(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.