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Stories from
The Old Gray House

  1. The ghost of kings point

  2. Confronting the 'Monsters' of aging

  3. Memorial Day Memories - Saying Goodbye to and Old Friend

  4. the secrets of sunrise

  5. Gardening Forty miles out to sea

  6. Sand and Ant lions

  7. The Value of Speaking For Yourself

  8. My Favorite Island Dog

  9. Seaside Stress: There is stress at the seashore, but islanders resist it

  10. Two Very Personal Stories Make Case For Saving Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

  11. Remembering the many smells that made the islands special

  12. Memories of Christmas Past on Hatteras Island

  13. Hatteras and Ocracoke: Home to the world's greatest lovers

  14. law and order in hatteras island

  15. out with the old in with the new

For More Stories Go To

RMS Stories:  Stories 31 - 45

hatteras island has a unique history and that our goal Is to preserve the history and to keep our reader's informed of the many changes occuring here on the Hatteras island.
Old Gray House Gifts and Shells

The ghost of kings point published in: october of 2007

It was told she was buried in Marsh Hammocks Now called Brigand's Bay


Dewey Parr

Brigand's Bay

Now the story I am about to tell is mixed with fact and fiction. At this stage in my life I realize the true meaning of the phrase applied to the elderly, “They live in their second childhood.” When we were children growing up on the Island much of our days were living in a factious world of finding pirate treasures, seeking monsters in the Buxton woods, and playing King of the Mountain on an Island that had no mountains. Our lives were enriched night after night as we gathered with the family and listened to the many tales told of Island lore and legends from the past. As I look back to those evenings gathered with the family on the screened in porch of yester years, I now realize that many of the taller tales of ghost and goblins that came forth from the lips of my fore-fathers where prompted by a full moon. A full moon back then was the only light in the night other than the flickering of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse that premeditated the night sky. Even today with the invasion of man made light a full moon creates shadows in the night, especially on the open beach that can conjure up thoughts of ghost and goblins and pirates coming ashore to bury their treasures.

Sit back, relax and listen to an Island Ghost story based on an actual occurrence, as told by a local. Over the years much was added to the story and as time went on it was forgotten. The story came to life once again for me in recent years as a result of a family member.

As the story goes it occurred when it was the worse of times for the world but the best of times for the Islanders. It was the worst of time because the Great Depression of the thirties was upon our nation. People were out of work, hungry, and some even committing suicide because they had lost all. Suddenly life had little or no meaning for a nation whose people where wrapped up in a materialistic society where your human value was based on the things you possessed.

It was the best of times for the Islanders for they had little or nothing of monetary value and suddenly their little Islands where flooded with hundreds of young and older men with nickels and dimes to spend and interesting information to share. To the Islanders President Roosevelt’s New Deal and Works Projects which brought the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) and Works Project Administration (WPA) was the needed boost that brought them into the 20th Century. Prior to that time no one really ventured to the Islands and native Islanders lived in their own little isolated paradise. To an Islander your value was based on what you were and not what you had. They cared little about your net worth. The only nets they were interested in were their fishing nets they set daily to provide food for their family. The talk of the Island was never to be the same for now up and down the sand roads and the beaches where to be found hundreds of men working to make the Islands a better place. Little did these men who were lonely and living a life of broken dreams realize that the major changes they were bringing to the Islands was the sharing of their life experiences in their daily contact with the Islanders. The Great Depression was an exciting time for the young and old alike on Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands. The total infrastructure of the Islands was about to change. Better roads, water, mosquito control, and even upgraded outhouses, was on the horizon for Islands that had been living as it where a century behind the rest of the nation. Drainage ditches where dug throughout the Island to assist in mosquito control that now have proven to be the Island downfall due to flood water from the sound raging up them. The sand dunes that were put in place to save the Island from the sea have become a bone of contention because the National Park broke the promise made to the locals to maintain them. To the older Islanders it was time of interesting conversations as to the pros and cons of what the future would bring. To the youth it was an invigorating time of new friends to meet and share good times together. Ah! Yes, to the young girls it was a time to meet new boy friends. With this background in mind our ire Island story begins.

Photo from Standard Oil of N.J. Collection.
Photographic Archives, University of Louisville

The Hatteras fishermen pictured here are mending their pound nets getting ready for
the next days catch. It was a day in and out process of setting nets, tying nets, and mending nets.

On the isolated Island of Cape Hatteras there lived a beautiful young girl who was as pure as the gentle breezes of the ocean air. This fair maiden’s life was a simple life filled with laughter and love that came from her daily association with her immediate family and friends. As with most of the Island young ladies her knowledge of the world outside the confines of the Island was limited. Most of the girls only dreamed of a life off the Island. The custom was you eventually married an Island boy and spent your life raising a family and caring for that family just as your mother did and her mother did before her. She was a most fortunate young lady in that she had a mother and father that showered her with love and affection. Her father was a strict disciplinarian, who ruled his family in a spirit of love. She was the apple of her father’s eye and enjoyed his constant approval of her actions, which in no way ever defied his will.

With the advent of a sudden influx of hundreds of young men on the Island this young girl along with many others realized there was a much bigger world out there than they had ever imagined. One young man who came to the Island and was staying out at the CCC Camp near the Lighthouse caught the eye of this beautiful Island girl. It was love at first sight so to speak. In the evening after working on the building the sand dunes he would make his way to her Buxton village home to sit and talk with her family. He talked about his family and the exciting life they lived in the city that was full of things to do and places to go. Little by little he won the hearts of her stern Hatteras father and mother. As time went on he became a welcome and trusted guest in their home. It became apparent that he was sweet on their daughter and that she was extra sweet on him. Family trust provided him the opportunity to finally become a proper suitor for the young girl.

Then it happened as is the case with many young lovers. The trust turned over to him by the young ladies harsh Hatteras father was violated and she soon was found to be with child. The father went into a rage taking his vengeance out on his daughter as well as her lover. He threatened her lover and sought through his superiors at the CCC camp located near the Lighthouse for his removal from the Island. His superiors were more than willing to comply with the demands of the father especially after they learned he had recently married a young girl before coming to the Island. He was given severance pay and passage back home with firm instructions to leave the Island immediately without any contact of the young girl for fear of his life. The knowledge that he had a wife further enraged the father and when he looked at his daughter it no longer was a look of love and respect, but one of disgust and hate. From that moment on the daughter’s life became a life of living hell. She was separated from her lover and branded with the scarlet letter by her family and friends. The happy life she had envisioned with her young lover was no more, but now she was to live in the torment and shame heaped on her constantly by her outraged father. As time progressed and she began to show her family did everything possible to keep her from publicly showing signs of childbirth. They bound her and when that would no longer work they sent her off the Island to stay with family in another village close by. Finally she returned home before the child was born only to face the solemn but silent wrath of her father. Probably this was the most intense time of her suffering because of her so called sins. To have a father who all of your life who use to show you love and approval now look at you in scorn and silence must have been heartbreaking agony. I parallel her suffering with that of Jesus who looked down from the cross upon those he was willing to die for and only saw hate and disgust for him in their eyes.

One dark and dreary night her time came. It was the hour of birth. Historically the birth of the child on the Islands was and exciting time. All the family was gathered waiting the announcement from the mid-wives whether or not it was a boy or girl. Back then there was no modern medicine that revealed the gender of a baby to be born before birth. They could only guess whether it was a boy or a girl. For her family on this fateful night it was not an hour of joy but the final chapter in a fathers hate. There was concern by close family members how the new baby would be received by the father and rest of the family. Would this love child become a hated child? Would this father transfer his hate and disgust for his once loved daughter now to his new born grandchild? As the labor pains became more and more frequent it was apparent there was a problem in giving birth. Many things occurred on that night that no one to this day can explain. Some things went to the grave with those present on that night. Some whisper that in a fit of rage she was shoved down the steps, others say turpentine was used. Who knows what transpired all we know is that the young beautiful girl was no more for she died in childbirth on that dark dreary night in a house on Hatteras Island and a baby girl was born smelling of turpentine.

The fathers disdain for his daughters misdeeds continued even in death. He wanted no one to show her any honor even in death. To him she was the sinner of sinners that had disgraced the family. She was buried under the cover of darkness in secret in a location only known by select family members, one of which was my grandmother who prior to her death whispered the true burial place of the daughter. There were no wake, eulogies, or flowers placed on her grave, no mourners visibly shedding tears. Her mother stood solemnly holding the hand of her sister as the last shovel of dirt covered her daughter’s grave. This spot on an Isolated Island was not new to this mother for it was not to many years back she and her sister had stood side by side as she watched her two twin babies being buried. The difference being at that time a proper burial occurred. The mother and my grandmother watched as the pine straw and oak leaves where meticulously cover over the fresh sand so that no one would be aware a body had been buried there. She and her sister cried internally that night in fear that if they showed outward sympathy for this misfortunate creature they too would feel the wrath of her father. To the Islanders who enquired, it was told that she was buried in hammocks of King’s Point now called Brigand’s Bay Frisco. At that time Brigand’s Bay was not the prosperous community of fine homes it is today it was a marshland area with high and low spots beaming with natures beauty and wildlife. The high land spots were known as the marsh hammocks.

Shortly after her death a story was told by and Islander. He claims he was winding down the sandy roads in the Kings Point or Brigand’s Bay area in his model-T on a moon lit night. It was one of those nights when the moon peeping through the trees and vines over hanging the sand road would create weird shadows that made you wonder what was lurking out there. Suddenly his lights flashed on the figure of a young girl standing by the road. He stopped and leaned across the seat and asked her if she was ok, or if she needed a ride. He said she was frail and ghostly looking and got in the car. In a weak frail voice she began mumbling over and over, where is my baby girl….my baby… where is my baby…my baby? He said he kept on driving and she kept on talking and he felt chills all over him. The air all around him got colder and colder and felt like death itself. The more she moaned and mumbled the more he kept his eyes fixed on the road saying to himself, God get me out of this fix. He thought to himself something isn’t right here, this just isn’t human. He began to drive as fast as he could in hopes that he would come to a clear spot with a house lit up so that he could pull over and let her out. Finally he saw a light from an oil lamp up ahead and turned to look at her and when he did she was gone. He claims she disappeared right on the spot. The car door was never opened and he knew for a fact she never jumped or fell out. She just plum vanished in the night. He ended by saying I never drive that road alone at night anymore.


Many were fearful on moon lit nights that they too would meet the ghost of Kings Point.

Buxton Woods
Larger Image Larger Image

After that story many kept their eyes open as they approached King’s Point in fear they too would meet the Ghost of King’s Point. Others searched intensely throughout the hammocks of King’s Point to find the burial site of the young girl. Little did they realize that she was never buried there nor where they to know that in later life her baby born on that fateful night would spend her life hunting for her mother’s grave. The search for her baby and the baby’s future search for her mother’s burial site is a dramatic story that is still transpiring to this day and will eventually have its fulfillment as the two spirits finally meet at the mother’s grave site and a proper burial is performed.

Should God grant me the privilege of doing so someday I will reveal the remainder of this on going saga from the spiritual world of a mother’s love for her child and her child’s desire to find her mother’s grave. In the mean time if you really want to know the remainder of the story then come sit with me under the wisdom tree or old oak tree at the Gray House and I will share the rest of the story with you.

Friends of The Old Gray House:  If you have any comments you can contact us at

confronting the monsters of aging published in: July of 2007


Dewey Parr

One of my fondest memories goes back to when I was 6 and 7 years old growing up on Hatteras Island. Those were the days when we played monster. What fun we had. Those imaginary monsters roamed the maritime forest and sprung up from the depths of the sea. In our mind’s eye, our sea monsters usually had the head of a dragon and the body of a serpent. We just naturally assumed this was the way it ought to be. We had seen maps with dragons pictured pursuing the ships. In the woods, we kids often hid behind the trunks of the oak and pine trees. We would jump out, pretending to be a monster. We envisioned our woods-monsters with big feet and fur, so sometimes we would stick pine straw around our bodies. Of course, we did all the things that an imaginary monster should do -- walking stiff legged, growling, and gnashing teeth as if we were going to gobble you up.
What fun those days were when my monsters were imaginary.

Now I am still on my island paradise. I am no longer 6 or 7. I am 76. The big difference now is that my monsters are not imaginary but real. At this age, my monsters would consume me without hesitation. They figure I am too weak to run or fight back. My monsters are coming out of a society that seems to feel that anyone over 65 has little or no worth. We are too costly to governments, big business, and health care providers to maintain. If my monsters had their way, they would fire up the incinerator and march all of us Medicare-age people into it.

At my age, Hatteras Island monsters appear in many different forms -- the high cost of living, tax bills, utilities, gasoline. And the list goes on and on. When I go to the store, I ask myself how families are surviving with the cost of groceries. When we go out to eat and we see a tourist family with two or three children at a table, we wonder how they can afford to pay the prices for their meals. When we get our monster of tax bills that we have to pay for just having property on the island, we shudder.

Monsters are everywhere, but probably the largest one that looms out there for anyone past 65 is the Monster of Health Care. I recently found what a dangerous monster this can be. This monster can devastate you in a brief moment if you are not prepared to meet the challenge when it comes at you. This monster can destroy your livelihood and all future happiness.

I say to all who are younger, get ready, for one day you will wake up as I did and wonder how I got to be 76. "not bad if you have a home paid for, money set aside for emergencies, hospitalization, and a prescription plan that covers you, but if you are without it, the monster will get you.

I had been hearing about this Health Care Monster from the many islanders who sit and talk with me in the swing under the old oak tree at the Old Gray House I heard stories from some who are without insurance, and every time they go to the doctor, it costs them. They try to treat themselves using old-fashioned remedies. I hear horror stories about what can happen to you if you are transported off the island by the county's Emergency Medical Services. One friend found himself in a position where it cost somewhere in the range of $8,000. Over the years, we have said goodbye to island friends about our age who have moved from Hatteras because of the cost of living and the constant battle with island monsters.

Through no fault of our own, my wife and I found ourselves on July 1 with an insurance plan that was not acceptable to the island health care providers or the closest hospital. I, along with 36,000 other former employees of the state of West Virginia who are 65 or older, was arbitrarily placed under a Medicare Advantage private fee-for-service (PFFS) plan. I still have all the same benefits that were afforded me under Medicare and my supplement, but before I can get those benefits, my health provider must bill another company rather than Medicare.

