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.