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Friday, December 27, 2013

No. 122 Making Christmas Traditions

Making Christmas Traditions
Joel Hancock

The Mailboat Christmas (1991)

Christmas Eve has always been the biggest day of the year for my parents. All of their children, with their families, would gather at Mama and Daddy's for the big Christmas party and to retell the story of the Nativity. When I was younger, the brothers and sisters, there are ten of us, would exchange our gifts, but as we grew older and the crowd grew larger, that became impractical. So eventually we just enjoyed each other's company for a while before watching Mama and Daddy as they opened the presents they had received from their ever expanding number of progeny.
Our house in Sheldon's Woods during the Christmas
snow of 1991

Eventually the group grew so large that neither my parent's home, nor any of their children's, could accommodate us all. With spouses and children, our group has surpassed one hundred persons. So for the last several years we had met at the Rescue Squad Building or at the Church. Then the great Christmas snow storm of 1989 caused us to miss our "night before Christmas" for the first time since my parents started their family. Though it was still enjoyable to be with everyone two days later than usual, one of my sisters observed that a party held four weeks early seems to have more of the Christmas spirit than one held a single day afterward.

Then again last year, my niece had a baby just a few days before Christmas and we decided to wait until she was able to come home with her "Christmas present" to have our party. (Susan and I could sympathize with how she felt, having had three of our children born in December, and another in late November.) Again, the gathering was fun, but something was missed in waiting until after the traditional time.

But if something was lost, something also was gained. After meeting together with my parents' family it would usually be 10:00 pm or later before we could all disperse back to our several homes. Only then could we gather in our own smaller families for a final portion of that day's Christmas spirit. That was too late to do much more than say "goodnight" to our smaller children.  But these past two years I have enjoyed being at home for the entire evening with just my wife and our six children, and starting our own Christmas tradition.

For just after sundown, Michael, our youngest, began to ask how much longer before we could begin to open presents. He asked the same question at least fifty more times before we finally satisfied his impatience. But before we did, we gathered around the dinner table for a candle lit Christmas Eve dinner. With beautiful music playing in the background, each of us took turns in giving thanks for the blessings we enjoyed, the most special of which was the birth of the Savior. Thankfully, not very far down each one's list was their appreciation for being a part of our family, and for the love and happiness we share in our little home.
A few months later after after Spring had brought back the green. 

After dinner we went into the living room, around the tree, and shared in reading the Christmas story from the scriptures. Finally, before going to bed, each of the kids was allowed to open some of the presents that had enticed them for a week or more under the Christmas tree. Then began the long process of trying to get six children asleep in time to allow Santa to position what they all had been awaiting since even before Thanksgiving.

As we watched them sleeping on Christmas Eve I was reminded of what my mother has told me repeatedly in the past several years; "You're eating your white bread now, and you'd better enjoy it!" She is trying to impress upon me that NOW is the best part of my life. I suppose she is right. The kids are all still at home, and even though the two oldest are in High School, I'd like to think that our family remains the center of their life, if not of their expectations. Others warn us that everything will get much more complicated once the children begin to fashion lives beyond the confines of our little world.

I'll worry about that when I have to. As for now I am content to enjoy the gifts I have been given. And as I do I will have a better understanding of why my parents are so insistent that Christmas is not the same without their children close by on Christmas Eve. After just two years of being alone with mine, I can appreciate how the tradition became what it is. Under- standably, I enjoy those things that remind me of Christmas past and how it used to be. But at the same time I recognize that what happens here and now can become equally as special in our hearts and minds. As early as next winter, this year's Christmas will be just such a memory, and part of a tradition.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

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

Originally posted March 3, 2011

As an insurance agent these past twenty-two 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, Cliff 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?”
Posted by The Education of an Island Boy at 5:37 AM

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Friday, November 22, 2013

No. 9 Ole Pa's House

Originally posted Wednesday, March 2, 2011

[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.

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.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

No. 8 "Prince" and the fudgesicles

Orignally posted Monday, February 28, 2011

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.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

No. 7 "... if you wait until tomorrow morning, most of 'em will be gone!"

(originally posted 27 Feb 2011)
This is another of the classic "Charlie Claude" stories, as related by him to my brother Mike and me one evening while we were clearing fish at Clayton Fulcher's fish house.
"The Seven Brothers," Mike's trawler, sitting at Clayton
Fulcher's Fishouse on Harkers Island
Beginning each spring at and around Easter, and speeding up rapidly after Memorial Day, the population of the Island can sometimes double on weekends and holidays. The infusion begins at mid-day on Friday, reaches its peak from Saturday to Sunday afternoon, and then all but disappears between Sunday evening and Monday morning. 
Most of the visitors here expect and appreciate the low-keyed and sometimes even “slow motion” way of life that native Islanders maintain. But for some of them, especially when lines are slow and the temperatures are high, the slower pace of the natives can be frustrating and even annoying.
Such was the case one hot August Sunday afternoon at the checkout counter of Cab’s (The East’ard Variety Store). Most likely having been delayed at the marina, in the gas line, and then while waiting to check out, one exasperated visitor shouted loud enough for everyone to hear, “There are the most ignorant people on this Island that I have ever seen at one place and at one time!”
Just a few steps away, leaning against a drink cooler, Charlie Claude (Jones) both saw and heard the weary and impatient visitor to the little Island that had been his lifelong home. In a feigned effort to calm the irritated vacationer, Charlie slowly approached him with the consoling assertion, “You know you are probably right. But if you wait until tomorrow morning, almost all of ‘em will be gone!”
Sunday, February 27, 2011

