both wrong,” he explained as he stood to his feet and prepared to head out of the store and back into the real world. “The sweetest sound in the world, and believe me I know, is to be in the woods at night, waiting for a woman who has agreed to meet you ---- and finally hearing the leaves begin to rustle!”

Saturday, March 19, 2011

No. 13 Manus Fulcher was headed home ...

(Troy) Manus Fulcher was one of many young men from Harkers Island who either joined or was drafted into the military during World War II. Born in 1914, he served in the Pacific and spent most of his time on the Japanese island of Saipan. After the war he returned home and married Estelle Guthrie, and moved with her into a small house he built on the northeast corner of the land owned by Willie & Carrie Guthrie, Estelle's parents.
Manus was a self-trained mechanic and carpenter who in his spare time became perhaps the closest thing our neighborhood had to an engineer --- or even an inventor. After being one of the first people on the Island to have and drive a motorcycle, he fashioned his own version of that contraption by installing a lawn mower motor onto a bicycle. The sound of Manus riding his lawn mower-motorbike was familiar to anyone who spent any time at all on what we called the "Old Road."
Besides doing odd jobs as a carpenter on homes and boats, he also was a gunsmith and the neighborhood handyman for sharpening saws and knives, and especially for repairing and servicing small motors. Old mower engines were his specialty. It was said that he could fix any motor as long as it was still in one piece. My father once took an old "grass cutter" to Manus because he could not get it to "fire" and start, no matter how many times he yanked on the rope. The next time he saw Manus and asked him if he had been able to get the motor running, Manus' response was that not only did he get it started, he had to remove the wire from the spark plug "cause every time the door slammed (and jarred his back porch) the engine would start!"
Manus was also a talented artist who instead of a canvas used smooth boards and old paper to draw portraits – often full length – of friends, movie stars, and other well-known figures. It was not unusual to walk by a boat or wall he had been building and see a recognizable face that Manus had sketched with his "no 2" pencil while enjoying a break from his labor.
Late in his life, in the mid 1960s, he went to work for Julian Guthrie at the Hi-Tide Boatworks in Williston (less than ten miles north of the Island on US Hwy 70). Julian's crew at that time was made up entirely of his Harkers Island friends. These included my father, Charlie Hancock, Roosevelt Davis and “Danny Boy” Lewis. The latter was the son of Brady Lewis, the Island's most renowned boat-builder. Then there were the Guthrie boys, including Julian’s nephew, Will Guthrie, “Bonnie” Guthrie and his son, "Tuck", Graham Boyd “Graby” Guthrie, and Curvis Guthrie Sr. whom everyone called ”E.” All were accomplished boat-builders, but Manus was among those considered to be a "finished" carpenter who could do the fancy trim work that came after the boat had been framed and planked. When his work was done, the boat was ready for the water.
Like so many of his time and place, Manus went out of his way to avoid any kind of conflict or contention. He was humble in both personality and means, and after having faced the anxiety and uncertainty of war-time conflict, had no time at all for even the slightest of confrontations. I can say that with some certainty because I witnessed a stark example of his passivity first hand.
In the summer of 1967 Julian hired me, along with my brother, Telford, and E's son, Curvis, to help at the boathouse for the summer. One day it was my assignment to help Manus and Graby put the finishing coat of paint on the sides of a sixty-five foot "head boat". We were using an expensive brand of paint that was reserved for the final finish on boats just before they were launched and ready.
Standing on the typical staging of the time, a 2" X 12" wooden board laid between saw-horses, the three of us were hurrying to finish the job. In our haste, one of us (probably me) moved too abruptly and the staging fell, spilling us and the paint onto the saw dust flooring below. We knew we had done something real bad. The gallon of paint that we had wasted cost more than any of us, and maybe the three of us together, would have made for that day's work.
Graby and I instinctively scurried to clean up our mess, and hopefully hide the evidence of what we had done before it was discovered by Julian or anybody else. As we hastily brushed more and more saw dust and shavings over the remains of the spilled paint, Graby noticed that only the two of us were helping in the cleanup. In just a few minutes we had the scene looking as if nothing had ever happened, but before we could resume our work, we determined to find out where Manus had gone while we were "mopping up."
Just a few moments later Graby hollered for me to come look out the west'ard window towards the highway that was only thirty feet or so from the door to our shop. There was Manus standing by the road with his right hand held out and his thumb extended, trying hard to "bum a ride". He was weary of what might be said when Julian learned what had happened, and he was not going to wait around to see or hear it! Manus Fulcher was headed home to Harkers Island.
(From a motel room in Pigeon Forge, TN 19-Mar-2011)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

No. 12 You ain’t gonna ‘mount to nothin’

Most Islanders of my father’s generation had humble aspirations when it came to a career and profession. I guess that most of them assumed that they could and would make a living just like their ancestors had done for as long as anyone could remember. But in spite of what might have been seen as a lack of ambition in some circles removed from where they lived, there was a strong work ethic for many of them. This included doing all that was necessary to provide for your family without having to depend on others. No one epitomized this attitude more than my grandfather Charlie Hancock, called Ole’ Pa. His most frequent advice to his children and anyone else who would listen was that they should always be “doin’ something.” “That was,” he said, “the only way to make sure that you will ever amount to anything!”