What a shock it was when this medical monster came to us by the way of a telephone call from the island medical clinic at which I had been receiving quality primary care informing me that my insurance would no longer be accepted. To make matters worse, this also applied to the closest hospital, which is located 50 miles from us.

I contacted Emergency Medical Services and inquired as to where would they take us if we had a medical emergency. Another medical monster jumped out from behind the bushes -- the Emergency Transportation Monster. The answer came back, "We are obligated to take you to the Outer Banks Hospital." This meant that should we have an emergency, we would be up the creek, so to speak, if the hospital admitted us.

The island's medical centers and the Outer Banks Hospital are all part of University Health Systems, based in Greenville.

Lo and behold, the unexpected happened to me. On Saturday, Aug. 18, I was attacked by an unexpected Personal Medical Emergency Monster. Early that morning, I encountered severe internal bleeding. I knew I was in trouble If they put me in an ambulance and took me to the Outer Banks Hospital, I had to pay. This to me was a pay-or-die situation. A weekend on Hatteras Island is not the time to get sick. I had one alternative. I dialed 911 and said, "I have a medical emergency, and I don’t want you to come to me. I want you to get me in contact with my doctor."

Within five minutes, the doctor called me. I told him my problem, and he said, "You get someone to bring you to me as quickly as possible." With the assistance of a dedicated doctor who cares about people, I was able to get to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, which did not question my insurance but provided me the care I needed. I remained in that hospital for four days.

Now, to make it possible for my wife and me to remain on the island I have loved since I was a child, I have encountered the Government Monster; This is the monster of getting a waiver for the county's Emergency Medical Services to bypass the Outer Banks Hospital so we can go to others in the area that will accept our insurance. It appears our Government Monsters can be overwhelming. When you seek assistance, you find yourself becoming a villain in the eyes of some government workers.

With the help of our Hatteras Island’s commissioner, Allen Burrus, we are going before the Dare County Board of Commissioners to seek a waiver for the 911 ambulance to bypass the Outer Banks Hospital and take us to Albemarle Hospital in Elizabeth City, where our insurance is accepted. The battle with this monster will definitely be a huge one, for we have only three minutes to state our case at the board meeting. We might not defeat this monster, but at least we will have the satisfaction of knowing we tried.

Our personal health problems have become huge monsters. We now must go off the island for all primary care. Illnesses such as the flu are monsters looming in the dark. In order to handle these types of minor need for medical assistance, we now must drive 60 miles. We keep a full tank of gas in our car these days, for we never know when we might have to head off the island in the middle of the night to a primary care clinic in Nags Head that accepts our insurance.

The biggest issue that now faces us daily is that if we to remain on this beautiful island, the monsters that were once imaginary will now be real. They confront every senior citizen, day in and out. I say to you who are younger and full of vim and vitality. "Get prepared for the monsters that await you after retirement age. If you don't you might become a monster to your children in your old age."

My wife and I both know what it means to be a caregiver to elderly parents. Is that what you want for your children? It is not any easy task for a working family to undertake. Be like our island squirrels and start laying aside a little extra for those long winter months that might just be right around the corner.

Art Linkletter, a famous comedian, had it right when he said, "Old age isn't for sissies."

Monsters of Aging Update One Year Later Saptember 2008

It has been a year since I related to you the problems Mary and I encountered with our Medical Insurance. I guess I should say it has been a long year due to the Medical Insurance Monster we have encountered as a result of being placed without our approval by our former employer under a Medicare Advantage Private Fee for Service Plan. I am in no way an authority on the subject of what is commonly called Medicare PFFS plans. All I can do is say to you stay away from them, regardless of how rosy the picture is painted for you by a sales person or the TV commercials.

In our case our provider, in conjunction with our state retirement plan, offers us fairly good medical benefits. We have a ten dollar co-payment for each Primary Care Physician’s office visit, and a twenty dollar co-payment for each Specialist office visit. Once we meet our annual individual Medical out of Pocket maximum of $500.00 we are covered for the year. When you reach the $500.00 plateau the company provides you a letter to give the doctors to let them you know you are no longer obligated to provide the co-pays.

The prescription portion of the plan has a $75.00 individual deductible payment at the beginning of each year on the first prescription order. After that it is set up on a three tier program. You are provided a Formulary list of covered drugs telling you what tier they come under. The company has a mail order prescription service that does a good job of assisting you in obtaining your drugs. One nice thing is there is no doughnut-hole problem as many encounter with their prescription plans. Our prescription plan states once your individual out-of-pocket cost reach $1,750 you pay $0 for your prescriptions drugs for the remainder of the plan year.

As far as medical and prescription plans goes I guess you would say ours is not bad. Medical care is not cheap. Even with a good plan many senior citizens are struggling to maintain them. There is misconception about Medical coverage for senior citizens that is pushed under the rug. We forget that the majority of seniors are making monthly contributions to secondary insurance providers besides Medicare.

For example Mary and I pay our former employer for medical and prescription coverage and Medicare every month. Our employer takes what we pay them and they, along with Medicare, contribute to the Medicare Advantage Private Fee for Service Company that administers our medical and prescription benefits. This is separate from what we pay anytime we go to a doctor or get a prescription filled. Now if you would add that to what we pay for benefits received it is not cheap. Assuming in a given year we would reach our annual medical and prescription maximums it could be quiet expensive as it was for me last year.

If you are sixty five and older I would encourage you to take the time to figure out just how much is really coming out of your pocket per year to maintain your health insurance. If you are still working you need to consider how much of your retirement income will be going to health care in the future. We talk about our insurance plans and often overlook the total outlay of money that we are putting out each year.

Considering what others have to pay I guess I will have to conclude our plan is not all that bad. It just has one major problem and that is doctors and hospitals refuse to accept it. It is a scary feeling when you are told time after time by Doctor’s offices. that they will not accept your insurance. On Hatteras Island, our home, none of the Drs will accept Medicare Advantage Private Fee For Service (PFFS) insurance plans nor will the closest hospital. For diagnostic tests that are done in the hospital we have to drive one way 150 miles. Because we are no longer driving at night this means we have to stay overnight in a motel, which is an additional cost. Mary’s gynecologist who has provided her service for years has now decline to accept the insurance. We went to Charlotte, NC last winter and the University Hospital told us that they would not accept nor even bill any Medicare PFFS companies for services. They said, “We will tell you the same thing we tell anyone who comes in here with a Medicare Advantage PFFS, You will be responsible for the total bill.” We were told by a huge trauma center that they would not accept the insurance. When we check with an Eye Care Center the doctor took one look at our insurance card and handed it back and said, “I have nothing to do with them”. While in Charlotte I had a problem with a growth on my leg. I contacted a Dermatologist for an appointment. When I handed them my insurance card they said we are not sure we will accept this. If you will wait we will see what we can do. Forty five minutes later they decided they would accept it. It is to the place that if we need a doctor that we have to go through a long procedure of waiting, or checking back until they can determine if they will accept the insurance. We both have eye problems so in order to obtain the care we need we travel 600 miles one way to our former home in WV to a doctor who accepts our insurance.

I will restate my initial premises concerning Medicare Advantage Private Fee for Service (PFFS) by saying before you sign up check the fine print that is on TV ads and their brochures. This is what you need to understand.

“A Medicare Advantage Private Fee-For-Service plan works differently than a Medicare supplement plan. Your doctor or hospital is not required to agree to accept the plan’s terms and conditions, and thus may choose not to treat you, with the exception of emergencies. If your doctors or hospital does not agree to accept our payment terms and conditions, they may choose not to provide health care services to you except in emergencies.” This is a direct quote from my provider.

What does this mean? It means that you need to be prepared to pay out of your own pocket at the time services are rendered by a doctor or hospital should you get sick while you are away from your home area. This also means you need to have the necessary cash with you any time you travel should you have to go to a Doctor. The last I heard an office visit here is $105.00 not including anything that is done for you. I contacted my provider about this and they told me to request they charge me only what Medicare would allow.

It is true by law that if you should have a medical emergency they are obligated to treat you. The problem with that is who determines what is an emergency? I was told by one medical provider the only thing they would do for me in an emergency was that which would be medically necessary. I interpret that to mean only enough to keep me alive at the time of the emergency and nothing more.

Mary and I have had little choice but to remain in our present position of traveling away from our home area to find doctors willing to provide us health care. We realize as we get older this will become a problem. We will have to depend on others to provide us transportation to and from the doctors. We contacted other insurance providers and none of them offer us affordable coverage or guaranteed coverage for our existing health problems. We are thankful to have the coverage we have even though it has created many problems for us. As I mentioned in the previous article our 911 services will only take us to Island doctors or the Outer Banks Hospital which refuses our insurance. This being the case we have purchased and additional Emergency Air and Ambulance Service so we can be transported to a hospital that will accept our insurance. This is costing us an additional $400.00 per year.

If you really want to know about the problems with Medicare Advantage Private Fee For Service Plans then merely key in PFFS on search engines such as Google and you will find an abundance of information.

Friends of The Old Gray House:  If you have any comments you can contact us at

memorial day memories
saying goodbye to an old friend
published in: July of 1998

Memorial Day Memories


Dewey Parr

The stolen Swing Where the swing was before it was stolen









Saying Goodbye To And Old Friend

Memorial Day on Hatteras Island is probably one of the biggest celebrated holidays. Not only is it a time to remember our departed friends and loved ones but it marks the beginning of tourist season on the Island.

This year I did the usual thing and that was to visit the cemetery and clean and decorate the graves of my parents in the Buxton Cemetery. Not having perpetual care cemeteries, it has always been the custom of the Islanders to clean and decorate their family grave sites prior to Memorial Day. Often times a visit to the cemetery becomes a social thing in that you encountered friends and neighbors. This year was no different for me. While there I met a good neighbor who was going the second mile by mowing not only his parents grave sites but the entire cemetery. He was especially concerned about clearing the grave sites of those who no longer had loved ones to tend to them. This good neighbor reflects the true Hatteras Spirit of just doing things from the bottom of his heart without seeking recognition from anyone. It is doubtful that those who come to the cemetery will ever know who took the time to clean the cemetery. One thing for sure, He will never tell.

This Memorial Day weekend as are most on Hatteras Island was one of the most magnificent weekend for tourist. The sun was shinning, the temperature was near perfect, and there was just a mild breeze blowing. It was such a thrill to see people relaxing in the sun, swimming, surfing, fishing, and all the other good things that go with a Memorial Day weekend on Hatteras. I remarked to my wife that this weekend was as near perfect as perfect could be. That perfection was soon to end.

On Monday, Memorial Day, when I arrived at the Old Gray House I was stunned to see that a dear friend of mine had departed during the night. My friend had been with me since Mary and I opened our retirement hobby. My friend and I had spent a lot of time together as we swung back and forth under the Old Oak Tree in the front yard of the Old Gray House. This dear friend seemed to help me remember the many stories that I shared over the years with children and guests who visited the Old Gray House. My friend had also comforted many tourists over the years and helped them dream dreams of the good times to be found on Hatteras Island as they swung back and forth in the pleasant breeze that always seemed to be under the Old Oak Tree. Somebody stole my friend. The Rope Swing that was under the old oak tree at the Old Gray House.

It is not the loss of the swing that bothers me. It is fact that our once peaceful Island is now undergoing severe changes that are even greater than the threat of erosion. The washing away of the sand that surrounds the Island is not as bad as the eroding of the moral values of our youth and adults.

The week before Mothers Day a shop keeper friend of mine related a story to me that showed just how far from center some have gone. She had purchased a beautiful geranium plant and placed it in front of her store. While inside she looked out the window and watched a young man park his car on the other side of Highway 12. He then walked across the road and picked up her geranium plant and proceeded back to his car. She ran out and yelled at him to bring her geranium back. He looked at her and laughed as he got in his car, with Florida license, and drove off. She was probably lucky he did not hurt her. It was not the geranium plant that hurt her. It was the fact that many people no longer have any regard for the property rights of others. I told her he probably stole it to give to his mother on Mothers Day. I am sorry to say that there appears to be many mothers of today who would probably accept a gift from their kid knowing they stole it.

Wow, what is happening to Hatteras? Has it finally come to the place we are no longer safe to leave your house unattended or your car unlocked? Is it the place like many of the cities that you dare not walk the streets or beach alone? I sincerely hope not.

It is doubtful that I will replace my friend, the swing at the Old Gray House, as much as I and the others enjoyed swinging in it for the last seventeen years. It could be, the stealing of the geranium and the swing from under the old oak tree at the Old Gray House, is an omen of what is on the horizon for the future of Hatteras Island.

The stolen Swing Where the swing was before it was stolen

The swing under the old live oak in front of the Old Gray House in Buxton that Dewey Parr and his friends have enjoyed for 17 years was stolen Memorial Day weekend.

Swing Update

Friends of The Old Gray House:  If you have any comments you can contact us at

the secret of sunrise published in: June of 1998


Dewey Parr








One of my favorite crafts we had hanging in the Gray House was a hand-painted lighthouse on a sand dollar with the saying on it, NEAR THE SEA WE FORGET TO COUNT THE DAYS. How true it is when you are in the presence of the mighty ocean that you seem to loose all sense of time. It is as if your mind and body seem to fuse into the eternal environment that surrounds all mankind, Throughout the years I have always found the ocean not only fascinating but magnetic. Once you have found it and sensed its beauty you are just naturally drawn back to it. This charm attracts different people in different ways. Some are satisfied just to live close enough to the ocean to hear its roar and glance at it from time to time. Others sense the beauty in full sunshine and are content to take an occasional dip in refreshing sea water then make their way back to a beach towel to bake, or snooze in the sunlight. Some talented few skim its surface on boards of fiberglass, mastering crashing waves and engineering wind and currents to their best advantage. Many find pleasure in a healthy daily walk along its edge, providing new insights into life. Then there are many like myself that answer to the oceans call early in the morning hours while others are dreaming dreams of another days activity on the oceans edge. The ocean is a one of a kind. So is each person's pleasure derived from it.

My pleasure might not be yours, but I would like to share with you a few things I see on my daily sunrise trip to the ocean. Getting up early is something that comes naturally to those who grew up near the oceans prior to electricity. I guess a lot had to do with the fact that in the olden days on the Outer Banks we all had "chicken" alarm clocks. We went to bed with the chickens and got up with the first crow from the rooster when the sun rose. I remember well in our Buxton home that every morning the old rooster saluted the sun with his cock-a-doodle-do. The chicken pen was right outside my bedroom window. Do you remember those old Hatteras and Ocracoke chicken coops?

