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Stories from
The Old Gray House

  1. The forbidden Road and what it foretells for the island

  2. my mother's cameo

  3. Hatteras: Loving it and leaving it or Why do I stay here?

  4. How communicating on the island has changed

  5. Beach rocks

  6. The creatures of Hatteras and Ocracoke

  7. An idea for building those precious family memories

  8. the whelk is one of the most interesting of the Outer banks

  9. the gathering of grandchildren is a rite of summer

  10. the mystery of the cat's eye shell

  11. island lore--legend of the lucky sea bean

  12. advice from a man who planned his retirement (early) and worked his plan

  13. give me that old time hatteras island religion

  14. a cemetery never ceases to be a cemetery

  15. an essay on change and progress

For More Stories Go To

RMS Stories:  Stories 16 - 30

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 forbidden Road and what it foretells for the island? published in: July of 2006


dewey parr

Do you think the biggest problem facing Cape Hatteras Island is Beach Driving? If so, I challenge you to take a little walk down the Forbidden .Road that might put a different light on the real issue facing the village of Buxton as well as Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands.

Water now covers what once was dry land on Park Service land in Buxton, North Carolina. In the background is the relocated Hatteras Island Lighthouse.  Will We have to move it again? On our way to the Cape Point area I spotted the old paved road, with the chain across it, going to where the old Loran, short term for Long Range Navigation Station used to be. I turned to Mary and said, “It has been years since I walked that road so let’s walk it today”. I remember the road well for in the l940’s it was a restricted area. We would imagine all kinds of mysterious things going on at the end of the Forbidden Road. What they where doing at the end of that road was a mystery back then. Today it is an eye catcher to those who visit the Island. To see a paved road with a chain across it leading to the ocean with nothing visible at the end cannot help make one wonder, what is the purpose of the road? I definitely feel there needs to be a marker explaining the role the Loran Station played helping to provide safety for those at sea.

I am not sure that many even today understand how important Loran station were in helping the world to remain safe during World War II as well as providing radio navigation signals to millions of navigators. Nor do I feel proper recognition has been given to all of those who served in the many Loran stations throughout the world. The Buxton Loran station was a part of an integral navigation system using low frequency radio transmitters to help determine the location of ships at sea as well as aircrafts at all times. It was one of twenty four United States stations working in cooperation with Russia and Canada.

Originally at the end of the road was a life boat station. It was torn down in 1948 and a Coast Guard Loran Station was built on the site. That building was torn down and today nothing remains except a road leading to nothing. Thanks to Warren Rose who was stationed there from 1952 to 1954 we have pictures available to show what was at the end of the road.

Forbidden Road Former Sign Forbidden Road Former Road Forbidden Road Former Station

Pictures by Warren Rose

Mary Parr Walking Forbidden Road
As we walked I realized we were walking down history lane and the statement made by a coastal geologist from Duke University is coming to pass. In Jan DeBlieu’s Book entitled, “Hatteras Journal” Professor Orrin H. Pilkey, Jr., is quoted as saying, “The park service hasn’t announced it yet, but their new policy is to let Buxton fall into the sea”. A lot of water has washed over the dunes since that statement was made, but no longer can we blame the National Park Service. Global warming is now the culprit causing the damage. The further we walked down a road surrounded by water that not long ago was dry land brought to life the recent predictions for our Island as outlined in the February Issue of the Island Breeze by Dr. Stan Riggs a geologist. To put it in a nutshell he indicated our Island is slowly sinking into the ocean and Hatteras and Ocracoke will become a series of small islands. I said to Mary, “Can you believe this? Buxton and Hatteras Island are now confronted with an issue much bigger than beach driving. What once was dry land is now a salt marsh that is eating away our Island. “How much longer do you think it will be before the access road to Cape Point will be completely gone?” The further we walked more revealing it was. As we looked toward the lighthouse we see that moving the lighthouse was probably in vain. It will soon be surrounded by water once again. By the time we reached the end of the Forbidden Road we concluded that the priorities of the Islanders should be reviving the boat building industry. It won’t be many years before we will be using them to travel from one village to another. If the ice caps keep melting at the present accelerated rate it won’t be much longer before Buxton falls into the sea.

The question is which one of seven villages on the Island will go under water first? It is no longer a matter of will it happen but when will it happen.