Monday, November 4, 2013

No. 6 "The closest I ever come to having a job."

No. 6 "The closest I ever come to having a job."

(Originally posted 27 Feb 2011)

Late in the summer of 1976 I returned home to Harkers Island with my wife and my little girl (Emily). I had spent the previous six years in Greenville at ECU, in graduate school, and teaching and coaching at J. H. Rose High School. Coming home meant more than finding a place to stay. Even more importantly it meant finding a place to work. We were welcomed to live with Mama and Daddy until we could arrange to get our mobile home moved from Greenville to the lot we bought from my Uncle Earl here on Lewis Street, and on which we have remained ever since. But finding a job was not quite so simple.

Every morning I would head into town and check out leads I had read or heard about. Days turned into weeks and I was getting a little discouraged as the pittance I was making mowing lawns and clamming (both Susan and I) was not nearly enough to keep us going. It was in that mood that I returned home one afternoon to find my father and my Uncle Louie working together in our back yard. The two were hanging a shot of mullet net they planned to use a  few weeks later when "big roe mullet" season began. As usual, I reported to Daddy about how the day had gone. Listening to our conversation, Uncle Louie interrupted to say, "Let me tell you about the time I went to Ocracoke to work on the dock."

My uncle was already eighty years old, seventeen years older than my father, and daddy deferred to him as if he were his own father. In keeping with that, our conversation immediately gave way to his story. It went as follows:

Louie Hancock, called "Big Buddy"  by my father and most of his family

"During World War II we got word that the Army was building a dock at Ocracoke, and that they were paying a dollar an hour to anybody who would work on it. So I got in my boat one Sunday morning and headed up Core Sound and into Pamlico Sound to get there before the sun went down.[The trip was at least sixty nautical miles, and his boat was powered by a five horsepower air-cooled engine. It would have been a trip of at least eight hours.]

"When I got there, they had already started building the dock, so I tied up to it and tried to climb off the gunwale of my boat onto one of the piers that was already finished. Well, as I was doing that my leg hit a nail that was left sticking out the side of one of the pilings, and started to bleed real bad.

"Well, seeing that, I decided that the best thing I could do was get back in my boat and head back home. That's just what I did and I got back at the Landing about 4:00 the next morning."

With that he had finished his tale and went back to his needle and twine and attaching corks to the line on my father's mullet net. A little confused as to the intent of what I had just heard, I asked him, "Big Buddy, that was nice, but what was the point of that story?"

"Oh," he said, shaking his head as he realized that he may have lost his train of thought as he told his tale. "I just wanted you to know that was the closest I ever come to having a job." He wasn't just joking. He was telling the truth! He had lived his whole life and supported a family of five children without ever having worked a single day for someone other than himself. His was the life of a "Back Sound Progger" who went after fish, shellfish, or shrimp, depending on the season, in his own little boat or as part of his own father's crew. Indeed, he was never wealthy in financial terms, but neither did he appear impoverished in any way. In fact, he could always pull out a few "bills" of different denominations from the crumpled wallet he carried in his back hip pocket. And, when showing those "bills" he always held his wallet up to just below his nose, so as to hide the rest of the contents from anyone who might be looking too closely.

So it was that my Uncle Louie taught me a lesson that I have never forgotten on a fall afternoon when I was looking for a job but found something that has served me even longer; an understanding that a job is not a life --- it's just one of many ways to make a living.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

No. 5 "That ball was high!" Originally posted 23 Feb 2011

My cousin, Creston Gaskill, called “Sno’Ball” by almost everyone, loved to tell a story of a memorable game of baseball played between Harkers Island and it’s sister community of Salter Path. I call Salter Path a “sister” to Harkers Island because like the Island, it was settled mostly by families who migrated from Shackleford Banks after the great Hurricane of 1899. Even as late as the mid-point of the last century the two villages shared not just their history and family surnames, but also a taste for stewed loon, a knack for catching jumping-mullets, and an absolute hysteria for the game of baseball.

Moe is second from left-front row. Sno' Ball is third from right-back row.
Given their mutual love for the sport, it was little wonder that ball games played between the two were always a family squabble, and sometimes, to borrow a phrase from Ty Cobb, “something like a war.” This was never more so than on a late summer afternoon, sometime in the late 40's when the two teams met on the sandy field of Salter Path. The game was tight until the very end, and came down literally to the very last pitch — even if it wasn’t a pitch.