It always amazed me to see the ingenuity of the islanders in their efforts to make a chicken pen that was animal and hawk proof. The chicken pen not only provided us with eggs and meat but a lot of entertainment and excitement. When the hawks were hovering overhead, it made your blood run cold to think of them swooping down and grabbing your prized chickens. I remember well when Mom cried, "Hawk! Hawk!", running to help "shoo" the chickens in the pen. Dad designed a chicken pen, that he thought was animal and hawk proof, that is if you kept the chickens inside of it. He completely encased the pen, with a double layer of chicken wire. Even a diving hawk thought twice before flying head-long into our pen. One of the islanders tried fitting a piece of clear glass on top of his pen thinking it would fool the hawks and they would break their necks when they dove down. Dad said the reason it didn't work was because the chicken hawks were smarter than he was.

My memory of those days of chickens scratching in the sand is often refreshed when I hear someone say in a scolding fashion to a child, "You had better stop that or, I will wring your neck." I can recall my mother and Grandma Gray, using that term quite often. We who are a little older can vividly recall how that term originated. When we had chicken for dinner we didn't go to the store and get a tray of neatly prepared chicken to cook. We went to the chicken coop, captured a chicken, and literally swung it around and rung its neck. Then we cut its head off and hung it over the line to drain the blood. Not a pretty sight to behold but it was an accepted way of life for the Islanders. With that scene in mind we kids knew that when an adult looked at us and said, "You better behave or I will wring your neck", they meant business. Of course if you use language like that today out in public with your kids you might find yourself facing charges. In that same vain, I never heard an Islander tell a kid to shut-up like you hear many mothers screaming today. An Island mother merely cocked her eye at her kids and in a low voice sternly said, "Bite Your Lip". Try to bite your lip and talk and you will see it gets the same result with less effort.

The thing that I like best about early morning trips is watching nature come alive to face a new and exciting day. From my door it's just a hop and a skip to Cape Point. I can be there in a matter of minutes, whereas when I was a kid it was considered a long trip.. We didn't go to the Point often. In fact it was a treat to get to go and swim in the salt water ponds. Back then, Cape Point was not the sport fishing center it is today. You didn't see sports vehicles from every state in the union lining the wash, morning, noon, and night. The majority of the fishing was done by setting nets in the sound.

Each morning I see new and exciting things. Most mornings I see fishing, birds leisurely wading in the ponds near the lighthouse. I always stop to admire them and marvel at the way the Creator designed them with big beaks and long legs to bend backward so they don't have to squat to catch minnows. Other times there would be a flock of ducks or a coon winding its way around the ponds edge. The turtles are always there and occasionally, you see a snake along the road. My favorite friends are the fleeting deer and the rabbits that are nibbling on the dew laden grass. It is almost as if many of them are there waiting my arrival.

Passing the lighthouse at sunrise is always a great delight. Some days it is stands elegant in front of a clear sky with a rising sun in the background. Other times it is banked with clouds that reminded you of iridescent cotton balls. Then there are times it is shrouded with dark dreary colors with swift moving clouds all round it. One memorable moment was the morning when my wife, Mary and I saw the lighthouse standing firm with two long lightning bolts, one on each side, streaking from the sky to the water. The lighthouse is always a thing of beauty to behold night or day, but it takes on a new dimension in early morning as the sun begins to rise over the ocean behind it to announce a new day.

 There are so many things to observe on the way to the beach it is hard to elaborate on them. I especially treasure the times when I am the first to arrive after a rain or an overwash and the only tracks in the sand are those that I make. I have the same feeling that Neil Armstrong must have had when he stepped out of his spacecraft for the first time to leave his mark on the moon. Can you imagine the feeling our fore-fathers had when they came to these islands and stepped out on miles and miles of undisturbed sand. Hatteras and Ocracoke are one of the few places left in the world when you can still experience such a simple pleasure.

One morning as I approached Cape Point there was not a tire track or footprint in sight and it was covered in absolute black. The closer I got the more I realized I was about to be a part of a great and unique experience. As my old blazer came upon this black blanket it began to slowly rise in front of me with just enough room for me to drive under and then it settled down behind me. I was in the center of migrating birds, who must have sensed I meant them no harm. I continued under my feather blanket with flickers of light bleeding through until I reached a clear spot on Cape Point at the oceans edge. As I looked back I realized I had experienced a nature adventure that could only be found here.

Another pleasure I get especially after a rain is traveling what I call Rabbit Run Road and viewing the animal tracks. Rabbit Run Road is the sand road behind the dunes that runs parallel with the camp ground. I named it that because every morning the rabbits are lined up along the road and they dart in and out in front of me. When you are the first car to travel the road after a night rain you can see tracks where the animals have crossed the road. It is fun to get out of your car and look close at the tracks and see if you can identify them. Sometimes you get to see the animals that make the tracks as they dart across the road in front of you.

It is not just the wildlife that is exciting to behold at sunrise, but the people you find on the beach as well. I have met a lot of interesting people on the beach at sunrise. In fact, one of my treasured friends today Victor, was a sunrise acquaintance. He was shell collecting early one morning at Cape Point when I first met him. Over the years I've been thankful for that early-morning meeting because of the encouragement Vick had provided me as I have watched him continue to be a blessing to others. Vick spends his retirement days doing volunteer work with the Park service. He loves to share the beauty of the islands with all he comes into contact. Victor is a man who has found the secret of the serenity and peace of mind that one receives from sunrise visits to the oceans edge.

I have observed that there are seasonal people that come during vacation time who go to the beach every morning at sunrise. Then there are locals who are regulars regardless of the weather or the season. One in particular is a gentleman that I became well acquainted with one early-morning when I spotted him stuck on a low tide peninsula at Cape Point. I saw a frantic man with a nice new truck in the wake of a rising tide all alone on the beach. We were the only two people there and we concluded that there was nothing I could do to help save his truck. To say the least as I loaded him up, we bonded on the way back to Buxton to seek help. When it seemed like all was lost we luckily found Danny Couch. Danny came to the rescue and pulled the truck off the point to safety. After his truck was freed from the clutches of the ocean waves he preceded on his way to complete his daily sunrise chore of scouring the beach. Rain or shine you can set your sun clock by him as he proceeds inch by inch down the beach hanging his head out of his car window seeking out whatever treasures the ocean bestows on the beach. His favorite items to collect are fishing lures and scotch bonnets. If you miss him you can always tell the he has proceeded you down the south beach. He will be the first and only tire prints you will see at the low water mark.

Some of sunrise sights you see involving human beings are amusing, such as the one I recall on a hot summer morning. As I was returning from my morning adventure I came from the beach up the trail leading to the campground. The wind was blowing rather briskly in a direction that deadened the sound of my blazer. Directly in the middle of the road I spotted a middle aged man evidently coming from a morning swim, happily swinging to and fro. I thought at first, am I seeing what I think I am seeing? He was holding his bathing trunks in his hand, naked as a jay bird, and singing to the top of his voice. The temptation was too great for me. I eased up as close as I could get behind him and gently tap my horn. Have you ever seen a embarrassed, naked, middle aged man with a pot belly try to jump into a tight fitting bathing suit while trying to keep his balance in the middle of a sand road. He didn't quite make it, so I yell at him not to be alarmed. After he calmed down we chatted for a few minutes. He went merrily on his way and I went on mine. Guess I was lucky I didn't cause him to have a heart attack.

There are many other incidents of sunrise encounters I have had over the years with individuals who have come to the beach to renew their spirits. Often as I drive along the oceans edge I will see people setting along staring out at sea. Many times I will slow down and speak to them and before you know it we are holding a conversation. Sometimes they tell you who they are and where they are from. At times you run into someone who is eager for someone to talk to. They tell you of troubles, and dashed dreams. The ocean at sunrise offers them the peace and solitude they need to resolve their problems and to find a new beginning. This is not an uncommon thing. In the early history of the islands men often settled by the seaside as a retreat from their problems. Some stayed on permanently. Others thought out their problems and returned back into the world away from the sea. I don't think there is any other place like the ocean to help one seek solution to problems. It is always a pleasure for me to be able to share with those who are troubled the healing qualities that they will find by the seaside at sunrise.

In this age of get up and go to work, videogames, late night movies, and sleep-in when you can, many will probably never see our beautiful Hatteras and Ocracoke sunrises. I would encourage you at least one time, to force yourself to get up early and go sit on the beach and watch the sun come up over the ocean. Who knows you might find out the secrets of why the old-timers on the islands are so laid back and at peace with the world.

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gardening forty miles out to sea published in: January of 2007


Dewey Parr

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Gardening on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands is a challenge that can try the patience of the most dedicated gardener. I am sure that there are times that even Job with all of his patience would have been tempted to throw in the trowel. If it is not the elements, drought, flooding, hurricanes, north-easters or just our every day wind factor, it is the insects and animals. Many are not aware that even on a calm day that there is a salt spray from the ocean floating over the island. A salt spray, combined with sunlight and wind that saps the energy from the healthiest of plants. A salt spray that settles in the soil and limits the quantity and quality of plant life on the islands. Probably the only nice thing we can say about the salt spray is that in the winter it helps to keep our beach roads from freezing. When you garden on the Outer Banks, you become aware that the number one factors you must deal with are sand, salt, sea and sun.

It has always been interesting to me to observe the gardening habits of many who purchase property on the Islands. They move here because they fall in love with our environment and then they begin to drag in plants from back home to change the appearance of the Islands. It doesn't take but one good growing season for many to learn that Hatteras and Ocracoke are in a zone all to themselves.

Over the years I have learned a few secrets about gardening on the Island that where passed on to me from my ancestors who had beautiful Island gardens. They did not concentrate on flowers as we do today. The blooming plants and trees they had where usually things that just grew here: Carolina Jasmine, Four O’clock, Cape Jasmine or Gardenia, Oleander, Crape Myrtle, Dog Wood, Beach Daisy or Joy Bells, Flocks, Captains Wheel or Passion Flower, China Berry, Swamp Biscuit or Hibiscus, and of course Spanish Bayonets. Occasional you find some unusual plants growing here and there as a result of seeds brought by the sea or migrating birds. Their main concern was growing plants that would produce food for their tables. The general attitude was if you can't eat it don't grow it. It wasn't hard to understand this attitude. Theirs was a survival economy and there was little time for smelling the roses.

I recall that in the Gray House Garden, which was across the road where the Electric Company is now, that the plants flourished. In our garden there was always my mother's favorite, okra. Another family favorite was broccoli which my cousin Gary Gray continues to maintain by growing a patch in front of his village barber shop every summer. The root crops where especially something to behold. Carrot as long as a foot, beets deep dark red the size of oranges, radishes, huge potatoes both sweet and Irish. Leafy crops like cabbage, kale, and the ever favorite collard greens kept the pots full on the old wood burning stove. Garden crops complimented the daily catch from the sea, sound, or the woods. One plant I remember my mother and grandmother using as an herb for flavoring a pot of greens was polk. We kids called it the ink plant because of the red berries. They would send me out to pick young polk leaves to drop in the pot. Today we consider it to be toxic and warn children to not eat the berries or leaves.

An Island garden I cherished was the one on the lower crossover path right below my house from the front road, now highway 12, to the Buxton Back Road The Garden was along the Dark Ridge Path and went down to the Marsh. I ran the path daily to see Aunt Nellie (Nellie Gray 1906-1996) and Uncle John Gray, (John Brown Gray 1899-1951) and Lupp (Lupton Jones Gray 1899-1969) and Louie (Loudisa David Gray 1891-1971) Gray who lived on the Buxton Back Road. Love that trip because there was always a hug and a cookie waiting for me and I got to smell the Captains Wheels growing on Aunt Nellie’s fence. In this garden along the Dark Ridge Path were the most luscious looking melons you ever saw. It was a real temptation for us kids to occasionally reach over the fence and get a fresh cantaloupe. I think the gardener, Mr. Mathey (Mathew Jordan Gray) and his wife Luiza (Louisa C. O'Neal Gray) Gray knew that, because they always planted extra and never complained about a few missing melons.

Note I have taken the time in this article to give the proper names of those I mentioned. You can see that few people on the Island were known by their birth names. This is why historians have such a hard time reconstructing our Island heritage. We called everybody Aunt and Uncle and even to this day many still are not aware they were not really related to them. Now that I have been going by my birth name, Dewey, which was my dads, many are confused as to who I am. I just recently had someone ask me. Are you "Sonny" Parr? Sonny was my nick name and Dewey was my dad's name. The person that asked said that sure clears things up. We have had you confused with your dad and we couldn't believe you could be that old. My response was, I know I look old but I can assure you I am not 104.

Speaking of melons, I was reminiscing with a childhood friend, recently about the time back in the thirties that a islander brought a boatload of watermelons from across the sound. His boat was too big and to low in the water from the weight of the melons for him to tie up at the lower Buxton Landing. He anchored about fifty feet from the shore. With the assistance of us kids he unloaded the melons from his boat to a skiff. We then carried the melons from the landing to his house. The unloading was fun for us because many of the melons fell in the water and we floated them inshore. It was a real adventure for us because at that time there wasn't a lot of excitement on the island. My friend reminded me that as we carried the melons up the path from the sound a few melons accidentally rolled in the bushes. Of course rather than let the melons rot by the wayside, we managed to find time to have a soundside melon feast and a battle with the rinds.

