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Sunday, November 27, 2011

No. 89 Wades Shore Christmas Trees

“Wades Shore Christmas Trees”
(originally published in ©The Mailboat Christmas 1990)

Among the most happy and lasting memories of my youth are those of the brisk December afternoons when my father would take my brother Teff and me to Shackleford Banks in search of Christmas trees. We would head to Wade’s Shore, at the west end of the Banks, and the last place on Shackleford where cedars still could be found in abundance. Daddy had gotten the family’s Christmas tree from there since before any of us could remember and there was no reason to go somewhere else. In retrospect, a Wade’s Shore tree was pretty much a family tradition.

We would anchor our skiff far enough from the shore to make sure that the outgoing tide couldn’t leave us high and dry. Then Daddy would take me and Teff on his back, together at the same time, as he waded to dry land. Carrying only a big-toothed saw and a hatchet, he would lead us through the first row of the tree line into the thickest part of the woods. Once there it would take only a few minutes for Daddy to pick out what was going to decorate our living room for the next two weeks or more.

Just to make sure that Mama wouldn’t be disappointed with his selection, Daddy usually cut a couple of extra trees. The others could be shared with any of several families in our neighborhood after Mama had exercised her preference. We would haul the trees through the woods and over the sand hills back to the shore. Daddy then would take turns delivering the trees, and finallyTeff and me to the skiff of the trip back home.

Although fall northwesters blew squarely in our faces as we crossed Back Sound, the trip home seemed to last but a few minutes. Almost before we knew it we were back at our landing, running towards home, and inviting Mama to come to the shore and inspect our harvest.

Sometime that same evening our home would radiate with the smell of fresh cedar as Mama and my sisters began the trimming. My sister, Ella Dee, would make special concoction from Fab detergent that rendered a garnishing of “snow” to several of the higher branches. A few ceramic bulbs, two strings of lights, and a big star to adorn the top where all that were needed to finish off the highlight of our Holiday decorations.

By the time I was a teenager, in the late 1960s, our family had abandoned the practice of cutting trees at the Banks. We began to purchase fir trees from the Colonial grocery store in Beaufort like most of our neighbors. A couple of years later found us with a synthetic tree so void of fragrance that Mama had to buy aerosol cans of “evergreen” scent to try and recapture some of the holiday flavor that had been lost with the advent of our more modern Christmas observance.

But two decades later I still recall with a special fondness the pleasure and satisfaction of the Wade’s Shore trees that once were a part of every Christmas. My family now always has a “real” Christmas tree that smells much the same as the ones that we used to cut with Daddy’s saw. But even if the fragrance is the same, I still miss the other sensations that were a part of felling our very own tree. It was like many other aspects of life that take on a meaning beyond the tangible sum of its parts. It was the process itself as much as the results that made it special.

So it is that Christmas memories always will be more of doing and being than or getting any particular gift. That’s what makes them so special, the fact that they are suspended in time and cannot be bought or sold. I can buy a fir tree many times larger and much more shapely than the stunted cedars that Teff and I used to pull through the sand hills of Wade’s Shore. But none could every buy, or sell, the special place in our hearts reserved for this and the many other of our Christmas memories.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

No. 88 "You can ruin a trawl with that many shrimp!"

By the mid 1940s shrimp had become such a popular item that trawling for them was one of the primary ways for Island watermen to make a living. Usually they were plentiful in the Island Channel of Back Sound, but sometimes they thinned out so much that men like my daddy had to go looking for them. Now and then things would get so slow working in the sound that Daddy was obliged to take the “Ralph,” his thirty-five foot trawler, and head to the no’thard.

Shrimp Trawler headed to the No'thard on a Fall afternoon
One place where they were always plentiful was in Pamlico Sound, about thirty miles away. As far as I can remember, those trips were the only times my father was away from home for so long that he was not back in his own bed by the evening. Working out of Cedar Island, and sometimes as far north as Englehart, he might stay for several days at a time, selling his catch to the local dealers, and then heading on home --- usually an all-day trip.

