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Thursday, May 19, 2011

No. 39 Louie Larson's unfinished story

My grandfather Charlie, eventually called Ole Pa by his children and grandchildren, arrived at the Island on Christmas day of 1900 with his wife, Agnes, and several children. He set up his family in a large two story house that was directly beside the home of his mother in-law. From that same spot he eventually laid claim to a swath of land that was several hundred feet wide and extended all the way from the south shore of the Island to the marshes of Oak Hammock on the Island's north side. He probably felt that he had reserved enough land to last his children and theirs for generations to come. By the time he passed away in the mid 1950s, it was obvious that he had been mistaken. He and his children, and then their children, used up the land faster than he could have envisioned.

My grandmother Agnes, whom everyone called Aggie, was worried less about the future than about finding a place to raise her own growing nest of small children. By then she already had three, and three more were soon to join them. Aggie’s real father had died before she celebrated her first birthday. Along with her sister, Lilly, who was two years older and blind, they had only the stories of their mother to remind them of the Norwegian sailor who had come to America as a stow-away on a ship from Europe. Despite the advances in genealogical records research of the last few decades, no more is known about the lineage of Louie Larson, my father’s maternal grandfather, than the small bits my great-grandmother related to my father when he was still a young boy.

His entire life is summed up in a few sentences that leave as much to the imagination as they tell about who he was, and what he might have become. Sometime before 1869 he arrived and made his way to Wilmington, NC, along with a Swedish friend, Charles Clawson, with whom he had crossed the Atlantic. The two immigrants had made friends with Eugene Yeomans, a fish-dealer from Harkers Island, who soon brought them home with him to meet his family. While here, Charles met and married a young girl from Beaufort and eventually had his own store that took his name, a name that still is used by a local restaurant that sits on the very spot where the old store once did business.

At about the same time, Louie met my great-grandmother, Emeline Brooks, a direct descendant of the Harker family from whom the Island takes its name. Married in 1869, they settled on a one acre plot on the northwest end of the Island, a spot that to this day is known as Harkers Point. Louie provided for his family by running a grist mill that ground the corn brought to him from local gardens and some of the farms on the mainland across Straits channel. But before he could establish enough of a presence to preserve a full picture of where and who he had come from, he was gone; the victim of any of a hundred diseases that were grouped together as “natural causes” in late 19th century post mortems.

It was said that he had named his daughters Lilly and Agnes after his mother and sister. But these names, like his, are almost certainly Anglicized, either by him or by his family after he was gone. Other than these morsels, all that remains of Louie is a gravestone with his own Anglicized name, the grindstone that had been used in his mill and that still serves as a yard ornament for the plots current owners, a small photograph kept by my great grandmother and passed to her children, and a short letter he sent to her from Wilmington before they finally were married and his move here made permanent.

It would be almost ten years later, in February of 1881, that Aggie’s mother, Emeline, would remarry to Calvin Farr Willis. From then on she and her girls were mainstays at the south shore homestead that would encompass those few acres that would be my childhood world, even though I was still seventy plus years from coming onto the scene. It was while living there that Aggie met and married my grandfather Charlie, who would later become Ole Pa ...

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