Many Islanders come by the Old Gray House to talk gardening and share plants with me. We all seem to share a common garden problems. They tell me of the tons and tons of rich dirt they have trucked in over the years only to see it disappear. I have a theory as to why you can put rich dirt on your Island gardens and soon see it return to sand. I think if it is true, as the scientist say that these islands are constantly on the move and the sand on the ocean side is sliding under the islands to the sound side that there is a logical explanation. I realize that I do not have the qualifications to produce Island theories nor do I believe that many of those who have appointed themselves as Island spokespersons have much better explanations to offer than we who have observed these islands most of our lives. It has always amazed me that how brilliant in island knowledge and culture many who have little or no experience in island matters seem to acquire after a brief stay here. Such statement as: Sand Dunes where a mistake and should be discontinued, as well as that traffic on the beach, foot or otherwise, should be discontinued for the preservation of the natural order of things. One great authority even made the statement that it was never intended for man to live on the ocean. That same person probably embraces the theory of evolution that indicated that the beginnings of mankind crawled out of the sea. Should that be the case, which I seriously doubt, it would explain mankind's desire to live or come back to the sea as often as they can. This in itself would repudiate the idea that man was never intended to live by the sea. With this said, I will now present my unscientific theory that holds as much water as some of the gibberish that has been inflicted on the Islanders in the last few year by some pseudo scientific do-gooders. My theory how the top soil disappears is, as the sand rolls under the Islands it is forming a vacuum that sucks the newly added top soil down with it. Of course another even simpler explanation is that the ever blowing wind takes away all of the mulch. Mulch being lighter than sand has a much greater chance of being air born and ending back up in the ocean. I definitely learned that you cannot have much success with a tall plants that the wind can blow over or dehydrate. Such plants as the beautiful tropical impatiens with bright color foliage cannot survive due to the wind factor. And if wind isn't bad enough the deer, rabbits and insects eat the blooms off of the plants before they even get started.

I can attest to the animal problem. I marveled at the tomatoes grown by Ray Miller, my school chum, who lives on Dark Ridge Road, now called Light Plant Road. I finally got him to share one of his tomato growing secret with me. He said, "Sonny", that's what Islanders called me, "put your tomato plants in five gallon buckets". I got ten buckets, cut a hole for drainage in the bottom of each one of them, and filled them with rich dirt and buried them in the ground. I heard another idea of putting a banana in the bottom. You would not believe the beautiful plants that popped up loaded with green tomatoes-to-be. My mouth was watering at the thought of those home grown tomatoes. I watched them every day as they began to get bigger and bigger and began to ripen. To my surprise I soon learned that I was not the only one who had their eyes on my tomatoes. Overnight my hopes of gracing my table with lush red mouth watering tomatoes disappeared when a pack of raccoons took a big bite out of each one of my beautiful red tomatoes.

A friend suggested I call the Animal control unit of Dare County and have them bring me a cage to collect the raccoons. I took his advice. They brought the cage with the instructions that I could only set the trap the night before their weekly scheduled trip to the Island. I set the trap but the coons out-smarted me. Somehow they got the bait and all I got was an empty cage. In disgust I decided to give the cage back to the County Animal control. I set the cage along the edge of old oak tree planted by my father that I flip around in my car every time I come into my drive way. There the County Coon Cage sat waiting for the County to come pick it up. Well guess what I did. Not thinking I came rolling in my drive way flipped around the old oak tree and heard a crunching sound. I got out and looked at a flattened cage. From the bushes near by I am sure I heard a rustling and a snickering. Not only did the raccoons humiliate me, but the County added to my disgust by charging me $50.00 for a flattened cage. I finally decided it is easier to buy fresh home grown tomatoes from Connors Market, our neighborhood store, than spend hours working to feed the Island Raccoons or paying for cages.

How did the Islanders in the past do it. How did they have such beautiful gardens without trucking in soil, irrigation systems, using commercial fertilizers and insecticides, or electrified fences? What was their secret to gardening? The first thing they did was use the common sense to plant their gardens where there was a water supply. That meant someplace where they could dig a hole in the ground about a foot or two deep and hit water. We had a such a place in our garden as did most people. The water in these areas was not salty or brackish, because the fresh water being lighter than salty water floated to the top. This was something the islanders learned from the animals that learned to adapt to our harsh salty environment.. Wild animals such as deer used their hoofs to dig little ditches in low lying areas to acquire fresh drinking water.

The second, and probably as important as water, was to see to it that there was a wind barrier around their gardens. This was fairly simple because the underbrush was so thick that all they had to do was clear area where their garden was to be. Probably today the one single factor other than erosion that is devastating the Islands is the tendency of home owners to completely clear all trees, vines and underbrush from their property. It is my belief that the vines that used to cover the Island wooded areas served an important function. The vines not only shaded the trees from the salt spray and boiling sun, but tied the limbs of the trees together giving them more flexibility and strength during the fierce hurricane winds. What they forget is that the natural mulch that comes from the leaves of the trees is lighter than sand and when the fierce winds blow it blows all of the mulch and natural fertilizer from the soil. The early Islanders accepted the fact when you cleared a track of land without a wind break it became nothing more than blowing sand exposed as they put it, "to the oiling sun" never to be reclaimed again. The best way to counteract the blowing wind is devise a windbreak around your garden. In my case I have elected to maintain a wall of green around my property by dedicating at least five foot to nature.

Thirdly, they used the most natural fertilizer known to man: fish oil and sea shells. When I used to help plant the family garden, we put a seed in the ground and then buried a fish and then another seed and another fish. We did this row after row. Throughout the growing season we added more fish between the rows along with oyster, clam or scallop shells. The shells not only help to hold the water they added nutrients to the soil and provided lime and calcium to neutralize the acidity of the soil. Many forget that back then we had many Pine trees as well as Oak that made our soil acid. Acid soil is great for Evergreens, Azaleas, Camellias, but not garden vegetables.

The one thing I never have mastered is how they prevented the animals from destroying their gardens. They used barbed-wire, chicken wire, and probably their innate ability to bargain with the animals. Probably their greatest deterrent was the message they delivered loud and clear to the animals was, "If you eat my garden I will eat you".

Gardening today is not the necessity it was for the Island families. Today we garden for enjoyment and pleasure or merely as a challenge. The last twelve years of my life have been pure enjoyment. I have received pleasure from puttering in the garden of the Old Gray House and talking with the tourists. Many plants have been provided to me by our guests who visit the Old Gray House. They not only have shared plants with me, but their lives as well. My only regret has been that the hundred of plants provided me have not survived the hurricanes, droughts, flooding and now freezes that have plagued the Island over the last few years. The plants may have died, but the fond memories of those who have visited my garden continue to live on. Now they tell me that we can expect even worse storms and hotter dryer summers due to the global warming . In fact they are predicting that portions of our precious Islands, if not all of it, will be under water in the coming years. Regardless of all of the so called reasons why not to continue gardening on the Islands I encourage you to accept the challenge of Island Gardening even if it is nothing more than a pots of geraniums on your porch.

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The raccoons laughed when Dewey flipped around the old oak tree
planted by his father and crushed the
County Coon Cage

Friends of The Old Gray House:  If you have any comments you can contact us at

sand and antlions published in: december of 2006


Dewey Parr

At last summer is here. It is time to head for the sandy beaches of Hatteras and Ocracoke. Sand and summer go hand in hand. When I was teaching off the Island, I anxiously waited for the last school bell to ring so I could head back home. How I longed for those summers filled with the joys of just being on the beach, roaming the woods, and boating in the sound. A place where all I needed was a pair of shorts, trunks and a towel. Add a fishing pole, surfboard, crab net, and skiff for the sound, fresh fish, clams, oysters, shrimp, and sunsets that fill your eyes with color of the rainbow, and you have it all. That is living at its best. Those where the days that seemed to sustain me through the long winter months as I looked out of the classroom window and saw snow on the ground. I could picture me playing in the sand on the beach with my kids. How I worked and worked with my kids building sand castles day after day only to watch the castles wash out to sea. We ran along the surf kicking the water and sand. Then there was always the beach ritual of burying each other in the sand. Oooe-gooey sand in my hands and between my toes. Loved every minute of it.

A lot of things have changed since those days in Paradise. That is where you are when you come to Hatteras and Ocracoke. One constant that still remains unchanged is sand. Our Island sand brings the same happiness to the thousands of tourists who visit us each year as it did to the Islanders who have always resided on these remote and isolated Islands. When I was growing up on these Islands it was not easy to travel here. All we had was sand roads. Few felt it was worthwhile to fight the sand to make the trip here. Now everybody wants to live on the Islands and enjoy the pleasures of the sand, sun, and surf.

Those who grew up on these Islands where accustomed to living with sand. We loved to make tracks in the sand on the beach and watch them wash away. That was fine on the beach but when it came to our homes it was not the tracks in the sand that concerned the housewives. It was the tracking of the sand inside the house. On a damp day the sand clung to your feet and it was easily tracked inside. At that time we did not have houses on stilts or decks like today where the sand falls off your feet by the time you get to the door. Nor did we have electricity or vacuum cleaners or carpets that caught the sand. The first sweeper we had other than a broom was one of those hand pushed job that the brushes rolled around and scooped up the sand as you pushed it. Wow, when Dad got that gadget for Mom she thought we were living in style. Our floors were either bare wood or old fashion flower patterned linoleum. The linoleum was usually reserved for the sitting room. Guess that was due to cost and availability. Hatteras and Ocracoke housewives battled with the sand everyday. It was a real chore to keep it out of the house. The Island women prided themselves in keeping their houses clean of the sand. It was often said, of an Island woman, "She is so clean she sweeps the sand". I can recall my mother, Melissa Gray Parr, sweeping a sand path to the door of our Buxton house. What she was doing was sweeping the oak leaves and other mulch away so that the clean sand was exposed. This helped to stop tracking in the leaves and dirt. My Island grandmother and mother held to the Island belief that, "Cleanliness was next to Godliness". To this day I can still picture my mother on her hands and knees scrubbing her floors. Another saying about the clean habits of Island women was, "Her floors are so clean you can eat off oft hem".

William Alfred Gray, Mom's oldest brother, used to say that when he was growing up in the Gray household that, "his drawers never hit the floor before Ma grabbed them and put them in the wash tub". I can attest to that because it was my job to go outside early in the morning and pump the water in the wash tub for the sun to heat it for the days washing. My mother and most Island women washed and hung out clothes every day. Part of the reason for that was because they did not have a lot of clothes.

Sand was a problem for Island housewives, but it held many fascinations for those who chose to take the time to look for the creatures that lived in the sand. One of the great funs was to go to the beach and go down to the wash to seek out the creatures of the sand, and watch the coquina pop up out of the sand as the waves rolled in and out. It was fun to collect coquina and marvel at their exquisite colors and patterns that seemed to be different with each shell. We would collect them in an container looking at them over and over and then place them one by one back on the edge of the surf and watch them burrow back into the sand. Then there were the, not so colourful sand-fiddlers on the edge of the surf that tickled your hands when you picked them up with a handful of sand and water. My favorite beach sand creature was the "Ghost Crab". These creatures of the sand used to be highly visible on our beaches. You could see them peeping out of their holes in the sand with little mounds of sand in front of the holes where they keep their tunnels cleaned out. They scurried across the sand with lightning speed and were very hard to catch. For fun we used to chase them and try to dig them^ut but seldom caught them. It was never our intention to harm them but just to play with them. I often thought they enjoyed the chase as much as we did because they seemed to pop out of the sand as if to say, Ha!, Ha!, you can't catch me. They always seemed to have an avenue of pre-planned escape to avoid being trapped by us. Today there are not many ghost crabs visible during the day, problably due to the number of people on the beach. If you go to the beach at night with a flashlight you can see them flitting across the sand as they run back and forth from to the ocean wash to wet their bodies.

It was not merely the creatures of the sand at the beach that caught my eye it was also the little critters that hid themselves in the sand around our yard that drew attention to the importance of sand. Many mornings I would notice raised up long trails in the sand. I came to realize this was the mounds made by the molds that burrowed through the sand as they sought out morsels of food. Then there where always the ants that made their mounds and spent their days dragging food back down to the hive. It was watching the ants that made me come across a strange elusive creature of the sand that many totally overlooked. I noticed neat little conical pits in the sand all around the edges of our house, or in areas where the ants traveled. Areas that where not usually exposed to the rain, but where the sand was small grained and very dry. As I waited and watched this little circles in the sand I noticed occasionally that something at the very bottom of the little pit would kick the sand particles out as they dropped in the pit. Never did I see the creature but only the evidence of the sand being kicked out. As I watched along came an ant. The ant flitted across the sand and before it knew, fell into little pit. It tried to climb out of the funnel shaped pit only to have the loose sand to cause it to slide back down. The ant made two or three attempts only to slide back down to the bottom the pit. Then it happened. Something grabbed the ant by one of its feet and held it fast to the bottom of the pit. The ant struggled for awhile and then it ceased all struggles and laid dormant. Still I saw nothing. I watched and watched and finally the ant was pulled out of sight under the sand. Of course my curiosity was really peaked so I could hardly wait to share what I observed with my family.

When I related what I saw, I was told that at the bottom of the pit was an ant lion. A creature of the sand that ate ants or anything else that happened to stumble into its pit. I was also reminded that the same thing could happen to me if I fell in a huge sand hole and tried to climb out. I was also warned when playing around the waters edge never to dig a big hole in the sand and get into it for fear the bottom would drop out when I hit water. I was told it would be the water grabbing me and causing the sand to cave in around me. It would suck me down and bury me alive just like the ant lion did to the little ant. As you recall it was just a few years ago a young man had this happen to him when he dug a hole near the water on the beach. My family was always aware of the pitfalls of sand and water. Mother's brother, Isaac Gray, drowned in 1928 while claming in the sound. They thought he stepped in a hole and was pulled under.

I had forgotten about my childhood fascination with the creatures of the sand and the ant lion in particular until my friend Joe Lyle from Providence Forge, Va. brought it to my attention while we were sitting under the old Oak Tree at the Old Gray House. Joe is one of our many summer visitors who have a love for the Islands. He spends his time reading, hiking and soaking up Island history and culture. He spotted all the neat little circled holes under the oak tree with ants flitting here and there. Joe said, now you watch. It won't be long now and one of those ants will become a meal for that old ant lion that is at the bottom of that hole just waiting for his next meal". Sure enough it happened. An ant fell into the hole and the ant lion grabbed the ant. A lot has changed when it comes to acquiring information since my early days on the Island. We didn't have a library or a book mobile back then. Now we have something that exceeds our wildest dreams in obtaining information on any subject, "The Internet". The internet is our oyster that opens up the world to us so that we can pluck out pearls of knowledge on any subject from the world’s information banks. That evening I went home and got on the internet and keyed in the words, "Ant Lion". What popped up provided me with hours of enjoyment reading all the research that has been done and is still going on about the little creature of the sand known to the Islanders as the ant lion.