Once, while roaming around off Portsmouth Island with my brothers Ralph and Tommy on board, Daddy decided to put out his trawl near the mouth of Ocracoke Inlet. He wanted to see if there might be some shrimp there in the deep channel between the sound and the ocean. Just a few minutes after beginning his drag he noticed that the lines to his net had begun to pull tight and run together. Assuming that his trawl or the boards had been snagged on something, maybe even an abandoned anchor, the turned off his engines and began to pull back to his rig and try to get it back on board the boat.

Much to his surprise and delight, as the trawl got closer he could see that it was filled to the brim with nothing but big green-tailed shrimp --- the kind that were easy to cull and that earned the biggest possible price at the dock. The net was so full in fact that he had to let down buckets into the mouth of the trawl to pull up some of his catch before he could even manage to get the rig back onto his stern.

While thus involved he hardly noticed as another boat from home, this one, the “Gannett” belonging to Milton O’Neal and his brother Luther, pulled up beside him. Few boats at that time had gears that allowed them to idle, much less go in reverse. So, short of stopping the motor and anchoring or floating free in the tide, the only alternative was to slow down as much as was possible, and to circle the spot you were checking out. This was how Milton O’Neal maneuvered his thirty foot trawler that morning, in a slow and tight circle around the Ralph, as he tried to learn what Daddy was doing. Specifically he wanted to know if there was enough of a "sign" to justify his letting out his own trawl for at least one drag.

Milton was, like my father, a "progger" who followed the schedule of the seasons to determine how and where to make money in the water. And, even more than most, he was not at all concerned with making any more than was necessary to support his family and his habits, and not always in that same order.

"Charlie, what ya got?" he hollered over the drone of his engine as got close enough to the stern that he could look at the evidence even as Daddy responded to his question.

"I'll tell ye Milton," Daddy responded, "I wouldn't be surprised that there ain't twenty bushels or more in there. It's about as much as I've ever tried to handle."

Milton was impressed with what he saw and heard, but not in the way that Daddy had assumed. Waving his arms, as if to dismiss the chance that he might try to join in the bounty, he turned and headed back to his wheelhouse to get on his way.

"I don't want none of that," he hollered as he straightened the rudder and headed to the south-west. He then added in a voice loud enough that everyone could hear him, "you can ruin a trawl with that many shrimp!"

The last Daddy saw of Milton that day was the Gannett's stern as it headed on to Cedar Island, where hopefully, there wouldn't be so many shrimp!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

No. 87 " ... a goat in the bed with me!"

What Daddy said he heard that morning was the succession of a clap of thunder, the shattering of glass, and the hollering of my Uncle Louie ...

After the passing of his wife, France (Rebecca Francis Guthrie b. 1895) in 1941, my Uncle Louie was left alone at home with his young son, Louie Hallas. His three older boys, Linwood, Guyon, and Norman by then were married and on their own. My uncle, called “Big Buddy” by us, was more than sixteen years older than my father, and their relationship was more like father to son than brother to brother. Since our houses were adjoining, and less than a hundred feet apart, it was almost as if the two families were one.

A 1935 Ford with a "rumble seat" in the back like the one
used to get and bring home the goats for the boys.
My older brothers Ralph, Tommy and Bill were close in age to Louie Hallas, and the four of them did almost everything together. Once, the four of them decided that they wanted a “billy goat” for a pet, and so their fathers conceded to buy a pair from a farmer in North River, at a place called “Thomases Turn,” near what is now East Carteret High School. Early one Spring morning  Daddy and Louie, along with Tommy and Bill who nestled together on the rumble seat in the rear set out to make the purchase. By dinner time they were all home, including two young goats that the boys held in their arms all the way back to the Island.

For a while, the whole neighborhood was excited and the goats were the focus of almost everyone’s attention. But after that brief period, as so often happens, the boys soon lost their interest. The much-desired pets became simply another part of the neighborhood menagerie that also included pigs, chickens, dogs, cats, and sometimes a horse (see post no. 60 “Harkers Island Cowboys”).

Because Uncle Louie always maintained a large garden, the goats passed most of their time there and amid a grove of fig and persimmon trees. They usually spent nights on his back porch, next to a hand-pump and a tin can full of water used to prime the pump when it was empty.