A short walk down the Forbidden Road will open your eyes to the true issue facing the Outer Banks. It will also provide you with a first-hand view of the beauties of nature in the raw. You will get a glimpse of what salty sea water can do to the vegetation. One thing for sure you will come away convinced that Global Warming is real and the ocean is rapidly rising and that beach driving is a minor issue compared to what we will be facing from Mother Nature in a few short years from now.


Forbidden Road

When You Visit Buxton Make It A Must To Do

Walk the Forbidden Road

For additional information check out this website dedicated to preserving Loran history.

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


my mother's cameo published in: June of 1996

Melissa Ann (Gray) Parr and her mother Melissa Gray
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Dewey Parr

As Mary and I walk the beach we often encounter many different items that wash up on the shores edge. It seems that with each walk there is always something new and exciting that was not there before. We find shells, bits and pieces of sea-animal life, driftwood, and objects that conjure up sweet memories from the past. One shell that reminds me of my mother is the Helmet Shells.

The Helmet shell is seldom seen on our beaches, due to the Conch industry. I have people ask me all the time, “why is it you cannot find the conch or helmet shells like you used to?” The reason is that they are setting traps off the coast, collecting all the Conch and Helmet shells they can gather, to take to a processing plant in Virginia to extract the meat and send it overseas. Conch meat is a sought after delicacy in many oriental countries. One restaurant advertised an Air Flown Super Large Live Helmet Shell meal for $88.00 which was 25% off of its regular price of $118.00. So far none of our Hatteras restaurants have conch on their menu. Maybe they are missing out on something really big. The sad thing about the conch industry is that they not only are depleting our Conch and Helmet shells but the Horseshoe Crabs as well. The Horseshoe Crab is used for bait. Anytime you have over-fishing of any species you run the risk of tipping the balance of nature and it can lead to unexpected changes in the surrounding environment.

The Helmet shell we see along the beach not only brings memories of my mother but my father also. When it comes to memories of my little Hatteras Island mother, Melissa Ann (Gray) Parr, I have come to understand more fully the phrase so often used by Islanders, “Hind sight is better than foresight”. My mother grew up as a typical island girl whose vision of the world beyond the island was very limited. As with most island girls her family was to busy with the day-to-day business of just surviving on an isolated island to be involved with many other activities. They worked from sunup to sundown to keep food on the table and a roof over their head. As if this wasn’t enough, they had to contend with the constant storms that crossed the Island.

Mom’s education was limited to the Island schooling which often perpetuated the same ideas and methods of learning from preceding generations. During her schooling days on the Island there definitely wasn’t anything new under the sun. This showed up in communication skills. Islanders spoke with their own distinctive brogue which still remains with some today. They had a unique form of colloquiums and phraseology. There was an Elizabethan influence in their speech patterns and their spelling. Mom maintained this throughout her life. She made liberal use of the letter u in her spelling in words such as both which she spelled bouth.

This same influence was passed on to me by my family members, and in my schooling in the white-framed Buxton school house. In later life due to off-the-Island influences, and years of additional education, my brogue and Island phraseology virtually disappeared. I was a real oddity when we first left the Island. I brought a lot of enjoyment to teachers and students who made fun of me and mocked me because of my strange speech habits. I guess that is why as a teacher I never felt it was right to single out a child because of their upbringing. I have heard some who move onto the Island make fun of the Islanders. I personally feel it is a sacred and treasured gift to still have the unique Island traits. To me it tells the world this person has had the privileged of living in the most beautiful place on the earth. This is a person who has a genuine insight into beauties and forces of nature.

Growing up under the influence of a Hatteras Island mother had many advantages that helped me in later life. There were many concepts that stayed with me such as: treat every one you meet with respect until they give you a reason to do otherwise, don’t cheat or lie, mind your own business, give your employer and honest day’s work, and last but not least, keep your body and surroundings clean. Mom’s reminder, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” or “It isn’t a sin to be poor but it is a sin to be dirty”, has remained with me throughout my life. William Alfred Gray, my mother’s brother used to laughingly say that when they were growing up Melissa, my mother, would grab his drawers before they hit the floor and put them into the wash tub. I knew what he meant. It was my job to pump the water into the washtub every morning for the sun to heat so Mom could wash clothes. It wasn’t just clothes that went into that tub, but my body as well. Dad used to say when Mom ran out of something to clean in the house she would go outside and sweep the sand. 