The next day I could hardly wait to share what I had learned on the Internet about the ferocious ant lion. While sitting under the Oak Tree along came a tourist from New Jersey with his wife and three children. He sat down in the swing under the oak tree and began to swing and chat. I said have you noticed the little round circles in the sand by the swing. He looked down at the sand and said, "what is that". My fun began. I told him about the ant lion. How the ant lion was at the bottom of those funnel shaped holes just waiting to grab an ant and inject him with venom from his sickle like jaws. Venom that would dissolve his body parts so that he could suck his insides out. And after he dinned on the ant he would toss his remains out of his hole and lie in wait for another tender morsel to fall into his trap. Before I knew it he was down on his knees peering at the circles in the sand waiting and watching ants fall into the clutches of the ant lion. Forty five minutes later it was all his wife and kids could do to pry him away from his fascination with the ant lion. For a few brief moments he had forgotten his age and became a kid again full of adventure and fascination with life. Isn't that what coming to Hatteras and Ocracoke is all about?

The Islanders that I talked to when I first learned of this tiny creature didn't realize that the ant lion was just a part of the larva stage of development of the Neuropteran insect. A insect that flies around at night that resembles a dragonfly. They had something better to offer in their explanation of the strange creatures of the sand. They applied a moral lesson or a safety lesson to that which they observed from nature and the sand. Over and over they spoke of the foolishness of building a house on shifting sand, or wasting your opportunities for a productive life by spending idle hours building sand castles only to watch them wash out to sea. There are a lot of lessons one can learn from the ant lion, such as how foolish many are in forsaking all the pleasures of life in their climb to the top of the economic heap only to slide back down to destruction.

Go onto the internet and key in, "Ant lion". You will be surprised at what you might learn. Drop by the Old Gray House, and we will share ant lion stories. I will be sitting under the old oak tree with my lessons from the sand and the ant lions waiting for you.

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the value of speaking for yourself published in: may of 2000


Dewey Parr

One of the greatest lessons I learned as a child growing up on Hatteras Island was speaking for myself. Recently, I learned that this is now a lost art.

We who grew up on Hatteras and Ocracoke were trained in this fine art every day. Speaking for ourselves was entertainment. The person among us who could tell a good story with emotion and feeling was always a welcomed guest. We gathered in the general stores, around the wood burning stoves, in the flickering of the oil lamps, and shared our views daily. We did it without inhibitions or fears of reprisal. We listened to each other and even listened to the children. Even though we did not always agree, we shared ideas. We listened, and then we formulated our views from the many opinions we heard.

Today, they call this an open forum, as if it were something new. Back then, it was something we did everyday.

Things have changed drastically on the islands when it comes to the art of speaking for yourself. Islanders now wait for someone else to speak for them. We have been led to believe that our views will not be heard unless they are filtered through some organization. The problem with this is that often those who step forward to speak for us do not represent our views. We have few, if any, organizations left on the islands that represent the true views of the residents. Many times those who are the leaders of the few organizations that do exist have other agendas, rather than merely being a voice for the islanders.

This is why I have chosen to encourage people to speak for themselves, rather than to let someone else misrepresent their view. We forget that we have elected, with our vote, representatives in our local, state, and federal governments to speak for us. The only way they know what we, the people on Hatteras and Ocracoke, want is for us to individually let them know.

In the last month, I have traveled from Oregon Inlet to Ocracoke Inlet, trying to get islanders to write their Congressional delegation and tell them how they feel about the two big issues that are now confronting us ? a new user fee program that will be implemented by the National Park Service and the effort of environmental groups to ban off-road vehicles on our beaches. Both of these issues have the potential to change our way of life and to devastate our economy.

The reactions to my efforts have been varied. In one incident, I thought for sure I was going to be thrown out of a store when I offered to provide literature expressing my views. On another occasion, I actually thought a person was going to hit me. Not everyone agrees with my feelings that our government should provide us free access to the national seashore. Many have made it clear to me that they definitely would prefer that all ORVs be banned from the beach. They object to the ruts in the sand. Some say we are killing the turtles and destroying the nesting areas for the birds. One woman told me it would make her happy if they charged to come on the islands because it would keep all of the tourists out.

On the other hand, others have expressed their feeling that they think the NPS fee program or the banning of ORVs is the beginning of the end of our way of life. They say that one fee will lead to another and another. They say that for the National Park to institute a fee program is not only an insult, but an attack on their heritage. Those who were on the islands in 1952 when Conrad L. Wirth, director of the National Park Service, met with folks here to establish the Cape Hatteras National Seashore claim they were promised that the beaches would always be free to the public. They claim the NPS has broken all of its promises to the people and therefore you cannot believe anything Park officials say.

One refreshing experience I had on Ocracoke Island was an encounter with an 87-year-old gentleman. He drives every day to the beach. He is getting someone to help him write a letter to his congressperson, so he can speak for himself.

Then, of course, I met those who were disillusioned by past experiences in dealing with the government. They see little reason to express their views, because, they say, government officials will do what they want anyway. This is the group that frightens me the most. It is this attitude that provides a fertile ground for the growth of dictators.

Regardless of your view or my view, the important thing is that we restore the worth of the individual's view here and elsewhere. It is not necessary that we agree on this issue or any other. What is of the utmost importance is that we express ourselves and we take time to listen and learn from each other.

I encourage you to contact your Congressmen and send letters to the editors of newspapers stating how you feel about NPS fees and the banning of ORVs.

I recall when I was an elementary school principal and teachers would bring a group of children into my office to complain about their conduct. I would always take the time to listen in detail to each child before I made that awesome decision. I would look each child in the eye and say, ""Speak for yourself."

Now I am looking you in the eye and saying, "Hatteras and Ocracoke islanders, speak for yourselves."

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my favorite island dog published in: october of 2001


Dewey Parr

Dewey Parr and
his sister Lucie,
with Queenie

When I look at the picture that was taken at my Buxton home in l937, my thoughts take me back to my early childhood days on Hatteras Island and of my best friend at that time. My best friend was my dog, Queenie.

I guess the reason Queenie has remained in my memories all of these years is because she came to me at a time in my life when I needed constant companionship and a true friend. Before this picture, I had suffered a severe burn and was confined to a bed for a long time. It was during that time Queenie arrived at our home to be by my side.

Queenie stayed at the foot of my bed during those long months I longed to feel the sand between my toes on the island beaches and sand roads. It was Queenie, with a wagging tail that greeted the many islanders who took the time to bring me gifts and visit with me. It was Queenie that nuzzled her nose against me to help comfort me when the pain from the burn began to hurt. It was Queenie that guided me along when I finally left the bed to walk on the hand-whittled crutches made for me by a man with the WPA.

Queenie stayed with me throughout my childhood and into my teenage years. Together we roamed the sound side, woods, and beach as free spirits. Everyday was a new adventure as we unraveled the marvels of living on a fun-filled island.

Back then there where no fences, no leashes, no concerns about feces on the beach, and no animal-haters. Everybody on the island loved animals and children.

Then, suddenly, a dark cloud overshadowed our island. It was World War II. My father was called back into the service and placed on recruiting duty in Charleston, W.Va. We moved without Queenie to an apartment in the busy city of Charleston, the state capital of West Virginia. I was separated from my best friend.

Queenie was back in Buxton with Halloway and Levetta Gray, who lived in front of our house. I longed to have Queenie by my side, and finally arrangements were made by my father to ship Queenie to me. When Queenie arrived in Charleston by train, it was a happy day for the two of us. As the days progressed, I soon learned what Queenie and I had lost when we left Hatteras Island.

It was a happy day when
Queenie came to WV

No longer were we free spirits to roam the beaches together. Now we were in a land of many fences, leashes, concrete, and constant complaints about children and animals. Life was never the same for Queenie or me after we left our beautiful island. War changes things.

If there is a dog heaven, I hope for Queenie that it will have an open and free beach that all dogs will be free to roam with their owners, without rules and regulations to stop them from enjoying the fun of just being together.

Do you have a favorite pet you remember?

Dewey, Lucie, and Queenie
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Seaside Stress
Theres a stress at the seashore, but the islanders resist it
published in: october of 2001

Seaside Stress

There Is stress at the seashore, but islanders resist it


Dewey Parr

The word, "stress," was not a predominant word in the vocabulary of the pioneers on Hatteras and Ocracoke. Nowadays you are constantly hearing about being "stressed out" or how to cope with stressful living. Many visitors I talk with as I roam the grounds of the Old Gray House tell me they can hardly wait to get to the islands so they can get away from all of the stress of their jobs and city living.

Living in what some seem to think is a total stress-free environment, I thought I would look up the word "stress" to see what it is that I, along with the rest of the islanders, have been deprived of. Now the big book, "Webster's Dictionary," says stress is, "a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation."

As I see it, stress is a self-inflicted disorder that is caused by one's inability or unwillingness to cope with the everyday problems of life. To remain in a prolonged state of stress leads to emotional instability, depression, and physical problems, such as heart disorders, strokes, diabetes, and so forth.

There is no doubt that we have the ingredients of stress on the islands. There are probably as many or more things for us to be stressed about than most people have living in the big cities. Our sudden weather changes and having to cope every year with the potential of a hurricane or a severe nor'easter is in itself enough to cause stress.

We need to be reminded there a lot of factors that have changed between the old days and today when it comes to severe storms. It used to be we never thought anything about hurricanes until a day or so before they hit the island. We knew a big one was coming when the sea gulls began to congregate on our roof. We didn't have a newspaper or the Weather Channel to tell us every minute there was a storm coming. There were no evacuations. No one ever thought of leaving the islands. In fact, back then if you did want to leave, there was no way to get off.

In days gone by, there were no sand dunes, no paved roads, and nobody lived on the beach. What population we had was grouped in villages on the soundside away from the ocean. There was only sand and more sand. Ocean overwash was a common thing. When you traveled the beach, you could see water on both sides of the island. For most people, the only way off the Island was to ride the Midgett's bus. Few people had automobiles. The bus ride from Buxton to the inlet was an experience in itself. It cost $2.50 and took four hours or more, depending on the conditions of the beach. Sometimes we got out and helped push the bus through the sand. Often it meant you zipped along the ocean wash, and it appeared you were almost in the water as you looked out the window. The Midgett Boys, Stockton and Anderson, managed to get you to the inlet in time to catch Toby Tillet's ferry, regardless of the tides and wash-outs. I guess you would have to say that bus was our life-line to the mainland.

Toby Tillett's ferry
Photo from Standard Oil of N.J. Collection, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville Boarding Toby Tillets ferry at Orgeon Inlet in 45 before Bonner Bridge and the highway was built.

TV and the newspapers remind us every day that a major hurricane could destroy the islands at anytime. A lot of this hype is due to the increase of population and the tendency of people to build huge castles as close to the ocean's edge as possible. It seems to give the media great delight to show, over and over, houses falling into the sea and people fleeing from the wrath of a hurricane. If the constant threat of a hurricane is not enough in itself, then we have to cope with the many reminders that at anytime an inlet could form or the bridge could fall and we would be cut off from the rest of the world without electricity.

I am reminded of my experience during Hurricane Dennis last summer. I had always wanted to go to Bermuda. My main reason for wanting to see Bermuda was that it is only 500 miles from Hatteras and Ocracoke. When the opportunity came along, my wife, Mary and I, along with Howard and Charlotte Rooney of Hatteras village, sailed from Newport News, Va. We knew it was the dreaded hurricane season, but we decided to chance it anyway. Howard kept reminding me it was the same week that the hurricane that devastated the islands in August, 1993, had hit. Remember Emily? Who doesn't? Now that was stress!

We had a great time aboard ship and in Bermuda. I learned a lot of things about the island that is so close to us and yet so different. Bermuda sits on rock riddled with underground tunnels, while Hatteras and Ocracoke sit on sand. In the middle of the warm Gulf Stream, Bermuda has a semi-tropical climate with lush tropical vegetation. We are on the edge of the Gulf Stream and have a mild, but not tropical, climate. We have sea gulls and other birds year round. Bermuda doesn't because it has a long-tail sea gull that chases all the other birds away part of the year. Bermudians don't pay income tax, while we pay tax and more tax. Probably the most interesting thing I learned is that Bermuda is only 20 miles long and 60,000 people live and work there. Imagine trying to cram 60,000 permanent people, not counting summer tourists, onto Ocracoke.

Our trip was great until we started home. That's when seaside stress began. We heard that Hurricane Dennis was approaching Hatteras and Ocracoke and that the islands had been evacuated. Next we heard that Hatteras had been cut in half. That night we sailed into the outer edge of the hurricane. Our staterooms were five decks above the water line, and the waves where crashing against the windows. We rocked and rolled all the way into Norfolk, which is where we learned that there was no access to the islands. After three days in Manteo, we were finally allowed to get back home.

It is hard for me to accept that you can be prohibited from returning to your island home. We never let storms stop us before the National Park Service and a paved state highway came along. I think a childhood buddy of mine put things in perspective when a Park Service person questioned him how he got from Buxton to Avon when the road was washed out. He said he drove the beach, just like islanders did before the paved road.

Our home was spared any damage, but we learned that many others were not as fortunate. Some of the islanders had a double dose of stress. Not only were they without electricity, phones, and cable TV, but they were cut off from medical assistance for a period of time. Some had loved ones in the hospital and were unable to get off the island to be with them, while others had medical emergencies. Now, this is what I call seaside stress ? a form of stress that is repeated annually for all who live on the islands.

However, you ask, why can islanders appear so laid back when they face this stress year in and year out? What is the difference between our form of stress and the stress people experience off the islands?

Islanders seem to have acquired a resistance to everyday stress that others do not possess. It is a trait that has been passed on from generation to generation. This trait is infectious. All who come to dwell on the islands develop it as well. It is a simple solution to stress. Just as our forefathers did, we deal with our problems as they arise and move on to higher ground. We don't fret or moan and groan. We just handle what comes along and resume our normal living.

When my grandparents lost everything they owned in the big storm in Kinnakeet, now called Avon, they did not give up. They merely moved to higher ground in Buxton and continued living a normal life. When hurricane Emily destroyed home after home, many people on the island lost everything they owned. They did not quit or give up. They rebuilt and continued living productive lives. They consider their loss as a new beginning rather than an ending. There is something to be said for the island way of life that was centered on learning to survive whatever came your way.

I am grateful to all of the islanders, past and present, which have shown me over the years the value of enjoying everyday and not worrying about what will be or could have been. Their philosophy of living the moment and attempting to squeeze as much enjoyment as possible out of that moment, has helped me in many ways to adjust to whatever comes my way.