My parents were married on the last day of December in 1927. Having got his “lawyer” Danky to forge my grandfather Dick’s signature on the consent form needed to marry someone who had just turned fifteen, Daddy decided to make sure no one had time to change anyone’s mind. He had approached his soon-to-be father-in-law about getting permission, but was told that Mama, just one month past her fifteenth birthday, was still too young to be married. But “Ole Pa Dick” consented by adding, “if that’s what she wants, and if you can find someone willing to sign my name, I won’t say nothing about it!”

So even though it was a Saturday he was able to get to Beaufort and back in time to arrange for a wedding. He had asked Mama to meet him at his father’s store on the main road at around 6:00 in the evening. Mama later explained that she had confided her plans to her mother, and that Grandma Bertha was not happy, but did not try to stop her. On her arrival at Ole Pa Charlie’s store, Daddy escorted his bride-to-be down the path and to the landing just to the east of his father’s home. There at the home of the Justice of the Peace, Mart Guthrie, he knocked on the door and, showing him the marriage license, explained to Mr. Guthrie what he had in mind. The magistrate expressed his willingness to perform the ceremony, but only after he had “finished his supper” that he had just started. Again, unwilling to accept any delays, Daddy offered an extra five dollars if Mr. Guthrie would interrupt his plans. The extra money did the trick and Mart’s wife Rebecca agreed to serve as the witness.

So it was that within just a few minutes of arriving at Hancock Landing, my father and mother were legally married and ready to set out on their life together. According to Daddy, they walked up the path to Ole Pa’s store and he bought her a soft drink (Coca Cola), before escorting her across the road to the home of his oldest sister, Louisa. She was called Ezzer by almost everyone, was recently widowed, and had three small children to raise on her own. Having always been like a mother to my father – his own mother had died when he was only four years old – she was willing and happy to have him bring his new wife to live with her and her children.

My parents would live with Ezzer for the next eight months while their own home was being built just to the east of where they had been staying. It was literally less than twenty feet from the facing windows of one home to the other. Both were on the “Hancock Land” that my grandfather had staked out when he arrived at the Island from the Banks three decades earlier. And Ezzer would remain as much a mother as a sister to my father for the rest of her life. Her children, Audrey, Inez and Creston (Sno’ball) would be much more than cousins to the ten children that eventually were born to my parents.

Charlie and Margarette spent their first night together just a few steps away from where they would be for the next seventy years. But awakening the next morning in the southeast bedroom they had little time to ponder or dream about what those years together might be like. Even though it was the first day of a new year, and a holiday for almost everyone else, they were awoken by the sound of someone rapping on their window almost exactly as the first sunrise of the new year broke though the twilight sky.

Pulling the shade and raising the window my father was startled to see his father, Ole Pa, standing outside with an anxious, even a hurried and frustrated expression on his face. “I can’t believe you are still in bed this time of day,” he exclaimed to my father as he peered through the opening in the glass. “You ain’t gonna ‘mount to nothin’ if you lay in bed this long!"

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

No. 11 "We didn't even get a chance to bat!"

With the onset of World War II life on Harkers Island began to change. One of those changes was the influx of soldiers and sailors assigned to Cape Lookout, and responsible for protecting this part of the North Carolina coast from the German U Boats. Eventually some of those military personnel found a permanent home on the Island as was evidenced by the new surnames that became a part of the Island demographic.

One of those sailors, whose name has now been lost, was noticed by local baseball players for a very special talent. This young visitor was a pitcher - but more than that, he was a pitcher who could throw the ball with either hand.
What a discovery? Here was a young man who could by himself take unlimited advantage of an age-old baseball strategy. Specifically, he could pitch right-handed to right-handed hitters, and, when necessary, could switch hands and throw with his left hand to the left-handers.

An early Marshallberg baseball team - photo taken from "The Mailboat," Spring 1991, Vol.2, No.1.
Eager to take advantage of their assumed good fortune, the Island team invited their rivals from Marshallberg to a challenge match with the intention of settling an old score. Marshallberg had been on a winning streak in recent years thanks to several young players who had shown a consistent talent for hitting the best pitchers the Island had to offer. So confident were the Islanders that they agreed to play the game at Smyrna, literally in Marshallberg’s back yard. Perhaps not suspecting that they were being set up for a ringer, the challenge was immediately accepted and the game was on.