As related by Sno’Ball, who was catching for the Island team, the Islanders held a one run lead going into the last half of the ninth inning. But even after giving up two outs, the home squad was able to load the bases and put the tying run within just ninety feet of home plate. The Salter Path batter then worked the count full so that everything, yes “everything,” would came down to one last throw to the plate.

By this time, the sun had begun to set behind the sprawling oak trees that bordered the first base line of the ball park, and the late summer shadows had already extended onto the field and beyond the pitchers mound and home plate. Realizing that the game, and the pride of both communities hung in the balance, Moe Willis, the pitcher, called his catcher out to the mound for a conference.

Moe was young and strong, and was one of the best pitchers ever to play for the Island team, but by that time he was spent, and realized his best stuff might not be enough to close the matter out in the way his family and friends hoped and expected. No one is sure exactly how or when he came up with the idea, but when the catcher joined him to discuss what the last pitch might be, the pitcher suggested that they just “fake it” and go on home!

“What do you mean,” Sno’Ball  inquired, “how can you just fake it?”

“Easy,” the tired but ingenious young Islander responded. “It’s getting so dark, and everyone is so excited, I’ll just wind up and pretend to throw, while keeping the ball in my glove. You (the catcher) set-up your target right in the middle of the strike zone, and just pop your mitt really hard. If we act it out good enough, the umpire will never know the difference. Since he’s the only one that matters, we’ll just go on home and chalk this one up as a win!”

So, that’s exactly what they did. After a long, long glare at the plate (to allow the sun to dip a little lower), Moe Willis curled into a full windup and let loose toward home with all his might, but without a baseball. In less than a second, Sno’Ball banged his right fist into his closed mitt with a mighty thud and the umpire (who was said to be from Morehead) jerked his right hand into the air and screamed “strike three!”

Pandemonium immediately broke out on the field and especially in the bleachers and among the crowds who had lined up three deep all the way down both foul lines. It was all the Island team could do to get to their cars without being trampled, but in short order they had made their escape and were headed to Atlantic Beach. This was where they planned to gather and celebrate before heading home to tell their story to the pitiful few who had not been able to see the game in person. But as the gathering commenced, it soon became obvious that their group was one player short. Sno’Ball it seemed had been caught up in the tumult at home plate and was unable to extricate himself in time to get with the rest of his team as they hurried to their departure.

It was not until almost an hour after the others reached their rendevous spot at Atlantic Beach that their catcher, and their hero, came straggling in looking even more spent than when the game was being played.

Anxious to know what had ensued in the aftermath of the final out and their rapid escape, everyone gathered around him to ask, “What happened, were they mad at you, what did they say?”

“You’ll never believe it” was all he could get out before pausing again to catch his breath. “I wasn’t even noticed,” he finally explained. “They were mad at the umpire and not me. Everyone of them swore that the last pitch was high!”

Friday, October 11, 2013

No. 4 “Billy Hancock ‘soaks’ Sam Windsor” (c. 1870)

... my father’s favorite story about his legendary grandfather, Billy Hancock, was of when Billy was recruited to play “cat” (an early version of baseball) for Diamond City against a team from Beaufort. The squad from the “town” sported a player considered to be the fastest man in the whole county. Sam Windsor was a former slave who had made a name for himself as a ball-player, and would later move to Shackleford Banks where to this day a clump of cedar trees and yaupon bushes still are known as Sam Windsor’s Lump.

In cat, in order to make an out, a runner had to be touched with the ball while it was still in the hand of the fielder. Thus fielders had to catch the ball and then try to run-down the hitter before he could reach the base. According to the legend, no one had ever been able to run-down Sam Windsor – no one that is until Billy Hancock caught him on his very first at bat against the team from the Banks. My father’s voice would rise and his cheeks would grow flush as he would try to act out for those who were listening how his grandfather had held back his hand and the ball until the very last moment so as to decoy the over-confident runner. Finally he would throw out his own clinched hand to show how Billy had gleefully outstretched his arm with the ball to “soak” (put out) the runner just before he reached the base.

Friday, October 4, 2013

No. 3 "A mattress made of seaweed" 20 Feb 2011

Sometime before the mass exodus from Shackleford Banks that followed the great storm of 1899, a 
property tax collector visited there in an effort to collect money for the county. None of the "Bankers" had 
any money with which to pay, so the tax collector began to seize their personal property in payment. 

At Tom Styron's house they took his mattress. Since all mattresses were then filled and stuffed mainly with
the seaweed that was readily available all along the shore, Tom hollered at him as he left, 
"Don't make no difference. I'll get me another one as soon as the tide goes out!"

Sunday, September 29, 2013

No. 2 "Have you ever been to Chicago?"

