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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.