The contest began with the Island team in the field, they being the “home team” for having offered the challenge in the first place. It thus worked out that the ambidextrous Island pitcher got to show his stuff at the very onset of the contest. Unfortunately for the Islanders and their many fans who had come to witness the game, it immediately became obvious that their intended hero indeed could pitch with both hands - he just could not pitch very well with either hand!

Batter after batter from Marshallberg stepped up to the plate and swatted the ball soundly into play as if they were taking batting practice. It was even said that several of the cattle, roaming a pasture that sat just beyond the right field fence, were injured by long-balls that disturbed their grazing.

By the time the third out had been made, and the Marshallbergers headed out to take the field, the Island boys had decided that discretion was the better part of valor. The first half of the inning had taken so long that the sun was already beginning to fall behind the tall pines that were to the west of the Smyrna School. Rather than take their turn at bat, they stole away to their cars and trucks that were waiting to take them home.

Seeing their foes run-off rather than continue the contest, some of the Marshallberg players and fans chased behind their fleeing opponents and heckled them with repeated chants of “we beat you, we beat you!”  Leaning out of the back window of one of the departing cars a Harkers Island player responded with the best retort  he could muster, “I wonder how you know, we didn’t even get a chance to bat!”

No. 10 "Has there been a blow or something?" The Storm of '33

As an insurance agent these past twenty years I have been keenly sensitive to the barrage of hurricanes that have pummeled this area since the last era of storms began with Hurricane Bertha in 1994. Because of the time and effort involved in reporting and responding to the claims that result, each one of them has a special niche carved into my memory.

My father who lived to be almost ninety-three years old experienced several periods of intense hurricane activity, and he too had stories to tell about what those storms meant to a waterman who supported his family with a boat tied to a mooring at the shore. But although he had memories of each of them, there was one storm that stood out far beyond all the rest. It occurred when he was still a young man, but married with three small children, and living in a new white frame house that was less than two hundred feet from the shores of Back Sound.

He sometimes called it the “Storm of ‘33", but more often he referred to it by the name of the downeast fisherman who lost his life in the storm, Jimmy Hamilton. Every blow, every nor’easter, every tropical storm and hurricane, was measured against the “Jimmy Hamilton Storm,” and always, in his mind, paled in comparison.

He would tell vivid stories of the howling winds that caused the walls of his house to shimmer; the rising tides that surrounded his father’s and his brother’s homes, and that reached his own back yard; the rapid ebbing of the water that he eventually learned was the result of an inlet (later called Barden’s Inlet) having broken through near the Cape Lookout Lighthouse.

But for some reason, at least to me, none of those stories resonated as much as the account of what he saw and heard when the winds finally died down, and the people of his neighborhood ventured out to see what had been wrought, and especially what had been left, by the monster storm. The humor, the irony, the serenity that is evidenced in that tale captures for me in one simple story much of what made life for the people of our Island so special (and so memorable.)

As told by my father, the winds began around sundown, and shortly after midnight abated enough that he took Mama and the children (Ralph, Ella Dee & June) across the path to the home of Cliff & Cottie (Carrie) Guthrie. Even though Cliff’s house was even closer to the shoreline, it was bigger and higher off the ground. When he got there he found that several other families had the same idea, and a group of over twenty gathered on the chairs, around the table, and on the floors of Cliff & Cottie’s living room. Soon thereafter the winds returned and for another three hours the storm-weary group looked, listened and worried.

Finally, just before morning, the winds died out and left an eery calm as the sun rose over Eastard Banks.  The new day shed its light on the damage left by what would prove to be the biggest storm for more than half a century. What they saw when they stepped out on the south-facing back porch of Cliff’s house was as follows; trees including mighty oaks, had been uprooted, boats had been torn from their moorings and were lodged in the brush and thickets near the shore; livestock from the Banks, including horses, cows, and sheep had been drowned as they were washed across the channel such that their carcasses dotted the shoreline; porch posts & planks, shingles, and siding that been blown or washed off homes were strewn in piles on almost every  sound-front yard.

Yet amid all of this, what my father and the others recalled the best, and told about most often, was what he observed standing on the back-door stoop of the home of Hinckley & Polly Guthrie. Their home was at the Landing, and between the shore and Cliff’s porch where the storm-weary group had gathered. Indeed, Hinckley and Polly were among those who had assembled next door. But left behind in their home had been “Tom C”, Polly’s aged father who had gone to bed as usual the night before and no one had heard from since.