That’s where the goats were resting one summer morning when a pre-dawn thunderstorm ended with bolt of lightning and a loud clap of thunder. In less than a second, one of the goats bolted away from the light and noise, and directly through a window pane that was beside the bed where Big Buddy and his son were sleeping. The whole neighborhood was awakened by the clamor, including my father, who jumped from his own bed and hurried to see what had transpired.

He found Uncle Louie still in his underwear and standing on his back porch while trying to clean up the glass that was strewn almost everywhere. Before Daddy could even ask him what had happened, his older brother blurted out to tell him.

“I don’t really know other than I woke up and found a goat in the bed with me!” By the next weekend, both of the goats were gone.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

No. 86 "Pickin' Mule Hairs"

One of my older cousins was really into “rooster fighting;” not the “dances” that we had on the Island (see post no. 77, My Rooster that was “Chicken”), but the real ones that even then were illegal. Several times every summer he would borrow his father’s car and be gone for a day or more. Traveling to places as far away as western Virginia and central South Carolina, he would come back home with a set of stories that would entertain his friends for weeks to come. How he learned about these covert events in the days before modern mass communication remains a mystery.

One time, while headed to South Carolina late one evening, he had the misfortune of hitting a stray mule that had wandered onto the highway just outside of Whiteville.

He was not badly hurt, but the mule paid the ultimate price, and his father’s Plymouth was totally ruined. The car’s front end was smashed from the bumper to the steering wheel, and the mule itself crashed through the windshield.

The next day, my cousin was back at home, but with a story much different from the ones he usually related. And this time, for a long time after the accident, my cousin was constantly spitting, seemingly for no reason. Eventually, when asked why, he laid the blame directly on the car wreck as he explained, “It seems like all I’m ever doing is pickin' the mule hairs out of my teeth.”

Saturday, November 12, 2011

No. 85 "kickin' for clams"

My older brothers, by the time they were teenagers, had assumed responsibility for helping to support our family. Usually this involved working in the water beside Daddy, but sometimes they were on their own or just with each other. Especially Tommy and Bill, only two years apart, were most often together as they set nets, picked up oysters, dredged for scallops, or kicked for claims.

Set-netting and oystering were fairly routine and mundane. But dredging for bay scallops was something that many watermen dreaded. In and of itself it was not that hard; pulling a metal dredge behind the boat and then culling the catch on the stern. It was the conditions for doing it that could break your heart as well as chill you soul.

Scalloping was done in the dead of winter, and the cold water and high winds combined to make a “drudgery” out of “dredging.” Working in the open, on the aft of a boat, facing the wind, with the sea (waves) often breaking against the stern and splashing into your face, with hands aching from the cold and muscles aching from the strain; all this combined to cause one waterman to assert that “a scalloper was a fisherman with his brains knocked out.”
Tommy & Bill, not long after their venture to Banks Bay

Kicking for clams could be almost as strenuous, but since it required some clarity in the water, it was not so tied to “bad weather” as scalloping was considered to be. To set up for kicking, a stake or anchor was positioned on top of a shoal and lashed to the transom. The motor would then be revved-up to create a wash that “kicked-out” the clams from beneath the surface. Once the propulsions had stopped and the water cleared, you could see and then scoop up the clams. When the process worked it was much less tedious than pulling a hand rake along the bottom all day long for a very similar harvest.

One clear and calm February morning, Tommy and Bill started out in my father’s seventeen foot long open boat called “The Waterspout.” They headed towards Banks Bay off of Diamond City on the Banks. They planned to kick enough claims to help Mama buy groceries that Saturday. As told by Tommy, they skipped school since it was rare to have such a nice day in mid-Winter, and could not be sure when they might get another chance.

Tommy, who was the older of the two, took charge of running the engine and once they were there, setting the stake and lashing the boat. By the time they got to the Bay the wind had breezed up – sudden changes in conditions being one of the hazards of winter fishing. According to Tommy, Bill was less enthusiastic than he had been about the whole venture, and when it started blowing Bill found shelter under the bow of the boat where he was protected from the chilly breeze.