When it came to cleaning my mother was an expert. After they formed the National Park, motels and beach cottages were built to house the tourists. This became an industry in itself providing many new job opportunities for Islanders. My mother and many others put their cleaning experiences to good use. Some would be embarrassed to admit that their mother was a cleaning lady in motels and cottages to make extra money to help their families. I am proud that many Islanders used their values of cleanness to provide a better way of life for their families. Even though a lot of Islanders to this day resent the National Park Service we have to give them credit for attracting the tourists to the Island and indirectly providing employment opportunities for the Islanders. In today’s changing world, without the tourist industry, many of the locals would not be able to survive.

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My Mother's Cameo

My mother did not have much jewelry. What few pieces she had were treasured as if they were worth millions of dollars. Most Island women didn’t have a lot of jewelry. What they had was often what they fashioned from shells or native berries, such as the China Berry Tree. Jewelry was usually a gift from some member of the family that sailed the seas. The one item that my mother cherished and passed on to my wife Mary was her Cameo. It has only been in the last few years that I learned the connection between a Cameo and the sea. The old fashioned Cameos were carved from a Helmet shell. Now when we come across a Helmet shell on the beach thoughts of my mother and father come to the surface. Sometime in the 1920’s, Dad went overseas. When he came back he brought my mother a Cameo. It had the carving of a lady’s face on it with a small diamond necklace. Mom didn’t wear it often. It was one of her treasures that she kept on her dresser to look at. I guess she thought it was too precious to wear. I realize that most mothers are that way about such things. I recall in the Old Gray House how Grandmother Gray had a wooden truck at the top of the steps where she kept her treasures. Occasionally she would show them to me. They were the things that her boys had given her from their travels such as lace handkerchiefs, dollies, and even old post cards. Guess women are just wonderfully silly that way. What is it they say, “Men are from Mars and women are from Venus”.

The internet has helped me appreciate the beauty and artistic value of the Cameo. The cameo jewelry was a treasured item throughout the Elizabethan period. The Italian artists, in particular, produced beautiful Cameo jewelry. They collected two kinds of sea shells to use as the medium for carving the Jewelry. They were what are known as the Yellow Hemet Shell and the Cameo Shell. When you look at these two shells you will notice that their outer lips form a thick glossy colored shield. One has a pale pinkish look and the other tends to be more reddish in nature. It is from this broad lip that the Cameo jewelry was carved. Carving a Cameo required years of practice. It took unusual talent to be able to cut away a piece of shell and fashion it into a raised form. The Cameos you see today are often produced from synthetic materials rather than from a shell. I am sorry to say we have lost a lot in this old world by switching from natures pure products to manmade products. Most hand carved helmet shell Cameos today are valued at $150 to $500. As to my mothers Cameo, there is not a money value high enough to purchase it.

The Helmet shell has its own natural beauty that is quite different from other shells. The Helmet is from a small family of shells having distinct characteristics that set them apart from other shells. They are found on the sandy bottom of tropical waters and off the coast of North Carolina. They spend most of their time buried in the sand with only a small portion of the shell being exposed. Because they are so full of algae they are not easily recognized because they blend in with their surroundings. My friend Kim Russell, has brought me quite a collection of Helmet shells she found while diving off the Carolina coast. Once the crust is removed you are rewarded with a shell that is a natural work-of-art. They range in size from two to twelve inches and can weigh as much five pounds. Because of their size they are not fast movers so they creep along the oceans bottom seeking food. They are aggressive carnivorous animals feeding on urchins, clams, and mussels.

If you are fortunate enough to come across a Helmet shell in your next beach walk think, jewelry, and love. These items might remind you of your mother, grandmother, or father. Should you have a Cameo in your family take the time to check it out and see if it is an authentic one carved from a Helmet shell? You might have a family treasure that will bring back precious memories to you as my mother’s Cameo does for me.

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

Hatteras: Loving it and leaving it or Why do I stay here? published in: June of 1996


Dewey Parr

Many are the time Islanders are cut off from the mainland due to ocean
overwash. Is it any wonder they ask themselves, Why Do I Continue To Stay Here?

It was about this time last year, early on Sunday morning, that I gassed up my car at a local service station. As I approached to pay, I saw Ted Brandis with his head down on the counter between his hands. When I entered, he was shaking his head back and forth moaning, "Why do I stay here? Hurricanes, mosquitoes, nor'easters, evacuations. Why do I stay here?"