A classic story of Charlie Claude Jones

One day while at the East'ard Variety (Cab's), he noticed a man whom he sensed that he might have seen
sometime in the past. He stepped up to the man and asked, "Sir, have I ever met you before?" 
The stranger responded, "I'm sorry, Sir, but I don't know that I have ever seen you before." 
Charlie then continued, "Well, have you ever been to Chicago?" 
"No," replied the stranger, "I have never, ever, been to Chicago." 
"Well, Charlie concluded, "I ain't either. It must have been two other people!"

Thursday, September 26, 2013

No. 1 "You'll freeze to death this winter!

My Uncle Teff (Telford Willis) was, like so many of his neighbors, an avid hunter of loons. The fact that loons eventually became a protected species only seemed to enhance the excitement of bagging one of these migratory birds.

In early Spring of each year, hunters would line the south shore of Harkers Island to prepare a one-sided gauntlet that stretched at least two miles long. Each hunter would in turn take their chances at shooting the birds as they flew just beyond the tide-line each morning looking for food.

On one particular morning a gallant loon made his way eastward along the shore as hunter after hunter fired their shells in his direction. But because the tide line had formed a bit farther out than usual, most of them would either miss the bird entirely, or else their shot would break only a few feathers that would flutter out, but failed to pierce the skin, as the loon continued his path towards Shell Point. When eventually he came abreast of my Uncle Teff, he arose from his perch and fired two shells that he was confident would hit their mark.

But, just as with the other marksmen, a few feathers flew out and down, yet the bird kept flying as if nothing had even touched him. Greatly frustrated by his failure to bring down the loon, Teff finally jumped up and raised his fist in the direction of his prey and shouted, "Fly damn ye, you may live now but you'll freeze to death this winter!"

Originally posted 20 Feb 2011

Saturday, September 7, 2013

No. 121 "Stories my Daddy told me"

"Yet in my lineaments they trace, Some features of my father's face, ... Lord Byron (George Gordon) "Parisina" 1816

My father lived to be almost ninety-three years old. Almost every conversation he had during his last few years was repeatedly punctuated with the same observation. "It seems," he would say, "I've lived in two or three different worlds!" As he would weave his stories (he was a master story teller even to the end) about people and places and events of his life, one would have to confess that he had, in fact, lived in more than one world.

His life spanned almost the entire 20th century (1909 to 2002). He was born into a world in which the "sun never sat" upon the British Empire of Queen Victoria and her Royal Navy. The United States Army still advanced into battle mounted on horses, and led by commanders who wielded swords and sabers. The Wright Brothers had flown just six years previous, but no one in his family had ever seen an airplane. He would later tell of seeing the very first automobile that came to the Island on a ferry from the Straits. He ran along the shore to Academy field to rub the sides of the first airplane that landed on the shore.
My father, Charlie Hancock, on the stern of his fishing
boat, "The Ralph," in the late 1940s.

With his father, he had gone by sailskiff to Beaufort and stood outside the Courthouse in 1918 and listened to a speech by William Jennings Bryan, considered the greatest political orator of the "19th Century"!

He sat and listened at the stories of men who had fought at the Battle of the Somme River in France, and on Flanders Field in Belgium in the World War I, The Great War, the "War to End all Wars". He courted in the Roaring 20's, dated girls who dressed as flappers, and married just a few months before Black Tuesday, and the Stock market crash of 1929. He hid his money in closets during the Great Depression, having lost a faith in banks that he would never regain. He worked to support his growing family on the WPA, and came to worship at the alter of a secular hero, Franklin Roosevelt.  For most of his life, the New Deal was more a theology than a political slogan.

He came home from fishing one day to find his wife waiting at the shore and crying about something that had happened in some place neither had never heard of; a place named Pearl Harbor. He hung blankets over his windows to avoid giving directions to German U Boats, and won a Naval commendation for picking up two downed airman whose plane had crashed just a few yards from where he was fishing in Core Sound.

Sitting on his back porch with his grandson,
my so, Joel Jr. in 1987
Hitler and Mussolini, and then Stalin and Kruschev, were dictators to be feared and hated, not just names to be remembered. He learned to say place names like Anzio & Normandy, Iwo Jima & Okinawa, and then Hiroshima & Nagasaki, as freely as he had once spoken of  “Bells Island” or “Whale Creek Bay.”

By mid-century he could watch on television as President Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock, or President Kennedy sent them to Oxford, Mississippi. He saw the funeral of a President that was younger than he was, and in his own living room watched a man land a space ship on the Moon.

He saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and watched Nixon resign. He counted the days that Americans were held hostage in Iran, shed tears of sadness while watching the Challenger Disaster, and tears of joy as he saw the Berlin Wall fall to the ground. In his final years he would ask me what was meant by terms like "Y2K", "Dot Com", and "9-11".

In one lifetime of ninety-three years, his generation witnessed more changes, and felt their effects more, than perhaps any other generation has ever known. But some things had remained the same; for him and for countless others of his generation. Not the least of these was the use of stories, yarns, and tales of what they had seen or heard, to teach life lessons, and to give order and meaning to some of the countless changes that they had witnessed.