I think the islanders prove every day, by their attitudes, that stress is a self-inflicted disorder. You do yourself an injustice when you allow it to dominate your life and health. In some small way, it is my hope that I might share the secret to a stress-free life with all who visit our beautiful islands.

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Two very personal stories Make The Case for Saving The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse published in: April of 1997

Two very personal stories


Dewey Parr

Two very personal stories make the case for saving the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse 

Make The Case for Saving
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Over the years, I have been amazed at the knowledge of the visitors to Cape Hatteras Island about the lighthouse. Little children, as well as adults, can recite for you such data as how tall the lighthouse is, how many steps in it, the date it was buiIt, and even the possible date it will fall in the ocean if the present rate of erosion continues. The latter portion of this lighthouse trivia is that which deeply disturbs me. In no way do I want to see the lighthouse fall in the ocean.

The older I get, the more I realize that our nation is a multi-cultural society that is bound together by symbols of the past. The mere mention of these symbols conjures up historical and emotional images of the glories of the past and present accomplishments of many members of our society. These symbols come in all sizes and shapes. They might be a hillside carved with the images of past presidents, or an impressive figure, such as the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. On a smaller scale, some symbols can be as insignificant as a picture of a loved one or an ornament in someone's home that serves as a reminder of the good times or love shared in the past. Regardless of how minor the symbols might be, they serve to bind us together and make us better people.

To me the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is a symbol worthy of preserving. I would classify it as a national symbol that merits governmental intervention to save it from falling into the ocean. If our government does not intervene very soon, the lighthouse is doomed to destruction by the forces of nature. While all the experts are arguing about how to save the lighthouse, one good hurricane or northeaster could wipe it out. Now is the time for action, not talk.

I have asked many people the question, "Why do you think we should prevent the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse from falling in the ocean?" Their answers tell me that the lighthouse has more than an historical value or economic worth. Those I have talked with speak of its symbolic significance, rather than its value to the area tourist industry.

For example, a yearly visitor to the islands shared this personal lighthouse experience with me. Clarence Mansfield and his wife Patty are from Columbiana, Ohio. They have been making an annual pilgrimage to the Outer Banks, as many of you do, to rejuvenate their bodies and souls so that the harsh northern winters and daily living can not only be bearable but more enjoyable.

Clarence Mansfield's introduction to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was similar to that of others. He viewed it from its historical significance, as well as its structural beauty. He went on to say that when he stood at the bottom of the vast structure and looked to the top, he saw a lot more than a structure that was the tallest lighthouse on the east coast. He says it was? The greatest single challenge of his life."

Clarence has had a fear of heights since childhood. Those who have suffered from phobias or fears can easily understand Mansfield's longing to someday be able to stand on top of the lighthouse, to look over the rail at the beauty of the island and ocean below. For him to overcome such an ingrained emotional and physical disability seemed like a total impossibility.

Mansfield, who is 66, gives this account of how the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse played an important role in helping him overcome his tremendous fear of heights.

"The more I looked at that marvelous structure and saw others standing on the top platform looking down the natural beauty of the ocean, the more I was determined I was going to fight my fears and climb the 168 steps to the top. Step by step, I began to make my way up the spiral staircase only to begin to break out in a cold sweat and to have to admit defeat time after time. Each time I accepted the lighthouse challenge, I would go a few steps higher. I made my way to the top platform. Once there, I stood as close as I could get to the door with my back glued to the wall. My heart was pounding so loudly I could not hear the pounding of the surf. After that initial climb to the top, I returned daily until I could walk completely around the platform to soak up the beauty of the island. Never had I seen anything so fantastic as that view from the top of the lighthouse. The view alone was worth all the time and effort it took for me to overcome my fear of heights. Today, when I am on Hatteras Island, I don't just climb the lighthouse occasionally, but I go to the top two and three times a day. Each time I go, I make a small donation in hopes that it will help save the lighthouse. The lighthouse has become a symbol to me of overcoming fears. It would be a great loss to my wife and me if it should fall in the ocean."

I too, have a personal lighthouse experience that might explain better to you why I have such a deep concern for its possible loss. It is one of those experiences that is hard to put into words. Just recalling it makes me sad. I share my experience in the hope that I might cause you to reflect on the worth of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to yourself and to many individuals like myself and Clarence Mansfield.

It was June of 1985 and I was basking in the sun on the beach in front of the lighthouse. It was one of those one-of-a-kind days, which you can find only on the Outer Banks. The water temperature was perfect for swimming and surfing. There was a slight breeze coming out of the southwest. The sky was clear with a few high-level cloud formations that reflected the sun?s rays, making them look like huge balls of illuminated cotton as they floated slowly by the lighthouse. It was one of those precious moments that made you realize why so many people who visit our beautiful island for the first time fall in love with it and return each year.

I thought about how that old lighthouse with its black-and-white stripes had brought many hours of comfort and joy to myself and others down through the years. Sailors at sea welcomed the rays of light and hope it sent out to sea, warning them of the dreaded Diamond Shoals that loomed nearby. As a child I use to climb it often, and then, later as a father, I had the privilege of taking my children to the top to show them the wonders of God's creations. I also recall how that I learned to count by lying with my head at night in the window of our Buxton home while watching the flashes from the lighthouse as they crossed the dark sky.

I thought about the worth of the lighthouse to me personally and continued to enjoy the summer beach scene in front of me. I was not aware that in a few moments, without warning, my life would drastically change. No longer would I see things as clearly as I did that moment. I would soon enter into an entirely different world. I gazed out over the ocean, saw the surfers and the children playing, and then looked up at that beautiful lighthouse. With my eyes focused on the lighthouse, I noticed a slight bIurring in my left eye. I shut my right eye and I could still see the lighthouse, but something strange began to occur. It was as if someone was slowly pulling a window shade down for the last time. Never was I to see those black-and-white stripes again out of that eye. I had a severe detached retina that proved to be medically impossible to repair.

For a period of time in my new world, I was a king. In the land of the blind, a one-eyed man is king. My royal reign was soon to end. After the loss of my left eye, the vision in my one good eye began to dwindle to such a degree that I became legally blind. I remained in that state for three years until a successful operation restored my vision in my right eye. The only thing that sustained me through this terrible experience was my faith in God, the love and patience of a good wife, and the beautiful memories of the final view of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on that summer afternoon. Throughout this traumatic period, I would often imagine myself sitting on the beach in front of the lighthouse with little children laughing and playing at the water?s edge. In my mind's eye, I could see surfers silhouetted in front of a clear blue sky on the crest of waves surrounded with splashes of silver ocean foam. It often was so real to me that I could actually hear the joyful sounds of summer, smell the ocean air, and see that black-and-white striped lighthouse once again.

At first, my eye loss devastated me, but I soon realized that I was fortunate in that the last thing I viewed was something that I have loved since childhood. The very fact it continues to stand against all odds was an encouragement to me in my world of darkness.

Now that I have only one good eye, I have often thought about what I would want my last earthly sight to be. I hope and pray that it will not be watching the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse fall in the Atlantic Ocean because of bureaucratic red tape or senseless debates over how to save it, or stalling on the part of those who really down deep want it to fall in the ocean. As you may be aware, some people want to save the lighthouse, but differ as to whether or not to move it, build a sea wall around it, or extend jetties in the ocean. Others advocate leaving it alone and telling nature to have her way. Some in this group also contend that it was never intended for people to live on the coast, so why waste tax money preserving anything. I think they need to be reminded that our founding fathers all landed on the coast. If it were not for the settlements by the sea, they would not be here.

Nero fiddled while Rome burned. The big question is will the save-the-lighthouse committees, the Park Service, or the politicians fiddle around until it is too late to do anything.

If you really care about saving the lighthouse, then take the time to write, fax, or E-mail a letter to your congressman requesting that immediate attention be given to providing funds for preserving the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. You better be quick. The storms continue to come.

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Remembering the many smells that made the islands special published in: August of 1997


Dewey Parr

There are many things I treasure from the past about the islands, but none are more memorable than the many island smells. It is said that blind people develop a keen sense of smell that helps them identify people and locations. On Hatteras and Ocracoke, there are many pleasant smells that bring joy to the visitors that come here year after year. The smell of fresh fish frying or the fresh ocean air makes a visit to the islands worthwhile. To others, it is the aroma that permeates the air from the many natural plants as they walk in the village of Ocracoke and the Buxton Woods.

If you have not driven or walked through the Buxton Nature Preserve, I would recommend you do so. You can find the entrance to the preserve on the south end of Buxton. We have been blessed with 825 acres of woodlands, preserved for your enjoyment and that of future generations. My wife Mary and I find great joy in slowly driving the winding sand road through this preserve with the windows down so that we can inhale the natural aroma and gaze at the natural beauty of this maritime forest.

Bird BushWithin an arms length from the window of your car, you can observe my favorite Island plants. The "toothache tree" or devil's walking stick, bug bush, yaupon, dog fennel, bird bush, swamp biscuit, and ferns grow in abundance. It brings special joy to me for I am reminded of my childhood days on Hatteras in the 1930s.

At that time, the island looked like the Buxton Preserve with a few houses dotted here and there among the trees, vines, and shrubs. Each time I pass the area we called the High Pointed Hills I think of what a treat it was for kids to climb to the top and slide down the hill or swing on the vines. How happy I am that someone had the foresight to preserve this portion of the woods, just as my ancestors cooperated with the National Park Service to preserve the beach for everyone to enjoy. Mary constantly says if she would win the lottery she would give money to buy up more land to preserve it for the future enjoyment of those who visit the islands.

I associate many smells with the island. The sweetest smell was that of my grandmother Melissa Farrow Gray's Cape Jasmine bush that stood at the end of her porch. People today call it a gardenia bush, but the islanders called it a Cape Jasmine. When the gardenias were in bloom, the air of the villages had a heavenly smell. It was the practice of each family to have at least one gardenia bush near the house so that the smell would flow through. Back then we did not keep our houses shut up. We had no electricity for air conditioning. Our gardenia bush was near my bedroom window, so I had the pleasure of enjoying its fragrance each day.

There is one smell not so pleasant that brings back memories. I can detect it from afar because it is one of the most disgusting smells. I put it in the same class as that of rotting fish and crabs. When its fragrance comes across my nose I remember the name given to it by my island family. I recall those times when we would seek out the origin of the smell to remove it from the premises. We would approach it cautiously, so that we would not get any of the gray gook on us. It is hard to imagine that such a small piece of the plant world could smell so bad. I never knew the real name of it. My Dad called it the "Devil's Castle." I asked why. He said it was because it was red, like the Devil, and formed prongs in the shape of a castle. Last of all, it smelled like the Devil. I decided at an early age that if the Devil smelled like that, I didn't want anything to do with him.

Devil's Castle

The Devil's Castle is also known as Stinkhorn fungus

Should you be walking the woods and you smell something terrible, take time to look around and you might find a Devil's Castle. If you want to know more about the Devil's Castle, search for its proper name " Stinkhorn Fungus or Clathus ruber " on the Web, and you will find some good pictures and information about it. To me it will always be the Devil's Castle.

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Memories of Christmas Past on Hatteras Island published in: december of 1997

The Gathering of Christmas Past


Dewey Parr

I would like to take you back to a time and place where preparing for Christmas was not a hectic ordeal. A time when the emphasis was not on presents to be given or received. A time when there was little or no commercialization of the Christmas season. The place was Hatteras Island and the time was in the early 1930's into the mid 1940's.

To get into this historical setting, you would have to leave the rest of the mainland United States at a place called Whalebone Junction at the lower end of Nags Head. Whalebone Junction was a unique place in itself at that time. It had a rack of whale bones and seemed to be the dividing line between the modern world and the isolated islands to the south. The paved road ended at Whalebone Junction. Miles and miles of soft sand confronted anyone who dared to travel beyond. Only the hardiest of adventurers proceeded from Whalebone Junction to Oregon Inlet and then onto Capt. Toby Tillett's wooden ferry that served as a connector between the mainland and the islands.

Picture an island chain inhabited here and there by seafaring people who were clustered in small communities. These villages, along the sound's edge, each had their own unique characteristics, even though they were separated by only a few miles of sand. However, if you have ever walked a mile in our sand, you can attest to the fact that a sand mile seems the equivalent of 10 hard-surface miles. I can recall that going from Buxton to Kinnakeet or Hatteras village was considered a big trip.

Picture an island chain inhabited here and there by seafaring people who were clustered in small communities. These villages, along the sound's edge, each had their own unique characteristics, even though they were separated by only a few miles of sand. However, if you have ever walked a mile in our sand, you can attest to the fact that a sand mile seems the equivalent of 10 hard-surface miles. I can recall that going from Buxton to Kinnakeet or Hatteras village was considered a big trip.

The rest of world was moving rapidly ahead with the industrial revolution but this area known as the Outer Banks remained in peaceful isolation. The islanders' main contact with the outside world was by boats that came across the Pamlico Sound bringing news and staples. The islands had no electricity, water system, sewage systems, shopping centers, newspapers, etc. The main source of communication was contact with an occasional outsider who came to the island by boat. Land was cheap then. No one but an islander had any use for it.

With this background, imagine how simple and pure the celebration of the world's most commercialized holiday must have been. Christmas to the islanders was a time for family gatherings and friendship, a time for the pure pleasure of being together. It was a religious holiday, one that celebrated the message that a Christ Child came into the world to provide hope and salvation to all mankind.

Everything about Christmas in those days was centered around the churches in the small communities on the island. Probably the biggest community event during Christmas was the Christmas program at the church which consisted of recitations by the children, and the passing out of the traditional bag of Christmas goodies — an apple, orange, nuts, and hard candy. The islanders did not spend their time shopping for expensive and excessive presents. In the first place, the majority of them didn't have money for presents. Nor was there anywhere to purchase them on the island. What the general stores had on their shelves was limited, even at Christmas time.

Our gifts were simple during my childhood days on the island. One signal at my house in Buxton that Christmas was coming was when everyone was busy working privately on a Christmas present. Back then we did not buy presents. We made them. Christmas brought out the creative talents that the majority of the islanders just naturally possessed. I guess it was because the people on these little islands had learned to make good use of the things of nature that surrounded them daily. Even today, when Christmas approaches, I find myself desiring to make something with my own hands for the ones I love. There seems to be a correlation between creating something with your hands and expressing your true heartfelt feelings for another person. I can remember my mother and Grandmother Gray sitting in their rocking chairs, hour after hour, knitting and crocheting beautiful items, such as sweaters, doilies, and afghans for Christmas presents. When they were not doing that, they were either stitching up clothing on the old-fashioned, pedal-operated sewing machine or baking goodies on the wood-burning stove for the big family gathering on Christmas day.