Now mind you, Ted's frustration was justified with last year's early hurricane season and the constant threat of hurricanes offshore. To refresh your memory, it was the first part of July that we evacuated the island for Hurricane Bertha. From that time on, it seemed as if we were under hurricane threats for the remainder of the summer and fall. As Hurricane Fran approached, the people of Ocracoke had two evacuations. Hatteras Island watched them go, expecting to follow right behind them within hours. To say the least, even though we never had a direct hit on the islands, we were all exhausted from battening and unbattening the hatches and preparing for the worst. My wife and I, with the rest of the business community, were exhausted from doing inventory and securing merchandise. It seemed like every time I looked, there was a U-Haul parked in front of Cape Point Tackle, waiting to be loaded up with merchandise, in case of an evacuation.

It is no wonder Ted's nerves were weary. "Ted," I asked, "how long have you been here? Why do you stay in this place?" "I've been here for 30 years," he responded. "Where did you come from?" I asked.

"Chicago," he said. "When I first came to Hatteras, I helped Wallace and Mamie Jennette at their cottages. Wasn't much here at that time. After that, Ormond Fuller asked me to help her out a little bit over at the Cape Hatteras Court. Before I knew it, four years went by and now that four has multiplied into 30 years. Time flies when you are on the islands."

"Ted," I asked, "did you have problems out there in Illinois?" "Yep! Floods, tornadoes, fires," Ted responded. "I guess when you think about it, it is no worse here than anywhere else. One good thing. Here, you have a warning, and you have time to steer clear of the storm before it hits. When a person gets hurt during a hurricane, you would have to say it is their own fault for staying when they had a chance to go. If I had gone to California instead of Hatteras, I guess I could have been done in by an earthquake by now. Guess it is about as good, if not safer here, than anywhere else in this old world."

This past May, the words Ted said to me on that day came home to roost. After our retirement, my wife and I migrated back to the island like most people who have gotten their feet wet on the beach do. These islands are like a mighty magnet that seems to draw you back to the peace and solitude that is here. In our case, we continued to hang onto our lovely home in Huntington, W. Va., as a back up, in case the hurricanes would blow away our Buxton home. Our West Virginia home was our security blanket. I find a lot of people who have lived away from here share the same feeling of uncertainty about letting go and taking the final plunge to become an islander. Summer after summer, we have labored with that decision. Over and over, we pondered about the dangers of living on an island sticking out into the Atlantic Ocean, waiting to be pounced on by some named hurricane — Emily, Andrew, Fran, Gloria, Hugo. The list goes on with many never to be forgotten. One I will never forget was Hurricane Hazel. I was aboard ship when she hit us broadside. What will be the name of the guy or gal that gets us? As Ted said, "Why do I continue to stay here? Is it a safe place to be?" After all our concern about being safe on Hatteras Island, on April 23 at 2 a.m., we got a phone call from West Virginia telling us that our house was on fire. The house and all the contents were declared a total loss. It was determined to be the work of an arsonist. Mary and I thank God that we were not in the house, but on an island hanging out in the ocean that is considered by many to be an unsafe place to be. Ted Brandis had the right idea when he said, "I guess it is as good, if not safer here, than anywhere else in this old world."

I am not sure if it is less safe today to be living on the islands than it was when I was growing up in Buxton in the early '30's. We had severe storms then, but there was less said about them than now. It could well be the news media's hurricane hype and the refusal of companies to insure beach areas have increased people's anxiety level about storms to such a degree that it has caused a lot of unnecessary alarm. Back then, we didn't know about tropical waves coming off of Africa or Dr. Gray's gloomy annual hurricane forecast. Nor did we sit glued to the TV tracking storms. We went on about our normal routine until the winds started to pick up. When the sea birds began to flock to the islands, landing on our roofs, we became a little concerned about a big one coming.

All this talk about evacuation was unheard of back then because nobody left the islands. On the other hand, nobody built on the ocean's edge either. Today, however, it is a major decision for many islanders whether to go or stay when the hurricane warning is put into effect. Many of the islanders have elected to stay regardless. Their attitude is that "I am going to die someday so it might as well be here." Others stay to protect their belongings. A favorite topic of discussion among islanders during hurricane season is whether you are staying or going when the alarm sounds. Loran Midgett, who lives in a 200-year-old house on the Buxton Back Road, says he has never left during a storm, and he is not going to do it now or ever. "I been living in this old house for 87 years," he said. "It is held together with wooden nails and has withstood many a hurricane and nor'easter, and I intend to ride out whatever storm comes. If she goes, I go with her."