For the most part the stories in this blog have been  my attempt to retell some of those stories, and to give them some relevance that might extend even to those that are far removed from the little Island that spawned and nurtured the characters involved. And because I heard most of them from my Daddy’s lips, or while in his arms or on his lap, and while in his yard or on his boat, or while living the life that he had worked out for me and my siblings, it would not be inaccurate to call this narrative, “stories my daddy told me.”

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Posts so far ...

WPA workers from Harkers Island during the Great Depression
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
No. 80 "I didn't have a dime in my pocket, so I ..."
No. 81 "I woulda sent ya some money," or "Where have all the scallops gone?"
No. 82 Shrimp Trawling, North River, & the Politics of DST
No. 83 “Oh, it was a blowing ..."
No. 84 "Mike, Manley, Sno'ball & me"
No. 85 "kickin' for clams"
No. 86 "Pickin' Mule Hairs"
No. 87 " ... a goat in the bed with me!"
No. 88 "You can ruin a trawl with that many shrimp!"
No. 89 Wades Shore Christmas Trees
No. 90 Christmas with Kinfolks
No. 91 "No good deed goes unpunished!"
No. 92 Christmas Traditions (old and new)
No. 93 An unexpected Holiday Visitor
No. 94 "Grade School on the Island"
No. 95 The “Old Man of Red Hill”
No. 96 ... a clam shell all the way to the lighthouse!"
No. 97 The smell of salt marshes at the Banks
No. 98 Hollering for (not at) your children!
No. 99 Breakwaters, Junk Cars & Net Spreads
No 100 "Our sissy who was anything but"
No. 101 "Do you want me to build her for fishing or to go fast? "
No. 102 From Courthouse Square in Beaufort to Eisenhower Auditorium in State College
No. 103 The Tragic Story of Abram Lewis
No. 104 "Never Again!" Daddy's job in Petersburg, VA
No. 105 Harkers Island "Professionals" Part 1 "Charlie Nelson"
No. 106 Harkers Island "Professionals" Part 2 "Maxwell Willis"
No. 107 Harkers Island "Professionals" Part 3 "Raymond Guthrie"
No. 108 “Hardened Oak and Iron Nails” The Lessons of Earl Davis
No. 109 Wilson Davis, A man who hit .300
No. 110 Ronald Davis (1933-2012)
No. 111 Academy Field
No. 112 "If they fire us, they'll have to pay us right away ..."
No. 113 "Feelin' for clams"
No. 114 Why is it called Shell Point?
No. 115 It’s hog-killing weather out there!
No. 116 Roasting Conchs
No. 117 Mullet Roe
No. 118 "Where did you get that shirt you're wearing"
No. 119 Archie Fulford, "You look enough alike ..."
No. 120 In Memory of Phyllis Willis, “This Life is the Test!”

Monday, June 24, 2013

From Post No 13 about Manus Fulcher

"Besides doing odd jobs as a carpenter on homes and boats, he (Manu Fulcher) 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!"

Saturday, May 4, 2013

No. 120 In Memory of Phyllis Willis, "This Life is the Test!" 1 May 2013

On Wednesday (1 May 2013) I spoke at the funeral service for a good friend, fellow traveler, first cousin - once removed, Phyllis Willis. In her honor I am posting the notes I used in remembering her to our friends and family. These notes are unedited, at least for now, so please excuse any errors -- grammatical or otherwise.

It is a truism that funerals are more for the benefit of the living than for the one whose memory we honor. Because many of those who today honor her memory are here because of a relationship with Phyllis's family rather than directly with her, it is understandable that we follow that outline once again.

But in this case, and especially in this case, and for the edification of those who knew her only through her children or grandchildren, it is not only appropriate, it is necessary, even obligatory, that I began at least by telling you not just about what and who Phyllis Willis Willis was, but also about who and what she came from, and was a part of, and about what remained an essential part of her to the very end.

Some of the things I will speak of have been told, and some of you have heard them, many times before. But Phyllis never grew tired of hearing or telling them, and since it is in her honor that we are assembled today, I will proceed like she would have wanted me to, and like she told me to many times.

Phyllis was my first cousin once removed --- and for several reasons we felt even closer than that! I knew her all of my life, and for most of my life she was a regular part of it — and I would like to think that I was a part of hers.

I mention that because the matter of where she and I came from is what placed us on a path that would cross literally thousands of times in the years we shared together.

Her paternal grandparents, Joe Wallace and Margaret Willis, were my maternal great-grandparents. In short, my grandmother Bertha was her father’s sister. That relationship was far deeper than the bloodline itself would suggest. That is because something happened to Bertha when she was still a little girl that would have a profound effect on her soon to be born younger brother. In fact, his very name was in honor of the Mormon Elder who quite literally, by healing his sister, changed not just her life, but that of her parents and her brother from then and for forever — and we believe, for an eternity!