As the engine started-up and began to roar everything seemed normal at first. But after just a few minutes and a loud clang from the motor the roaring stopped and within a moment silence settled on the boat, the crew, and the water that surrounded them.

Tommy was the “mechanic” and so he immediately began trying to determine what had happened. Taking the lid off the engine box he couldn’t see a problem, so he next removed the whole wooden frame from around the motor for a more thorough inspection. While Bill looked on from his perch under the bow, Tommy bent over from on his knees to see under the block of the engine. What he found was that a piston rod had broken through, effectively rendering the motor as a total loss. As he returned erect, with exasperation showing in both his expression and his movements, Bill spoke up to find out what was going on.

“What is it?” he asked as Tommy went about pulling the boat back to the stake to unlash it. “What’s the matter with the engine?”

“It’s throwed a rod,” Tommy responded curtly and then continued about the business at hand.

Unaware or uncertain of the exact meaning of what his brother had announced, Bill continued his question by demanding, “Just what does that mean?”

“I’ll tell you what it means,” Tommy said with more than a little frustration. “It means that if you get home today, you’re gonna have to shove!”

Friday, November 11, 2011

No. 84 "Mike, Brent, Manley, Sno'ball & me"

“A dragon lives forever, but no so little boys.” Puff the Magic Dragon

“Do I go back in now?” Mike asked more as a plea than as a question?

My youngest son was playing on a pee-wee basketball team and his coach, my cousin Manley [Gaskill], had ushered the little boys in and out of the game on a regular basis to give everyone an equal chance to play. Keeping track of the coming and going of a dozen or more six-year old boys can be hectic at best; and sometimes very frustrating. Some of that frustration was evidenced in Manley’s response to Mike.

James (Dixon), Mike, Joel, & Brent

“Listen, Mike,” he responded, “you’ve played a whole quarter already, and everybody wants a chance to play.”

Manley was like a second father to my son, his being the same age as Manley’s son Brent, and living close beside him. The boys were together so often that both Manley and I were as comfortable and familiar with one as we were with the other. So Mike took no exception to the direct response that his question brought. Still, it was obvious to his coach that Mike was unhappy with the response, even if not the tone.

He was right. Unwilling to give up on his hope to get back on the playing floor, Mike replied almost as directly as he had been answered.

“I know they do, but they don’t want to play as much as I do!”

Taken aback just a little by how Mike had persisted, Manley stood still for a moment as if considering just how to proceed now that his decision had been openly questioned. Then, only a few seconds later, the wisdom of his years combined with the feelings of having himself once been a young boy who loved to play ball more than almost any of his friends; that wisdom was evidenced in a response that was as reasoned as it was resounding.

“You’re right.” he relented, “You go on back in there and play your heart out.”

Manley, "Brother" (Walter Gaskill),
Anthony (Davis) & me in the front
yard waiting for Sno' ball to get home
Manley was technically my first cousin, once removed. His father, Sno’ball [Creston Gaskill] was my first cousin. But Sno’ball was older than my oldest brother, and thus was of a “whole ‘nother generation” than Manley and me. Manley lived next door, with literally less than twenty feet between our bedroom windows, and just five months my younger, so he and I came of age together and at the same time.

And together, we measured the steps in that process almost entirely in terms of ball; football, basketball, and especially baseball.  Sno’ball had loved those same games as much as we did, and because of that we had a mentor who was with us all along the way; from rolling a rubber ball in the grass, to suiting up for high school teams that represented our school and community.

As we matured Manley and I developed a routine of playing ball in the front yard every afternoon, especially as supper time grew closer. Actually, it was not unusual for us to play all day long. But we were sensitive to the hour when Manley’s father would be getting home from work. We knew that he would never venture to walk past us without stopping for at least a while to engage in whatever the game of that day happened to be.