One surprise present I remember well was a push car my father made for me one Christmas. It was a strange looking automobile. It was made entirely out of wood and a little rope. It had a long stick with rope attached so that I could direct the wheels to go left or right. At the bottom of the stick was a piece of a log with two axles and four wooden wheels. The front axle had the rope attached to it so that it could turn. I had a lot of fun running that old wooden car up and down the sand road in front of our home. It even had a rubber horn that I could squeeze and honk. My father also made me a bunch of wooden play guns that shot rubber bands made from old Model-T inner tubes. My buddies and I had a lot of good times with those guns.

Occasionally we were fortunate enough to receive a store-bought present other than clothes or candy. I recall one present I treasured for many years. My father, Dewey Parr Sr., who was in the service at the time, came home with a small tin train on a circular track about a foot in diameter. When you would wind the spring in the center of the track, the little tin train would go sailing around it. I was fascinated because I had never seen a train. I would wind it up over and over and think about the day when I would get to ride on a train. I finally did when I was 14 years old.

Grandma Gray said Grandpa Gray knew when Christmas was coming because the mail sacks got a little bit heavier from the catalog orders that were coming in. Grandpa had the job of meeting the mail boat when it came in and toting the sacks to the Buxton post office. Grandpa was small in stature but very strong, and sometimes the sacks were bigger than he was. Most of the catalog orders consisted of clothes from Sears or Montgomery Ward. Clothing was a priority as a Christmas gift. The majority of the clothing we had was sewn on old-fashioned sewing machines or hand stitched. The material was often cotton flour or chicken-feed sacks. Some of the sacks had colorful prints on them, and others had sewing patterns already printed on them. They tell me that today those old feed sacks are considered antiques and are very valuable. Kind of makes you proud to know that our island undergarments that were made from feed sacks are as valuable today as the ones rich folks wear.

We decorated our homes a little bit different from the way we decorate today. We didn't have all of the decorations you see in the shops. Nobody ever heard of an artificial tree. The very idea of putting up a Christmas tree a month before Christmas day would have been considered weird. A couple of days before the big day that heralded the birth of our Lord, we went in the Buxton Woods and sought out a special pine tree that suited our purpose. People used pine rather than cedar because they appreciated how long it took for a cedar to grow. The boys and men did the cutting, and the girls helped with picking out the tree.

The other big ticket item from the woods was the mistletoe that grew in the tops of the oak trees. Usually the smaller boys had the privilege of climbing up to the top of the tree to gather the mysterious mistletoe. The mistletoe, when hung in a doorway, had strange powers at Christmas time. It caused the girls to giggle when they stood under it, and the boys to want to pucker up and kiss them. It sure was strange from a kid's point of view to see all of the silly things that occurred every year in the general stores when someone hung a piece of mistletoe over the doorway. Sometimes the whole evening's excitement in Effe Midgett's store was a mere piece of mistletoe hanging over the door. Mama said some girls had no shame, for they made it a point to linger in the store doorway hoping for a kiss. Never could understand why they went to such lengths just to get a kiss when all they had to do was ask for it.

After we cut the tree, even though it was not really heavy, it took all of us holding on to lug it home and build a stand for it. Guess it was a guy thing. The real fun came when we began to decorate the tree. We didn't have many decorations. Our trees had no lights, so we used about any thing that glittered, such as small

 ornaments and tinsel that came from the general store. Grandma had a few fancy ornaments tucked away in her trunk where she kept all of the things the kids brought her. They were very delicate and shiny. With each ornament she hung on the tree, she had a story to tell about when and where she got it.

Most of our decorations were ones we created ourselves each year. We strung twine through holes in shells and hung them on the tree. One interesting thing we did was to thread thin twine through Chinaberries and make a garland that we wrapped around the tree. We found that we could dye the berries with beet juice and poke berries to give them additional color. Some of the girls made bracelets and necklaces out of the Chinaberries. We boys also found out that green Chinaberries made good substitutes for marbles or can tosses. To this day when I look at a Chinaberry tree, I think of those Christmas trees of days past.

Ray Gray shares a story about his Aunt Mildred Gaskin Austin who lived in Hatteras village on the point, or Austin Lane. She made a Christmas tree from a yaupon bush. She took yaupon branches full of red berries and tied them together in the shape of a tree. After she got it all together, she decorated it with tinsel and small ornaments. Ray said it was one of the prettiest Christmas trees he had ever seen at that time. Our Christmas trees back then didn't have all the bright lights of today, since electricity did not come to the island until about 1948. But to us, our trees were just as beautiful as if they had 1,000 lights on them.

The real fun of Christmas on the islands was the family gathering. On Christmas day, we all gathered at the original home of our mothers and fathers for the family dinner. We gathered around the big table and after the Christmas story was read and prayer was offered, we were treated to a grand and glorious dinner. This dinner consisted of every imaginable vegetable and fruit from fig preserves to collard greens. Meats ranged from cured ham to rabbit. There was always plenty of seafood and fowl — or flying squirrel. (Flying squirrel was a term my father used for fowl shot out of season.) Everybody brought cakes and pies. We ate until we couldn't hold anymore and then the food was covered and a table cloth spread over it and it stood ready to feed anyone else who wandered in throughout the day. All day long, friends and neighbors dropped by, bringing more goodies to eat — jars of this and that and more pies and cakes.

There were no hungry or lonely people on Hatteras Island on Christmas day. Everybody's feet were welcome under the islanders' table. This tradition prevails even to this day. The women folks retired to the sitting room, and the men gathered outside to spin yarns or catch up on the news of the world that came from families who came home from the big cities for Christmas.

Christmas on Hatteras was a quiet, peaceful time. And you can still find the true meaning of Christmas on these islands if you look closely. Back in those days, I recall searching for the Christmas star. My Sunday school teacher, Pearl Midgett, told us that at Christmas God placed a special star in the sky to help the Wise Men from the East locate the baby Jesus who would bring them happiness. I recall going out at night and looking up in our clear, bright sky, unaffected by the big city lights, and searching for that star that led the wise men. To this day, I continue to look in the beautiful night sky over Hatteras for that special Christmas star that would lead to happiness. So far I have never seen it, but I think I know the reason. It is because by living on the island, we are already in the center of Christmas happiness and don't have to search anywhere else for it.

The Gathering of Christmas Past

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Hatteras and Ocracoke: Home to the world's greatest lovers published in: august of 2005

Hatteras and Ocracoke

Home Of The Worlds Greatest Lovers


Dewey Parr

Telly Sexton and Jennifer Young of Lexington, Ky., above, were bitten by the love bug on the Hatteras inlet ferry.  The two were vacationing when they met July 14, 1993, on the ferry. The couple will be married on Aug.3 on the Ocracoke beach. Telly and Jennifer meeting for the first time on the Ocracoke ferry.  The fateful, meeting was captured on film by Jennifer's father.  It was love at first sight.

It has been interesting to observe that the people of Ocracoke and Hatteras all have one thing in common. I am not sure how they acquired this common trait. For a period of time, I thought it might be in their genes, but now I have concluded that is not the case. What makes me come to that conclusion is that the islanders appear to transmit this trait to all of those who visit the islands. Reports have come back to me from some of my friends that they transported this trait with them when they boarded the ferry home from Ocracoke or crossed the Bonner Bridge.

One wife, in particular, told me that her husband was like a new man when she got him back home to Pennsylvania. She indicated that prior to coming to the islands he was not affectionate towards her as he had been in the past. Now her biggest problem is the opposite. She concluded that it must be something in the air or water on these islands that changes people. One thing for sure, she decided that an annual trip to the islands was to be a top priority in their lives.

What is it that Ocracoke and Hatteras islands have in common? They are the home of probably the best lovers in the world. The islands generate a spirit of love and tenderness unheard of anywhere else in the world. This did not just happen. It is a result of how the islands' forefathers lived. They worked from sun-up to sundown. The harshness of the weather, along with the constant threat of loss of life from the forces of nature, caused them to develop an appreciation and acceptance of other people, especially their immediate family. Family and friends meant more to them than material belongings. Love prevailed. They realized that houses and worldly wealth could be blown or washed away in a moment.

In my own family's history, as with most islanders, there are accounts of families that lost everything they owned during storms.

It was during a storm in the late 1890's that my grandparents, William Hawkins and Melissa (Farrow) Gray, along with most of the people of Avon, lost their homes when the ocean met the sound. This was the storm that washed the houses from their foundations and sent some of them sailing out to sea. Other houses floated to new locations. So the owners just exchanged land and remained on the site where their houses landed. Some lost everything.

My grandparents migrated to higher ground in the hope that the next storm would not reach them. The higher ground Grandpa chose was Buxton. Grandpa and Grandma Gray had very little in the way of worldly riches after that famous storm, but their love for each other and their seven children not only survived the storm, but increased over the years.

After Grandpa Gray died, the story of grandpa's undying love for grandma was told many times, often in the evenings during the family time around the wood burning stove.

One of the things that bothered my grandfather most about the Avon wash-over was the unearthing of some of the wooden caskets in the small family cemeteries. Grandpa was determined that after he and grandma died, they would not be separated in death should a storm come and wash their caskets out to sea, so he sought a high place for them to be buried. Alfred Gray, the family storyteller, said Grandpa had thought about having their caskets chained together, so that during ocean wash-overs, they would sail out to sea together. By tying their caskets together, they would be back to take an ocean voyage around the world and see all the historic places.

As the story goes, my grandpa Bill Hawkins Gray considered himself lucky when the opportunity came for him to locate a proper burial spot for him and grandma. He didn't have the money to buy land, so when they decided to clear the Jennette Cemetery, located in front of the Buxton Post Office, he offered to do the work in exchange for a burial spot in the cemetery. Because of the kindness of the Jennette family, Grandpa and Grandma Gray and their sons Isaac, who drowned in the Pamlico Sound, and Lilton Davis, who died of pneumonia at age 7, are united in death in the middle of the Jennette Cemetery.

The islanders' attitude about love and life in general reminds me of the same attitude that prevailed during World War days when people were living on the edge, so to speak. The men, in particular, did not know from one day to the next if they would be dead or alive. Life and time were precious items, so people attempted to squeeze as much enjoyment and love out of what time they had left on this earth. As you recall, during war times love affairs were more speedy than in peace time. There was no time for long courtships. In many ways, this same attitude about love prevails even today on the islands. I attribute this to the fact that every summer the constant threat of hurricanes makes us aware just how fragile life is.

If you observe the men of the Outer Banks, whether they are native born or not, you will see that when it comes to the women folks, they are very loving and kind. They have a sense of deep respect for the opposite sex and are very observant of their needs. I am not sure what causes this even today, but it is a trait of the islands. It could be it has to do with all the seafood they eat and the salt air they breath.

There is no doubt love prevails here as the following modern-day, true story points out. While crossing the ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke, Telly Sexton was smitten with the island spirit of love and tenderness. Now Telly, who is from Charlotte, N.C., had no idea on that day while sitting on the hood of a gray pickup truck with his hat turned around backwards and wearing a pair of shorts without a shirt, that he was about to meet his one true love. Jennifer Young, who is from Lexington, Ky., soon to be the girl of his dreams, was vacationing on the islands with her family. As the Ocracoke ferry churned its way across the inlet with the sea gulls trailing behind, Telly and Jennifer came face to face with the spirit of romance that is so pervasive on Hatteras and Ocracoke together.

It is one thing to meet a person you like but quite something else to meet someone special, while you are surrounded by the magic of the islands. Combine love, with an ocean breeze, and the sights and sounds you behold from the Ocracoke ferry, and you have a captivating combination. By the time the ferry docked, Telly knew that Jennifer was to be the true love of his life.

Telly was so sure Jennifer was the girl for him that he gave up his job in Charlotte and moved to Lexington so he could be close to her. Finally after a courtship of four years, Telly and Jennifer have announced they will be getting married on Aug. 3. Now where do you think they want to be married? You guessed it. The Hatteras Inlet Ferry. That not being possible, as there is no way they can get the wedding party on the ferry at the same time, they have settled on the Ocracoke beach.

I am sure that the Ocracoke beach with its beautiful white sand will serve Telly and Jennifer well as a spot for them to pledge their love. No church or cathedral could be more impressive for a wedding than the beach. After all, God did the decorating. As Rev. J. Allen Lovell, pastor of Ocracoke United Methodist Church, conducts this impressive ceremony, I am sure that the spirit of love that draws the islands together will be apparent to all present.

The account of Telly and Jennifer just goes to confirm what I have always known — Hatteras and Ocracoke are the home of the world's greatest lovers.

If you happen to be in the vicinity of the Ocracoke beach on August 3 at 7 p.m., Telly and Jennifer would enjoy having you present as they are united in holy matrimony. In the event of bad weather, the ceremony will be conducted in the Ocracoke Methodist Church.

This might be a great opportunity for a lot of you to renew your vows to each other as you witness a beach wedding ceremony. Who knows? If you haven't already been infected with the attitude that makes islanders the world's best lovers, it might just happen to you on that day on an island beach.


Telly and Jennifer

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Telly and Jennifer

This is a picture taken many years after Telly and Jennifer found their true love on the Ocracoke Ferry. They revisited the Island to share with their children the happiness to be found on Hatteras and Ocracoke Island.

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law and order on hatteras island published in: January of 2007


Dewey Parr

In my collection of shells found on the Hatteras Island beach there is a particular shell that reminds me of law and order on the Island in the 1930's. The shell is often hard to find. Many walk the beach for months and never find one. Those who do find them tuck them away as if they were some precious gem. It is the hard to find a Scotch Bonnet on our beach anymore. Some say it is because of those who walk the beaches constantly seeking them. Others say it is because the Scotch Bonnet animal is dying from pollution, global warming, or lack of a food supply.

If you look closely at the shell you will see plaid markings that resemble Scottish wool clothing. The shell is the shape of a bonnet that was similar to wool caps worn by Scottish farmers. One of the things that I find interesting is how momma bonnet produces her young. She lays hundreds of eggs in a tower form. She rises up sitting on top of the tower after she has completed laying eggs. Could be Momma is letting all know from the very beginning who is the boss. As the old saying goes? Behind every successful man there is a woman. Men don't like to admit it, but in most cases it is the truth.