As late as when Phyllis could last bring herself to hear and listen, were you to have asked her to tell you who she was, or something about her, very early in that response she would have said something explaining that she was one of “Telford's crowd.”

If she had the strength and you had the time, she would have been glad to explain to you just what that meant. Because she no longer can, I will try to do it for her, and hopefully this won't be the last time it is told or remembered.

The Island on which she and I grew up was made up of what we called “crowds.” There was a time when those crowds were not just names but also neighborhoods. From Shell Point to Rush Point could be found crowds, even neighborhoods centered around family names like Yeomans, Davis, Rose, Gaskill, Nelson, Johnson, Hamilton, Fulcher, Russell, Salter, Fulford, Moore, Hancock, Styron, Brooks, Guthrie and Lewis ---and then even more Lewises and more Guthries. And finally everywhere, literally everywhere, there were Willises! So there were more crowds within the bigger Willis crowd.

And in that crowd of Willises, no crowd was more distinct than was the crowd that belonged to Telford Willis. For after he married Gertie Guthrie he built her a house, and there at the foot of Red Hill, between the oaks, the two of them raised a family — not just children, but a real family.

Scores of other men of Harkers Island did something very similar, but there was something special about Teff’s family, Teff’s crowd, for Teff was what he most often was called.

As his oldest son, Bertie Clyde, might have described that difference, “Always has been, and always will be!”

It was not just that he was a born leader - and he was (fishing crews, long-haul stations, or fish house positions).

It was not just because of his intellect and wit which were exceptional. (Tell the story of Brady Lewis building his boat).

And It was not just his powerful personality that set him apart and caused him to be mourned so intently that when he died to soon — with the whole Island weeping and wailing and a visible sadness that seemed to shroud the whole island like a somber veil.

No, it was more than that. It was I believe the combination of his personality and energy, with his enormous faith and spiritual devotion, the latter of which he somehow was able to instill into his children with a type of spiritual umbilical cord that was just as real, and not all that different, from how Gertie had nurtured them in her womb.

That is a fitting analogy, since when those children were infants the lay in bed beside both their mother and their father.

Bertie Clyde, Guy, Margaret, Francis, Joyce, Carol, and especially Phyllis, each in their own way became an extension of their fathers being.

As might be assumed, they were close to each other. When Fran or Bert or Guy came home, you could almost feel the whole generation swarming together at one or more homes or other places, and when it was time to go it was not all that unlike a funeral viewing as they bid their parting goodbyes.
But as each of them in their own way fashioned their own lives, there was something unique about Phyllis - what might be described as a special sensitivity that she was not just “a” link, but “the” link between the world of her parents and the world of her children, her nieces and nephews, and just as importantly, to an extended family, and especially to our church family.

Please don’t misunderstand me, as each of those siblings did their part, but time and space and distance do sometimes matter, and that was where, for those of us who were not Teffs and Gerties, that Phyllis played the most important part. She did that with Joyce and Carol always beside, but always standing just a little behind her, as she was the one who assumed he father’s role in the forefront of the family.

That was in no small part due to the fact that in terms of time and space and distance and place she was always there! To be even more precise, she was always here! She was always a part and in 100 ways she was always reminding us of who she was and why she was what she was.

When Phyllis married William Reed, from another Willis crowd, she still never skipped even a single beat in her assumed role as the heart and soul of the Telford Willis crowd. I imagine that might of posed some challenges for Bubble, as he was called, but she never let it slow her down, much less stop her. Eventually, after some initial kicking and screaming, her husband pretty much surrendered, and before long he was as much a fixture in the family as she was. Indeed somebody had to stay home and tend to the children all those nights and weekends that Phyllis was involved with the choir or with her extended family.

Let me add here that just a she and her siblings were a testimony to her parents and what they believed, I hope that her children and their children will remain a testament to her for many years to come.

Speaking of children, many here will acknowledge that in a very real sense, Phyllis Willis, had another child that was just as real as were her two sons and three girls — and only a little removed in terms of the role it played in her life and legacy.

That child was called the Harkers Island Girls Chorus. It was organized by another Mormon Elder (Elder John Thompson) when the girls were still in their early teens. And while Phyllis was still just an early teenager like the rest, she somehow became a vital part and eventually, and evidencing the spirit of her father, she became the acknowledged leader of that group.

I don't know that they ever voted or appointed her as such, but ask any of them then or now who was in charge, and they would not have the hesitated for even a moment in their response. When I was Bishop and somewhat involved in making their arrangements and schedules, I could talk to any of the ladies, even my own sisters, one of which had a pretty strong personality of her own, but they would always say, I'll check with Phyllis and then I’ll let you know.

[Tell the story of Joyce’s hesitation and Phyllis’s response of “You can and you will!”]

A decade ago an oft-repeated goal of the general leadership of our Church at the national and international level was to “bring the church out of obscurity.” I hope it will never be forgotten the vital role that the Girls Chorus played in our little corner of the world in bringing not just this ward or branch, but this church out of obscurity.