Then, every evening after supper, he would come out again to hit us grounders, throw us passes, rebound our jump shots, or catch our best fast balls. Through it all he was telling us stories about the games he had played and the players he had watched or known. Those late afternoons were as much skull-sessions as practice. He made sure we knew how to think and talk about the games he loved as much as how to the field a grounder or run a pass pattern.
Son'ball (Creston) Gaskill just back from World War II

Later on, he would be our coach on the first “little league” baseball team ever assembled on the Island (See post no. 52 “A League of our Own.”) Beyond that, he would continue his mentoring as we left the practice field and got back home. It was not unusual to get there just to start playing again, and to keep playing ball until darkness made us stop.

Even after Manley and I had grown into high school sports, Sno’ball was always there. He was careful not to interfere with our coaches while we were in their care, but both the coming and going to practices and games included extended conversations about what we had learned, or still needed to know. He loved us and he loved our games, a he was never tired of talking with one or about the other.

As Manley and I grew older, especially after we had boys of our own, we better appreciated the stories and even the lectures that had been part of Sno’ball’s tutoring. That “feel” for the game, and especially for those who played it, was what came out a generation later as Manley contemplated on how to respond to my son’s asking that he be put back in the game as soon as possible; even when it was not “his turn.”

Mike and Brent 
Having been a young boy who loved the game with that much intensity, or even more, and understanding that not every boy on the team had that same passion for playing, Manley decided that treating them all equally was not necessarily treating them all fairly. On the spur of the moment, he chose to nurture desire even if at the expense of treating all his charges exactly the same.

Seeing some of himself in the pleading of his second cousin to get back on the floor as soon as possible, Manley proceeded to reply in the way he thought, even if unconsciously, his own father would have responded.

“You go on back in there and play your heart out,” he repeated. “And when we get back home, remind me to explain something to you about …

Thursday, November 10, 2011

No. 83 “Oh, it was a blowing ..."

Fall nor’easters signaled several things for the fishermen of the Island. Among them was that it was time to for “set nets,” on the north shore of the Banks. Wooden stakes, usually young gum trees cut somewhere in the woods of Straits were positioned every twenty feet or so, and a large mesh net was lashed to them along a line of one hundred yards or more. At the end there was a “bow” or hook that eventually pointed back to the shore.

The strong north winds of Autumn would cause schools of spots, trout and bluefish to move steadily along the tideline. Once they approached the net they would head offshore until they reached the bow. There, feeling themselves trapped, they would hit the net and “marsh” where they would remain ensnared until the fisherman returned to “fish the net.”

The same strong wind that caused the fish to school could make it really hard to negotiate the channel and work the nets. So it was when Weldon Edward [Willis], often called “Mr. Big” or just “Peter,” headed out one late October afternoon to work his group of “set nets” that were placed off of Banks Bay.

The especially strong northeast gusts turned what could have been a one hour job into a four hour ordeal. By the time he had finished, the sun had set and it was pitch dark as he approached his mooring on the Island’s south shore.

The next day, a friend asked him how the wind had been the evening before as he fished his nets.  “Oh, it was a blowing,” he responded, and then continued, “ it was blowing so hard that I had to shine my spotlight at a 45 degree angle to see the dock!”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

No. 82 Shrimp Trawling, North River, & the Politics of DST

Trawling for shrimp was something done by almost every Islander who had a boat. Even if he had a full-time “day job,” he usually had a small trawl that could be pulled for an hour after sunset to catch enough shrimp to eat or to supplement his income.

There are two channels that lie between the Island and the Banks. The main one, the “Island Channel,”  runs the entire length of Back Sound from Middle Marsh to the Inlet. Another much deeper and shorter one is closer to the Banks and is called the “Gull Island Channel.” It runs from “Botta Rum Bay” in the west to off against Bells Island at the east. From May to September, depending on the wind and tide, everything from skiffs with outboard motors to large trawlers could be seen and heard in either channel from sundown to sunrise on any day but Sunday.

That schedule was interrupted briefly each summer when the North River channel, about five miles north of Rush Point on the Island's east end, was opened for shrimping. It was close to a spawning ground and was usually full of shrimp. Full that is until it was besieged with a fleet of upwards of fifty boats when it was opened for the season. Within just a few hours, it would be swept clean and the shrimpers, mostly from the Island, would return back home to and their normal routines and venues.