Do not let the beauty of the shell lead you to believe that the animal who resides inside is a gentle creature. As you walk the Hatteras beach you will find other shells with neat little holes in them that serve as a reminder that the scotch bonnet animal can be aggressive and ruthless when it is seeking food. The animal climbs aboard other shells that have locked themselves inside and sits there emitting an acid that eats a hole in the shell so it can get inside to eat its flesh.

Scotch Bonnet Phalium granulatum
The Shell That Depicts the Importance of Family Unity

The Scotch Bonnet had the distinction of becoming the first shell to be declared a state shell. North Carolina in 1965 adopted the Scotch Bonnet as its state shell to honor the Scottish heritage within the state. Much of North Carolina was settled by immigrants from Scotland where the clan system was predominant. It is because of the Scottish influence that the concept of the clan system of families banning together became predominant throughout North Carolina as well as Hatteras Island.

What is the clan system? It is simple yet a very effective support system which provides for the care and protection of all who are a part of a specific family. The family nurtured their young and cared for their old usually without any outside assistance. Family members grouped themselves together in clusters living in close proximity to each other. When a dispute arose between members of the clan it was settled peacefully within the clan through the advice of the senior members. The original form of the clan system had strong authoritative chieftains who had the power to decide the fate of those within as well as without the clan. If there was a dispute with someone outside the clan the whole clan would rally to the support of the clan member and assist in dishing out whatever punishment was felt appropriate. When a member of their clan died they buried them on their own land in their own family cemetery. They extended their care and support of the family members even in death by caring for the burial sites and perpetuating the memory of the departed one. This accounts for the extreme number of small burial plots on the Island as well as throughout the state. People outside the clan where treated with respect but never fully accepted, and rarely afforded the total support system of the clan.

The clan system in a watered down version prevailed on Hatteras Island throughout the thirties and even in some cases to this day. It is beginning to diminish due to the sudden growth on the Island and changing hands of property, and relocation of clan or family members. Evidences of the change can be seen in small isolated unattended cemeteries here and there on the Island. Many would like for the clan system to continue. For it to continue would require not only full control of the land but a strong leader to keep the troops or clan members under control. It also requires the ability to be able to discipline or mete out punishment to those who create problems within or without the clan. The bringing of Law and Order to Hatteras Island has interfered with the old style clan system. The court system now decides who is right or wrong and what type of punishment will prevail rather than the clan chieftains.

I remember well the advice given to me by my mother, Melissa Gray, who was born in Kinnakeet, now called Avon, not to start any fights with children from certain families or clans. Mom said it could result in problems not only for me down the road, but for other members of the family. Family names back then conveyed messages from past experiences others had had in dealing with them. The mere mention of certain family names conveyed subliminal messages. A little like the rattle snakes on the Texas State Flag, with the warning don't tread on me. It was from my Kinnakeet mother I learned the meaning of the slang term of Krazy Kinnakeeter and what it meant when it was applied to a person. Today the term is used in a joking manner on the Island. Back then it was not so funny. I have a friend that often kids me because of my family heritage that I am just one of those Krazy Kinnakeeters.

I remember well as a kid at the Buxton School that if you wanted to invoke a quick fight all you had to do was yell, Kinnakeeter Yaupon Eater. Before you knew it every kid from Kinnakeet came swarming at you like hornets. Of course there were other things we yelled not so nice with the name Kinnakeeter attached to it that also brought even more severe reactions. The reason most Buxton boys could run so fast was that they were always running from the Kinnakeeters.

Families were very close-knit during that period of time. When a dispute arose the clan stood together. If you had a battle with one member of the clan you had to fight the whole clan. Within each clan there were the crazies that were willing to carry out the desires of the offended member of the family. Over the years I recall rumors of things happening to people because they had disputes with members of certain families. Things such as holes in the bottom of their boats, fishing nets slashed or cut loose were often attributed to family disputes. Some even whispered that homes were burned or legs and arms were broken.

Back then you took the law in your own hands and settled your own disputes anyway you desired as long as you didn't get caught. This was fairly easy because the Island was isolated from the mainland and witnesses to any crime were never to be found. There was no witness protection program available to protect you if you told what you knew so you dared not speak out. Every thing was hush, hush. At my house if you started to say anything about things you saw others do wrong you were told to, Hush your mouth, or, Bite your lip.

Now I want to share something that has been buried in my memory all theses years that was done by members of my own family. When I was a kid, a young boy somehow got onto the Island. Being of a different culture he was afraid to approach the Islanders so he stayed hid during the day. One night he broke into my uncle's store seeking food. They caught him and meted out what they felt was good punishment. They stretched him out spread eagle style on top of a tarpaulin which covered the ice in the back of the ice truck. Then they tied his hands and feet and attached them to both sides of the truck. He stayed there all day without a shirt as ice delivery rounds were made from village to village. At each stop people came out to look at him and say unkind things to him. Finally after the rounds were made and when the ice truck returned to Hatteras Village he was placed on a boat headed back to the mainland with the warning never to come back to Hatteras Island. In my mind's eye I can still see that black boy sitting on the bow of the boat as it headed across the sound.

I rode the truck that long day and my heart bled for that boy. To see him suffering without food and water was all I could bear. I attempted at one time to try to give him a drink of water and part of my food Mom had packed for me. I was severely reprimanded and told to stay away from him and take note of what happened to people who steal. I am sure the young man got the message. I know I did. I realize that many might say, 'Good, he got what he deserved. But I wonder if that would be your response if the shoe was on the other foot and you became the victim of what others felt would be your just punishment because you took food because you were hungry. What if they decided to cut your arm off or hang you?

It is hard for many older Islanders to accept the fact the old days are gone and you can't take the law in your own hands and punish another person as you see fit. Nor do you have the right to come running on another person's property cussing and threaten to kill them. No matter how much our Irish blood may boil we no longer have the right to take the law in our own hands. Ours is a nation, of which Hatteras Island is a part, built on law and order. Everyone regardless of race, creed, or color has the right to protection and legal counsel. Should we decide to go back to the old clan system with each family group taking the law into their own hands anarchy will prevail and no one will be safe. I know we all get upset about how slow the wheels of justice grind but we must be patient and await the outcome.

Things have drastically changed on this barrier island when it comes to law enforcement. I for one am thankful we are now blessed with a great law enforcement program and legal services. Islanders no longer have to sit and wait in fear that they will be harmed by others. Most mornings when my security guard, Buster my cat, and I walk out to get my paper I see our Sheriff's department or State Police cruisers. It gives me a feeling of comfort and safety knowing help is only minute's away day or night when needed in any form of emergency. As a kid I never recall ever seeing such a thing on the Island.

I asked knowledgeable Islanders ten years my senior if in the thirties they recalled a policeman or any type of emergency services on the Island. The response was, as far they knew there were no deputies on the Island and definitely no emergency services. One thought there was a magistrate appointed at one time in northern end of the Island, but he said few every used him. They handled their own disputes. For the most part disputes were settled peacefully.

Our Island is no longer the quiet isolated area with a small population like it was back in the thirties and therefore it requires a different type of law enforcement. Sometimes in the tourist season it takes me fifteen minutes or more to get out of my drive way onto highway twelve because of the traffic. When I ride my bicycle or walk the road my life is in danger because of all of the passing on the right. On Hatteras Island the rule should be to ride your bike facing the traffic so you can see who is coming. That way you can get out of their way. If it were not for the efforts of our police and emergencies services, which put their lives on the line every day, no one would be safe on the Islands due to the influx of thousands of people from many different places and walks of life. I encourage every one on the Island to forget the old antiquated concept of the clan system when comes to law and order. Make use of our present day law enforcement agencies. Use your phone and dial 911.

Who is  Responsible For Caring For Abandoned Cemeteries?

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These Scotch Bonnet Shells Found On the Hatteras Beach
Remind Us That Law and Order Prevails Today On Hatteras Island.

If you should be fortunate enough to find a Scotch Bonnet as you walk our beautiful beach think of our Island heritage and how it was associated with the Scottish Clan System. Pull out the good points from that old-fashioned system. Work in harmony with family members caring for the young and elderly. Discard the not so good points such as taking the law in your own hands. Hopefully this little shell will remind you of the importance of family ties. Take the time to let them know of your love and concern for them. Have you told someone in your family recently you love them? Better yet find a Scotch Bonnet and give it to them. They might not understand the meaning, but you will.

Friends of The Old Gray House:  If you have any comments you can contact us at

Out With the Old In With The New published in: September of 2006

Ray Schaaf In Beach Buggy

Ray Schaaf often drops by with the invitation to, “Hop In My Beach Buggy


Dewey Parr

Yesterday, the day before my birthday, my friend Ray Schaaf pulled up in his beach buggy and dashed into the Old Gray House. “Wait till you see what they found in Kinnakeet Shore Woods. You will love this one. They found another cemetery. Hop into my beach buggy and I will take you there.” Off we went on a new adventure. On the way, as we passed million dollar houses and new businesses springing up here and there, we talked about past Island history. As we approached our destination my eyes opened in amazement at this new development. Little did I ever believe that Hatteras Island, the once laid back area dotted with seven little fishing villages would look like this. Ray had taken me into this area before, but then it was just beginning to be developed and it had a dirt road with a few lots being sectioned off. That has all changed. Now it is the picture of what is on the horizon for the new Hatteras. It makes you wonder if there be any room for we who represent the old Hatteras.

“Ray”, I said, “where are we going”. “You wait I will show you something I bet you have forgotten“. Suddenly Ray stopped, jumped out and set the wheels on his beach buggy for four wheel drive. We headed down a sand road being cleared for a new section. At last we arrived at our destination which was a wooded area full of two hundred year old oak trees loaded with Spanish moss and underbrush. Much to my displeasure many of the old oak trees were uprooted and turned into mulch to make way for the new development.

Here it is Ray said, “Right over there where that yellow caution banner is surrounding it.”

As we made our way through the underbrush memories from the past began to surround us. Stone monuments with eroded markings entwined in 200 year old oak trees gave us a glimpse into the history of a family by the name of O’Neal. The name O’Neal really peaked my interest. My Grandmother Gray’s sister married an O’Neal. The dates told us this Island family had resided here since the 1800’s. and probably before. The markers that remained were stone. I am sure there where others made of wood that had decayed. We crawled on our knees through the underbrush trying to read each monument and speculated as to the connection between each one. When where they born, how long did they live, what was the relationship with each one. A few of the monuments had epitaphs on them that gave us additional insight into the life of the individual in the grave. One said of G.C.M. O’Neal, “Budding on earth to bloom in heaven. He was a good citizen and a good husband”. The marker for Charity O’Neal had two inscriptions. At the top it read, “Our Mother” and at the bottom was, “My Trial Is Ended, My Rest Is Won”. There were two names we found other than O’Neal, Ralph S. Russell who was 12 years old and Lonie E. Williams who was 14 years old. Ralphs epitaph read, “Darling Boy, Gone But not forgotten.” It was obvious that there were few but those connected with the O’Neal family in this cemetery. From this we began to question, what was day to day life like for them, where did they live, and where were their homes. It was my guess the house was nearby. I also speculated it might have been near the mighty oaks. It seems that the older homes all had a mighty oak nearby. Oaks where often used as land markers because of their longevity. Islanders use to say oaks were a hundred years coming and a hundred years going. For example my deed says, Beginning at the big oak, situated on the north margin of the public road known as “The Ridge Road”. The Ridge Road is no longer used but the old oak tree is still standing today. Poor thing, it has been beaten and battered by one hurricane after another yet it still clings to life. I also pointed out to Ray the Island practice was to bury people on your own land not too far away. The reason for this was that family members tended their own cemeteries. Some Island mothers walked to the grave of a lost child to say a little prayer every day.

Who is  Responsible For  Caring  For Abandoned Cemeteries?
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Who is Responsible For Caring For Abandoned Cemeteries?

I do commend the developers of this property for taking pains to preserve this cemetery. Some in the past had the attitude it was best to make them disappear. A a result of years of research by many Islanders culminated into a book entitled, “Sacred To Their Memory”, by Lois Johnson Meekins and Amy Midgett Gamiel. It lists Hatteras Island cemeteries. This cemetery is listed on page 172. Even though this cemetery has not been keep up for many years, which is evident by the trees growing among the tombstones, it will remain by law surrounded by million dollar homes to let all know a humble family by the name of O’Neal were a part of Island history.

As we began to leave Steve Crum drove up. It was Steve and his crew that located this cemetery. Steve is an Island Treasure in himself. After many years of clearing land for development he probably has more knowledge of Island History than anyone you will meet. He reminded us that this area was also called Otter Point by the locals. Steve said so far there was not any evidence of any houses. He did say that they had come across some buried barrels that evidently had been used to water livestock.

Ray said, “hop in the buggy I have something else to show you” We went back out and headed down the road. At the end of the road was a monster of a house that was just being completed. In front of it was a sign telling you it was a talking house. The instruction was to turn your radio on and tune in to hear all about it. Wow!. It had 8,000 square feet, 12 master suits, home theatre, fitness center, swimming pool, outside wet bar, gourmet kitchen with a private chef available if desired, all for the small sum of 2 million 350 thousand dollars. It was supposed to rent for $150,000 per year. Ray and I concluded this is not a house but a mini hotel.

Out With the Old and In With the New.
This talking house will tell you that you can own it for
$2 million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

On the way back Ray and I reminisced about what it was like here just a short time ago. Ray talked about all the changes that have occurred since he bought his lot in 1988 and built his home in Kinnakeet shores. When he first built his home there was nobody behind his house between him and the sound. Now his view of the sound is limited due to all the new homes being built. I talked about my generation, when we walked the sand roads, had no electricity, running water, or inside plumbing. A time when anyone seldom ever came to Hatteras or even wanted to own land on the Island. It fact you could not hardly give the land away. Nobody wanted to pay taxes on land that had limited access and was swarming with mosquitoes.

It is really something to think about. What will Hatteras Island look like ten years from now? Are the changes all bad? Will we be able to afford to live here? If you had the money would you build a two million dollar house on Hatteras Island? Will you be here to see the changes? Will I be here? At age seventy five it is hard to predict. One thing for sure I know the way we are headed the changes will be astronomical and the Old Hatteras that I once knew will be no more.

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