For years, our congregation was known as “the church were those girls came from,” as much or even more than as they being “some girls that came from our church.”

Literally all over Eastern North Carolina, in other churches, in government and civic events, and especially at funerals, they could be seen and heard and always were remembered.

O morn of you beauty, Today on the Highway,Master the Tempest is Raging, This is my Country, This I Believe, or I have a Testimony — just saying those words even now can summon up in many of us a mental image of those girls, ladies, women, old women, as they stand with their hands on each others’s waist or shoulder, tuning to a little "pitch pipe," then harmonizing and in parts, often a' capello, with Phil either standing in front and directing with her hand, or sometimes just standing at the end of the front line, leading with her exaggerated breathing, or just the movement of her head and shoulders; or if she was really intent, with the expression on her face!

I have lost count of the number of times that I have spoken at occasions like this, standing up after those girls sat back down, always hoping that my words could tap into the spiritual awareness that had been aroused by their sacred and sweet voices. One reason for their impact was that hey believed what they sang! For example, I share the words of this song that was one of their trademarks.

This I Believe!
As sung by the Harkers Island Girl's Chorus

In our home up in Heaven we were prepared
to come to earth as a goal
With earthly parents we would be shared
And cared for body and soul
The plan was laid up in Heaven
The choice was left up to men
To follow freedom or force commend
Which one did we defend?
This I believe, the Gospel was fashioned for men
That we might have joy in our earthly state
The live with God again
This I believe, we cherished the choice to be free
We followed our Savior who said with Love,
Come Follow Me!

In the last 30 years I have traveled extensively in Eastern North Carolina and throughout the state, and even the inter-mountain west. It would be impossible to number the times I have been asked, when someone learned where I was from or heard my accent, the following question. “Are those girls still singing together?”
Every time I have heard that, it was an unspoken tribute to the energy and diligence of Phyllis Willis.
It would be incomplete, even unfair, to focus entirely on her work with a chorus without mentioning the other service that she rendered – although usually much more in the shade than when she was displaying her musical talent.

She was always a leader, and never content to just sit back and not be heard or involved. This included gatherings of men as well as women, and was not just with the sisters of the relief society. Although she was usually a leader, she was always a self-starter, especially when it came to compassionate service for others, even though it was usually done in the shade, and no one other than her and the Angels knew just what she had accomplished.

What I do today is a "labor of love," but a labor none the less. One of the reasons I do is that Phyllis and the other girls taught me long ago by their examples that sometimes we have to do things like this, no because we enjoy it, or because it is easy, but because it is our obligation and duty. The funerals she participated in numbered in the hundreds. I am confident that there were times when she did not feel like doing it, or when she herself was one of those who were grieving, but it is to her credit that she never begged-off for any of those reasons.

When I served as Bishop, early on she taught me a lesson that served me well during the time that I had the responsibility for shepherding a ward, and then a stake. At 32 I had more energy than wisdom. I’d like to think that while I have lost much of that energy, that loss has been balanced by having gained at least some wisdom.

“Good judgment comes from experience, which often comes from bad judgment.”

One of those occasions of bad judgment was punctuated by a lesson that Phyllis taught me as together we pondered how to deal with a particularly difficult situation – one where it would have been easy to have dismissed the whole matter by saying that the person got only what they deserved. That was I was disposed to do, until Phyllis asked me to hear and then memorize a little couplet that she had relied on many times in similar situations.

“I have wept in the night, for the shortness of sight, that to someone else’s needs made me blind. But I never have yet felt a tinge of regret for being a little too kind!”

Which brings me ultimately to this question, "Who is entitled to the honor and blessing of being called a follower or disciple of Christ?" That is something that has been often and publicly discussed of late. Rather than looking to those definitions that others have volunteered I will mention the ones that Christ himself seemed to emphasize.

In the 25th Chapter of Matthew, only days, maybe just hours, before he offered himself up for sacrifice, he left a memorable lesson about he would separate his "sheep from the goats."

The Least of These!
31 ¶ When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
(New Testament | Matthew 25:31 - 40)

In my life, one that now spans sixty years, I have never known someone more willing, indeed more comfortable, at ministering to the "least of these" than was Phyllis Willis!

Love one Another!
3 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you.
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
(New Testament | John 13:33 - 35)

Like the rest of us, Phyllis Willis had her weaknesses. She had her crosses to bear - some of which weighed so mightily upon her that she wondered if she could even bear them. She made her share of mistakes, which from what I could tell were always of the head and not of the heart.

But no one could ever accuse Phyllis Willis of not loving -- not just showing affection, but truly loving, No one would ever suggest that she was not answering the call to "love one another," sometimes she offered her love to those who never seemed willing to return it, but that became their burden to bear and not hers. If we are to take the Savior at his word, and I do, then by the standard that he proclaimed, the dear sister that we honor today was not only a sister, a cousin, a mother and grandmother --- she was also a disciple of Christ, and she was willing to do his work in serving others.