To regulate this annual ritual, the state fisheries department allowed that trawls could not be used in North River until 6:00 AM on the date set for its opening. For most of the sixties, that date was July 4, Independence Day, and a day on which even the part-time shrimpers would have a day off to take advantage of the event.

Long before sunup on that morning a parade of red and green running lights could be seen headed down the Island Channel towards Rush Point where they would turn to the “no'thard” and a maze of narrow channels that led to the mouth of North River. Since they were negotiating their way trough a veritable obstacle course of shoals and oyster rocks at night, the line of boats was often a convoy led by a designated captain who was familiar with the route. Once there, they would gather in a make-shift circle and turn off their engines to await sunup and the sound of a whistle blown by the state officials who would supervise and patrol the exercise.

When the whistle sounded, the engines would start up almost in unison and the silent waterway would become a din of combustion, and the air would be filled with the fumes of both gas and diesel motors that were igniting together. The first drag, usually about an hour, would be the most bountiful by far; often bringing in more than an hundred pounds of the gray-brown critters that are on many people's lists of favorite seafood. Each subsequent haul would yield no more than half of the one before it, and by mid morning most of the boats would be headed back in the same direction they had come from.

But there was one obstinate fisherman who refused to harken to the starting whistle in spite of the fact that he was missing out on most of the very harvest he had come to get. And, hard as it may be to fathom, his stubbornness was based solely on his antipathy for “anything having to do with the Democrat party.”  Long before, in the days of Al Smith and FDR, he had come to detest everything that had to do with the Democrats, and he swore never to do anything that would even suggest support for either their candidates or their programs. Among them he included the “daylight savings time” that had been instituted during World War II, supposedly as an energy savings measure. But because it was done at the urging of FDR, to this Island shrimper it was just another “Democrat mistake.”

Since the whistle that sounded the opening of North River for shrimping was set to blow at 6:00 AM “DST,” as far as he was concerned, responding to the signal would show his acceptance of the program that by then had been in practice for more than two decades. Standing on the stern of his boat, his arms folded in front of him as a show off his firm resolution, he watched as every other boat headed out into the channel to drop their trawls and begin the morning's work.

“What's the matter,” my Daddy hollered as we passed within just a few feet of the old man's boat, and close enough to be heard over the screaming engines. “What ya waiting for? Do you need any help?"

“Go on,” he responded, proud to show off his zeal and his determination. “I ain't gonna do nothing on that d*** Democrat time!”

Monday, November 7, 2011

No. 81 "I woulda sent ya some money," or "Where have all the scallops gone?"

When the off-shore sea scallops all but disappeared after having been over harvested for most the decade of the sixties, some fishermen followed their trail down to the east coast of Florida. New and even larger beds of the large calico scallops were found there at almost the very time that the local ones were depleted.

Going that far away, even to make a living, defied the widely held assumption that a Harkers Island fishermen refused to work anywhere that he could no sleep in his own bed every evening. Their brothers from Lennoxville and up Core Sound might spend days or even weeks away from home, but it was assumed that an Island fisherman would cut loose his net or trawl in order to get home before midnight.

But the lure of the large paychecks being reported by those who were working the new found beds off Florida proved too much an enticement for some, especially after the boom times of the previous decade had made them accustomed to the bigger incomes. Eventually more than a dozen boats with crews and captains from the Island were gathered in the Florida harbors. Most of them eventually came back, some very early due to homesickness, and some after they learned that the more money was being eaten up by the added cost of living away from home. And some because the free-wheeling lifestyle they lived away from their homes and family eventually stole most of their money even before they could use it.

But there was one Island fisherman who grew so comfortable in his new environment that he eventually decided that he would stay there forever. A major problem for him was that he had left behind a wife and family that was still counting on him for support. And unlike him, they were none so willing to pull up stakes and head south for forever.

As that relationship deteriorated, the fishermen began to make excuses; first for not coming home and later for not sending the money that had been expected. Still he could not bring himself to confront the issue of his life decision directly. Instead he gave ever more bizarre reasons for his behavior.

