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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

No. 141 "Washin' off with a hose"

Were I to mention to my grandchildren that they should wash off with an outdoor hose after returning from a day at the beach or in the sound, I doubt that most of them would even know what I was requesting. But for my generation of Island boys and girls, that was an everyday requirement.

The sound side water on the Island is salty, almost as salty as the ocean itself, especially after Barden's Inlet was opened by the "Storm of '33." But those of us who spent the major part of summer days swimming at the landing were hardly aware of the salinity. I suppose that was because we had nothing with which to compare it. As far as we knew all water, fresh or salt, felt the same. The only distinction we noticed was how warm or cold it was to the body.

But, thinking back, it was not unusual for a chalky film to form on our shoulders and forehead, and even on our eyebrows and in our hair. Arriving home after a stint in the sound, the first thing we heard from our mothers was a reminder to "wash off" before we came into the house. They had to remind us not because we didn't know what was expected, but because we dreaded the ordeal of shivering under cold water pumped from deep below the ground when were just drying off from water that was as warm as 80 degrees in mid-summer afternoons.

I must confess, there were many times when I fudged on doing a complete rinse. And on a few occasions I might have hardly washed at all. The cold water that spouted from the hose was that uncomfortable - at least until your body adapted to the change. Sometimes we resorted to filling a bucket with water and then lifting it up and pouring the whole contents over your head to shorten the time of exposure to the shock of the seemingly ice-cold shower.

There was, however, at least one way to comply with Mama's wishes and avoid the cold shock that resulted from the cooler fresh water. When the plastic hoses were left out in the sun, as they most always were, the hose itself, and the water inside it would heat up considerably as early as noon each day. The trick was to get to the hose before my brother, or my cousins, and take full advantage of the warmer water before handing off the hose to the next in line. Although the initial burst from the hose could be so hot that it was unbearable, within a few seconds the temperature would begin to drop, and for at least a while, it was as warm and comfortable as the showers we now take in our indoor facilities.

Eventually, if you paid close attention, you learned to sense almost exactly how much of the "just right" water there would be, and how much time you had to complete the wash down. Pure joy was finishing just as the water turned to the "frigid" normal that was the penalty for everyone who lost the race up the path to the water hose. Pure horror was winning the race only to find that someone else had so recently used the hose that there was not enough time for the water to re-heat. Usually, that was when I resorted to the bucket over the head approach.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

No. 140 From Tidewater & New England down the Banks to Cape Lookout & Harkers Island

No. 140 From Tidewater & New England down the Banks to Cape Lookout & Harkers Island

The largest part of my almost entirely English ancestry must have had at least some wanderlust in their spirits, or else they might never have agreed to make the long and arduous journey across the Atlantic to find a new life in a what they all viewed as a new world. But for most of my direct forbearers that wanderlust was all but spent by the time they landed on the southeast coast of Virginia in the early 1600s. But that didn't mean they had found a permanent home among the transplanted English aristocracy and noblemen who had turned the Jamestown colony into their personal fiefdom. Like so many others whose labor would later be replaced by imported African slaves, my ancestors were unwilling to continue in servitude, indentured or otherwise, to their planter overlords, and they eventually began to make their way southward.

The routes from Tidewater VA to Cape Lookout NC
But they were in no big hurry as it would take them another two centuries to migrate just two hundred miles. Their route was mostly down the barrier islands that lined the North Carolina Coast to Cape Lookout, a nexus point where the outer banks turn from a north-south direction to one that, at least for a stretch of thirty miles, follows a route that is almost directly east-west. Amid the sand hills and salt marshes of North Carolina's lower Outer Banks they found a freedom, if not a prosperity, that had eluded them as underlings to the Tidewater elite. And once they settled near the base of the lighthouse, the first one having been completed in 1812, most of them never moved again - unless of course you consider it movement to build a small home on another patch of acreage within easy walking distance of the shacks or huts they had grown-up in.

Within a few generations they had lost or forsaken most of their ties to their Tidewater and English roots. There was one obvious exception to their cultural re-genesis, and that was how they clung to what would become an archaic oral dialect that retained vowel pronunciations and other grammatical anomalies long after they had passed out of the more standard American-English vernacular. That peculiarity endures until even now. 

But the descendants of at least one of my forefathers followed a different course when he arrived at least a thousand miles farther north in Massachusetts Bay as part of the first great wave of settlers in Puritan New England. Anthony Harker had been born in 1606 in the town of Sibsey in Lincolnshire near the northeastern corner of England. But by the time he was thirty years old he was married and living in Boston, where he and his wife, Mary would raise a family of two sons and four daughters. Their third child, John Ebenezer, remained in the Boston area and in 1680 married Patience Folger, whose sister Abiah would become the mother of the renowned Benjamin Franklin (my first cousin - nine times removed.) John and Patience were not so fortunate, at least in terms of historical recognition, but their son Ebenezer, born in Boston in 1689, would do something to make the family's name enduring if not famous.

Sibsey in Lincolnshire - where the Harkers came from
As the second of his father's sons, and barred by the rules of primogeniture from inheriting any of his father's estate, he chose to look farther South to find his fortune. Like several other of his neighbors in the Boston area at around the same time, he decided to come to the vicinity of Beaufort, North Carolina where a fledgling shore-based whaling industry had begun to take hold. Some of the others were named Chadwick, Whitehurst, Pigott and Leffers and those surnames are still everywhere to be found in eastern Carteret County. Once settled, Ebenezer quickly showed that he had brought with him the vaunted Yankee ethic of work and industry that eventually afforded him the resources to buy not just a plot or even an estate, but a whole island that would be home to him and his children for generations to come.