So, as we lay her to her rest this morning, let me one more time mention her crowd, that crowd that she came from and never grew out of, by recalling that her father, Telford Willis, died in 1949. Now, sixty plus years later we still speak of him in no small part because of his children, and because they embodied in their lives the things that he believed and loved. What a wonderful tribute it would be to his daughter if ten, twenty, or even sixty plus years from now in a place and setting something like this, people will still speak of Phyllis Willis as well because her children and grandchildren have done for the very same thing! And, hopefully, they will evidence in their lives the truths that flowed not just from her lips but also from her head and her heart as she sang and led others in singing.

Corey [Willis] closed his remarks by sharing his testimony. I will close mine by sharing hers. These word were sung by her hundreds of times, and they express, I believe, how she really felt.

I have a testimony, sacred and dear to me
Something that lies within my soul
One that I cannot see.

When life seems dark and its shadows
Hides all the brightness of day
I feels God’s arms around me
Leading me on each day.

Trials and tribulations oft have come my way
But I felt Him near me
And I knelt to pray-

Pray to God in heaven
Thank him fervently
For the blessings from his store
Giv’n unto me

I know that I shall meet Him
Some bright and glorious day
When all the world is free from sin
And shadows pass away.

He’ll take my hand and we’ll wander
Thru flower gardens fair.
Where all the land is peaceful
And far from toil and care

I know that He liveth
Reigneth up above
May He always guide me
Bless me with his love

I’ve a testimony- Sacred, dear to me
One that lies within my soul
Something I cannot see!

Amen, amen!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Addendum to No. 20 "Miss Ollie & Dr. Moore"
Originally posted on 2 April 2011

Willard Willis told me on 3/8/2013 that Dr. Moore got the money to pay for medical school at Wake Forest from a gold medal his father (Tyre Moore) had earned while serving as a surfman on a rescue team at Cape Lookout before the turn of the 20 century. According to the story, Tyre Moore had buried and hidden the medal soon after he received it, knowing its value and fearing that he might someday lose it or have it stolen. When at long last, his son decided he was not cut-out for fishing, and wanted to be a doctor instead, the old man dug up his treasure and presented it to his son, saying, "Now, you sell this and it will pay for getting you started up there." So, off to Wake Forest went Laurie Moore, and all of DownEast was blessed with a wonderful family doctor and friend for the next half a century.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

No. 119 Archie Fulford, "You look enough alike ..."

Archie Fulford was loved by everybody. I mean exactly that! He was loved by everybody who knew him. Although in another place or at another time he might have been known as the "town drunk," he was loved way too much to ever have been called that here. Besides, when Archie drank he became even more lovable and was never a problem for anyone - that is, anyone other than himself. He was die-hard fan of the New York Yankees, but that was about the only other bad thing you might ever say about him.

Archie Fulford (left) with Donald Guthrie & Ronald Davis
The youngest son of one of the Island’s longest standing families, one that had been here for more than a century before the exodus from the Banks, he never had children of his own. By the time I came to know him he was an old man, hardly more than five feet tall, with a face that evidenced the life he had lived with heavy wrinkles and a ruddy complexion. But that same face always had a smile, and when he passed his time telling boys like me his farcical stories, his grin was often a hardy laugh.

Near the end of his life he was all but adopted by Billy Best who ran the biggest grocery story on the Island. By then he had given up the bottle, and he was used by Billy as a combination stock boy and night watchman. He even spent most nights sleeping on a small cot, what we called a "day bed," in the office enclosure hidden in the very back of the store.

It was around the store as he discussed the latest news and sports, and shared his yarns with other old-timers that I came to know him. Billy’s son, Alton, was one of my best friends, and his father’s store was just across the road from ball field that lay behind out church. So, part of every day was meeting him and others at the store to organize a game, and going back to the same place to get a soft-drink and nabs when the game was over. Archie grew so used to seeing the two of us together that he once grabbed us both by our arms and stated, "You boys look enough alike that you could be neighbors!" It was years later before I realized the full irony of how we had interpreted his statement.

Archie seemed to have a particular affection for Alton, and he was always picking on him in one way or another. He seemed especially to enjoy commenting on Alton’s hair after it was tousled by swimming in the sound or playing in the woods. "Your hair is just like fine marsh grass," he once observed as my friend removed his cap after a playing ball on a hot summer day.

But the remark I remember most is from one day when we were a little older, and were dressed to go out in Al’s car on a Friday night. As Alton walked into the store, probably to get some gas money from his father, Archie commented on his good looks, and then feigned an added compliment as he expressed that Alton had really "kind hair." When my friend smiled in response, the old man added, "the kind that grows on a dog’s tail." (Actually he was even more explicit than that.)

Any use of the adjective "kind" to describe a person or object has had another connotation for me ever since.