As he stepped out on his porch that early “morning after,” of the greatest storm most of them would ever experience, he paused for a moment to observe the desolation that surrounded him, including a silver maple tree that had fallen at the very foot of his porch steps.

With his thin white hair gathered in the middle from a long night on a pillow, and wearing nothing but the faded burgundy union suit (longjohns) that had been his night clothes, “Tom C” rubbed his eyes to wipe-away the sleep, and make sure that he really was seeing what had at first appeared to him. Then looking to the north and the group of family and friends that were staring in his direction from across his back yard, he asked, “Has there been a blow or something?”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

No. 9 Ole Pa's House

Ole Pa, a photo taken by Aycock Brown in the
mid 1940s.
[Pictured above left: Ole Pa with five of his grandsons; my brothers Ralph and Bill standing to his right, and Creston (Sno’ Ball) Gaskill, my brother Tommy, and Louie Hallas Hancock on his left. Pictured above right: A photo of Ole Pa’s house taken just three years after his death and following Hurricane Donna in 1960.]

I was just five years old in 1957 when my grandfather, Charlie Hancock - called Ole Pa by his family, passed away. Just three months shy of his 88th birthday, he had been hospitalized only a few days in Morehead City where he succumbed. His body was brought back to the large living room of his house at the Landing, where the southwesters kept the rooms cool and the curtains fluttering, even in the heat of the late summer afternoon and evening. Even more than usual, the path beside our house that led to his was filled with people; mourners and well-wishers who promenaded up and down it to pay their homage to his memory and to comfort his family.

Not too long after his passing, his majestic home that he had built for his first wife, Agnes, and that overlooked Back Sound with an expansive view that stretched from the Cape Lookout Lighthouse to the mouth of the Beaufort Bar, with its large white pillars and squeaking stair steps, with its four upstairs bedrooms and a long kitchen that could seat a dozen or more people at the wooden table; that monument to an earlier time and place, Ole Pa's house, was left to time and the elements.
[Pictured above left: Ole Pa with five of his grandsons; my brothers Ralph and Bill
standing to his right, and Creston (Sno’ Ball) Gaskill, my brother Tommy, and
Louie Hallas Hancoc on his left. Pictured above right: 

In part it may have been inevitable. The rising waters of Back Sound soon began to encroach on the steps of the porch and wash out the sand from around the foundation. The wooden shingles of the roof were either blown off or rotted away. The bright white paint that had glistened off the cypress sheathing, especially when looking for home from the Banks, faded and then chipped away, until at last the big and stately white house became a crumbling gray shack.

Finally, and less than a decade after Ole Pa had laid in state in the carpeted and brightly-lit living room of what had been his very own castle, neighborhood boys, hiding away to conceal their mischief as they smoked the stogies they had found along the path or shore, apparently left one smoldering in a mattress that had been drug in from a trash heap. Within what seemed like just a few minutes, billowing smoke gave way to a raging fire at the Landing; and Ole Pa's house was gone forever.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

No. 8 "Prince" and the fudgesicles

Perhaps no story is more telling of the gentle nature of my “Uncle Calvin” than of his relationship with his dog, Prince. Late in his life, Calvin adopted a beagle and sooner mix named Prince, that had belonged to his nephew, “Peter” (Weldon Edward Willis). Peter was just then starting to work and go courting, so he found little time for his pet. Since most water work was done in the early evening or just before day break, Calvin, on the other hand, had plenty of daily time to shower attention on what became almost like his "only child."  Soon Prince could be seen everywhere Calvin went, sometimes even in his boat, and was almost always under his feet or around his legs. As time went on, Calvin and Prince would go to the neighborhood stores together. Thus it was that there evolved a routine wherein Calvin would buy a malted ice cream, called a "fudgesicle," and holding the stick in his hand, would feed it to Prince as his dog licked on the bar until it melted - literally in his mouth.

Prince grew to love fudgesicles so much that when Calvin was gone fishing, the dog would hang around the only places where his favorite treat had ever turned up - the neighborhood stores. Everyone knew why he was there, and they soon began to tell Calvin about how often his pet would come by the stores, alone, whenever Calvin was gone. Eventually there developed an agreement between Calvin and the storekeepers; namely Dallas and Dallas Daniel at Dallas's store, Norman at Norman's store, and Mart, Edith's husband, at Edith's store. The terms were as follows; if Prince came by the store and hung around as if waiting for his treat, the store clerk was to prepare a fudgesicle for Prince, and hold it out long enough for Prince to enjoy it. The store would keep a tally of how many fudgesicles they had provided, and every Friday evening, after the fishermen were paid for their weekly catch, Calvin would settle with them for any debts that Prince might have rung up during the preceding week. Thus it happened that Prince became known as the only dog on the Island to have a charge account of his own - and at three different stores.