Finally, he attempted to bring the matter to a close by sending a letter that would explain everything and allow him to turn his attention entirely to the new life he had chosen. After telling his wife that it was his intention to stay in Florida forever, and never come back to the Island, he closed his letter with a final exclamation.

“I woulda sent you some money, but I'd already closed up the envelope. And, don't write me no more 'cause I am dead!”

Saturday, November 5, 2011

No. 80 "I didn't have a dime in my pocket, so I ..."

There were several auto mechanics on the Island, some of the very good; Johnny “Boo” (Willis), “Blacky” (Louie Caffrey Willis), and Thomas Lee (Willis) to name just a few. But there was just one garage and full service station, and that was what we called R' J.'s.

R. J. Chadwick's little shop and store, just a stone's throw to the west of the intersection of the main highway and Ferry Dock Road, was the one place that had service bays, a hydraulic lift, a tire machine, and basic repair parts on hand. It was right smack dab in the middle of the Island and it was where owners who could afford it, or didn't trust themselves to do the job, took their cars to get serviced, repaired, or just “worked-on.”

The number of vehicles on the Island mushroomed in the boom years that followed the end of World War II. There were “filling stations” at several points from Tommie Lewis's store at the east'ard to Claude's store at the west'ard. But gas, and maybe a quart of oil or a gallon of anti-freeze, was about all they had to offer in terms of service. R. J. and his parade of mechanics or helpers could do anything from changing a set of spark plugs to overhauling an engine. It was while doing the former that something occurred that has remained a part of the folklore of the Island ever since.

R. J. reserved most of the difficult jobs for himself, but he usually relegated the more routine stuff to one of the several helpers that he employed over the years. One of those was a veteran of the war who had met and married a local girl and then made the Island his home; quite possibly because that had been part of the “pre-nuptial agreement” that almost all Island natives make with their future spouses.[Just ask my wife Susan.]

The helper-mechanic had worked in an army motor-pool while on active duty, and he appeared to have had ample experience at all the standard service jobs. Such was the case when a local driver bought in his late-model sedan for a tune up. The car was driven around back, to the main service bay, and in short order the oil was changed, brakes were adjusted, and a new set of spark plugs was installed. But when the car's owner started it up to drive away, the engine was “missing” so badly that he was unable and unwilling take his car out on the road.

R. J. himself decided to check out the situation to find out what was causing the problem. After more than an hour of troubleshooting everything from the carburetor to the vacuum pumps he finally was able to pinpoint the issue as coming from the new set of spark plugs that had just been installed. Pulling them out one at a time, he found that each of them had an improper gauge; the miniscule distance between the tip and the base of the plug. When he asked his mechanic how such a mistake had happened, the young worker seemed a little dumbfounded himself. He had followed the standard procedure for setting the plugs; specifically he had used a dime, a standard 10¢ piece, as the template for measuring the proper spacing.

It was only after extensive questioning that the new mechanic volunteered that he had not adhered exactly to what was the accepted norm for measuring the gauge. “I knew you were supposed to use a dime to set the thing,” he admitted, “but I didn't have a dime in my pocket, so I used two nickels.”

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Posts so far (3 Nov 2011) No. 1 - No. 79