How Craney Island became Harkers Island
In 1730, when he was forty-one years old, he purchased the island from George Pollock of nearby Beaufort for £400 and a twenty-foot boat. He soon settled there, building a home on the far northwest corner, and took for his wife a local girl named Elizabeth Brooks with whom he eventually had six children. The island had earlier been known as Craney Island, but from that time on it has been known to residents and visitors alike as Harkers Island, and with no apostrophe as the concluding "s" was intended to denote plurality even more than possession. But Ebenezer and his descendants would spawn far fewer "Y" chromosomes than did those of his friends, such that eventually the lone reminder of him in the place where he settled would be that place's name.

It would be seven generations and five surnames later that I arrived on the scene and on an Island named for my intrepid great grandfather and less than two miles from where he had built his large home. And at the same moment, my parents could look from an upstairs window and get a clear view of the towering lighthouse that overlooked Cape Lookout and the remains of a village where the greater part of my other ancestors had ended up.

That upstairs window faced due southward and adorned a small bungalow that my father had built on land provided for him by his father and my grandfather, the man that almost everyone I knew called Ole' Pa. And it was his place, sitting on the shoreline at the Landing and just two houses away, that was the center-point of our whole world.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

No. 139 "Dead Man's Curve"

"Won't come back from Dead Man's Curve" from “Dead Man’s Curve” by Jan Berry & Carl Dean (Jan & Dean)

At the southwest corner of the Island, and at the very top of Red Hill, the road curves sharply – almost at 90°. Coming onto the Island for the first time or for any driver unfamiliar with the lay of the land, it can be a little difficult to manage the turn, especially after the sun has set for the evening.

There were so many accidents there, at least a couple of them fatal, that the spot eventually became known as “Dead Man’s Curve.” The narrow black-top road is bordered on both sides by the largest oaks found anywhere on the Island, and the yaupon bushes that sat underneath them were very little cushion for cars that failed to make the turn. The oak trees themselves remained firm and whatever hit them, man or machine, stopped immediately on impact.

Aerial view of the turn at Red Hill (Dead Man's Curve)
Weekend nights, when servicemen stationed on the mainland would frequent the Island’s movie theater and stores, was when most of the accidents occurred. It was well after midnight one summer Saturday that one of those happened. What ensued in the aftermath was told to me by a good friend who lived close enough by that he heard both the screeching of tires and the impact that followed.  He, along with his father were there even before a lone NC Highway patrolman arrived to investigate and make his report. He later told to others what he had observed.

After an ambulance had removed the badly injured driver from the wreck and carried him away towards the closest hospital in Morehead City, the trooper retired to his squad car to prepare his preliminary report. In the warm summer air, he was quietly discussing with some of the witnesses what they first had heard and later noticed as they arrived on the scene. It was while engaged in that conversation that onlookers noticed that asleep in the back seat of the officer’s car was someone wearing handcuffs, and apparently inebriated, who had been arrested by the patrolmen just before he had been called to respond to the accident at Red Hill.

As the back-seat passenger began to awake, he grew increasingly restless and uncomfortable, not fully aware of where he was or why he was locked up in the back of a patrol car.

“What is it, where am I, what’s going on?” was all he could say as he looked toward the officer and saw the flashing lights from atop the car reflecting off the surroundings.

Still focused on the incident at hand, the officer paid him scant attention, but eventually did turn in his direction to say simply, “It was a really bad accident.”

Even more confused and curious, the detainee immediately followed up by asking, “Who was it?”
The officer paid even less attention than before and responded simply, “It was some drunk.”

Now, totally alarmed and extremely agitated, the prisoner shouted out, “Oh me! Was I hurt?”

Sunday, February 5, 2017

No. 138 "A Damn Otwayer"

"A D@&# Otwayer!"
Being a Harkers Islander, or more specifically a "real" Harkers Islander makes you part of a fairly exclusive fraternity. It's not that the group is so small; there must be thousands of us who claim club membership both here and in hundreds of other places all over the world by now. It's that the entry requirements are so specific and so rigid. Official membership requires that you actually be born here to parents of whom at least one is a native Islander, or born somewhere else to parents, both of whom are already members of the club. My children would be examples of the former, and the children of servicemen born to two Harkers Island parents anywhere in the world would be examples of the latter.
There may be exceptions to this standard, but I can't think of any examples at the moment. Short of that, no matter how long you have been here or how involved or intertwined with native family and friends you have become, you remain someone "from off," a newcomer, or even a dreaded "dingbatter" or "dit-dot." Like it or not, there's nothing you or anyone else can do about it.

Two cases to illustrate my point: My wife, Susan, has lived here uninterrupted since the summer of 1976. So for more than forty years she has been part of an extended family, raised six children of her own, served on the school advisory council, been active in her church, prepared meals for hundreds of bereaved families, and done countless other acts of quiet service throughout our community. But when recently she was elected to the board of the local museum there were some who complained that she was not a "real Harkers Islander."
Believe it or not, there is an even more telling example of this phenomenon. Recently I was talking to an older man who was born in our sister community of Otway but who has lived on the Island since he married an Island girl and moved here all the way back in 1957. Since then he has been a community leader and an organizer in his church. His children attended the Island school and he has been one of the most successful commercial fishermen the Island has ever known. Be that as it may. He recently told me that after all these years and at a stage in life when he is older than almost every other local fisherman who can still claim that label, he still doesn't feel that he is fully accepted.
This is how he explained it. "If I park my truck too close to somebody else at the harbor, or if my net drifts in front of someone else's net on a set, the first thing I hear is someone pointedly and emphatically reminding me that I am still a 'D@%# Otwayer!'"