Posts so far (3 Nov) No. 1 - No. 79

No. 1 "You'll freeze to death this winter!" (Telford Willis)
No. 2 "Have you ever been to Chicago?" (Charlie Claude Jones)
No. 3 "A mattress made of seaweed (Tom Styron)
No. 4 “Billy Hancock ‘soaks’ Sam Windsor” (c. 1870)
No. 5 "That ball was high!" (Creston “Sno’ Ball” Gaskill)
No. 6 "The closest I ever come to having a job." (Louie Hancock)
No. 7 "... if you wait until tomorrow morning, most of 'em will be gone!"
No. 8 "Prince" and the fudgesicles" (Calvin Willis)
No. 9 Ole Pa's House
No. 10 "Has there been a blow or something?" The Storm of '33
No. 11 "We didn't even get a chance to bat!" (Charlie Claude Jones)
No. 12 You ain’t gonna ‘mount to nothin’ (Charlie “Ole Pa” Hancock)
No. 13 Manus Fulcher was headed home ...
No. 14 "The sweetest sound in the whole world"
No. 15 Danny Boy Lewis, "I know twice as much as my father!"
No. 16 "... I want one so bad, I’ll take a pack of them.”
No. 17 "Mullet fishing, an old man, and World War I" (Luther Willis)
No. 18 The "Booze Yacht," a journey, and the "sweetest fumes I ever smelled."
No. 19 "Bittersweet Memories of Grade School on the Island"
No. 20 "Miss Ollie & Dr. Moore"
No. 21 "... as much as anybody else in this graveyard!"
No. 22 "What about that oak tree over there ..." (Ed Russell)
No. 23 Some unforgettable lines that may someday be forgotten ...
No. 24 The Boats that lined the Shoreline
No. 25 Horsepenning
No. 26 “All I wanted was a chance.”
No. 27 The Silver Maples are Turning (Ralph Hancock)
No. 28 “... we ain’t gonna get nowhere if you keep stopping ...” (Donald Guthrie)
No. 29 "It just weren't meant ... to see no mountains!" (Tommy Hancock)
No. 30 How Sea Scallops changed the shoreline forever
No. 31 ... disappointed at her proofs ...
No. 32 “Just look at you crowd ...” (Mary Willis)
No. 33 “They grew so fast ... they were keeping me awake at night.” (Louie Hancock)
No. 34 “Why don’t you fly somewhere before somebody shoots you?” (Cletus Rose)
No. 35 Barbershop Lessons
No. 36 Loke & Lemmis — stewed loon & tied-up chickens
No. 37 Dallas Rose "... in two hours we'll be headed out again."
No. 38 More than just a store!
No. 39 Louie Larson's unfinished story
No. 40 "Dack" and the Eggman
No. 41 "Are you now or have you ever been ...?"
No. 42 "... Wouldn't that be an unsafe movement?"
No. 43 "Somebody might see us!" Joel Hancock, Jr.
No. 44 The Dredge Boat Captain from Lennoxville who was my Grandfather
No. 45  "... something that no true waterman could do without - a skiff."
No. 46  “Lying Willie”
No. 47  Annis & Mississippi
No. 49 The Day They Started Tearing the Old House Down - Lillian Hancock Michels
No. 50 Joel Jr: "The Day I Saw Mike on the Roof"
No. 51 "I love you just as much as I love Tommy!"
No. 52 A League of Our Own (with apologies to Cindy Marshall, Tom Hanks & Gina Davis)
No. 53 A Winner’s Cup and a Loser’s Lament
No. 54 "... do you wanna cut the grass, or do you want ..."
No. 55 "The Wild Chicken"
No. 56 Thoughts On My Island Home (Joel G. Hancock, Jr.)
No. 57 (Part 1) Neighborhoods, Families, Homes & People
No. 58 (Part 2) Neighborhoods, Families, Homes & People
No. 59 (Part 3) Neighborhoods, Families, Homes & People
No. 60 Harkers Island “Cowboys” - Mike, Bill & their horses
No. 61 The "Tiny World' of Cecil Nelson
No. 62 An Island that was part of the World
No. 63 To my dear friend, Libby Jean
No. 64 Aunt Gracie's scrambled eggs
No. 65 "I've got two lists ...," My brother Mike's fishing boats
No. 66 My daddy’s very personal “GPS”
No. 67 Video of Hurricane Hazel on Harkers Island as recorded by Vernon Guthrie
No. 68 A long ago visit to the Cape
No. 69 Remarks at "A Taste of Core Sound" event on Harkers Island, 25 August 2011
No. 70 The Island “Showhouse”
No. 71 Some things are even worse than a heart attack!
No. 72 Ridin' the School Bus
No. 73 "Blind Lilly"
No. 74 “Standing on top of a Whale”
No. 75 Dr. James A. Morris, Jr., Presidential Award Winner
No. 76 "The Seasons of My Youth" by Ralph Louis Hancock, born 17 Oct 1928
No. 77 My Rooster that was a "Chicken"
No. 78 Workin’ the Wayz (or, gettin’ a boat out of the water)
No. 79 Cliff's mama at the fence