Vera Meekins from Avon says she and her husband Manson Meekins are staying. She said they left for one of the storms, but Manson says he is not going to go again. Her final quote on the matter of leaving is, "If Manson goes down, I'll go down with him." She saw the destruction from the storm of 1944 that almost washed all of Kinnakeet (Avon) out to sea, but that memory doesn't affect her decision to stay.

Allen Lovell, pastor of the Ocracoke United Methodist Church, pointed out that Ocracoke Island has its own unique problems when it comes to making a decision to go or stay during a hurricane. Everyone has to be ferried off the island. It takes about 24 hours to get the cars off the island in the height of the tourist season. Most of the locals have elected to stay, regardless of the intensity of the approaching storm. Some, however, such as Rev. Lovell, do go. As he sees it, another difficulty after getting off the island is deciding which way to go. Often those who are retreating from the storm find themselves headed into its path.

Howard and Carolette Rooney, who just completed a lovely new home overlooking the Slash on Islington Court in Hatteras village, are confronted for the first time with the decision to stay or go. Howard is weighing the decision very carefully. He is seeking advice from the old-timers in the village who have survived scores of storms. He also thinks that modern technology has such a successful track record in pinpointing exactly where the storms will make landfall, that it will help him in his final decisions. He feels that a storm surge from the ocean is not really a huge problem in the village. His main concern is the sound tide and the high winds. In any event, he said, if the hurricane is a category four or five, they are out of here.

"We would hate to leave," Charlotte says. "But we value our lives more than our personal belongings. I guess leaving what you love is the price you pay for living in a paradise like Hatteras village."

Buck and Bobbie McCrorie, who reside on Bayside Court in Frisco, say they are headed off the island to a motel they have staked out in Williamston, N.C., when the alarm is sounded. Buck says this has not been an easy decision for him and Bobbie. In fact, he says that he is still referred to as "the man who left his wife alone on the island during a hurricane."

The decision to stay or go became a real issue with him and Bobbie during Hurricane Bob in 1991. They got in the car at Frisco to leave the island, but when they got to Dillon's Corner in Buxton, Bobbie said, "Stop this car and let me out. I have a job to go to." Stay or go became a real issue with Buck at this time. Should I stay with my true love Bobbie or go? He decided to go. He relates that he was unable to find a place to stay until he got to Tarboro, N.C. Once there, he called the children to tell them that he was safe. They could not believe that he had left their mother on the island. She rode Hurricane Bob out with her neighbors, George and Joyce Rucker.

Buck and Bobbie have always been happily married, and now they are happily united in their decision to leave the island together during a hurricane. They recall the devastation from the roaring wind and the wall of water that came rolling out of the sound during Hurricane Emily. He has decided he doesn't want to take a chance on being washed away with his house.

Every property owner you talk to has a different opinion about staying or going. All conclude that it is in the best interest of all tourists to leave when the alarm is sounded. Tourists are usually in areas that are susceptible to storm surges that could result in a wall of water as high as 25 feet coming at them. And after the storm, tourists can only hinder the clean-up process. Also, they would find themselves in an area without water or electricity. They would subject themselves to untold dangers from debris or dislodged animals and snakes.

We islanders who have recent or past memories of storms have to wrestle with this major decision year after year. It is only natural that often times the thought pops in our minds as it did with Ted Brandis. Why do I continue to stay here?

I recall one storm that hit the island when I was a child that scared the wadding out of me. Dad was away in the Navy, and Mom and my sister Lucie and I were alone in our house. Not thinking it was going to be a bad storm, Mom decided we would remain in our house, rather than gather with family or friends. Back then when a big storm was coming, you gathered together with someone who had a secure house on high ground. The good people of Kinnakeet, who had memories of the August storm, hunted for a secure house with an upstairs. They felt it was better to be looking at the rising water from a second-floor window than sitting on the roof top. I guess you could say this was the beginning of the hurricane parties some have today. It was a different kind of party, though. Our parties consisted of lowering the homemade, wooden storm shutters, stuffing rags in the cracks around the windows and doors, and sometimes the walls, and sitting hovered around the flickering light from an oil lamp. I don't recall any drinking going on, but I do recall grim faces and a little praying that God would see us through this one.

As the storm proceeded, Mom began to realize this was not a good idea for us to be alone in the house. The old house began to shake and creak and was leaking like a sieve. The wind was howling louder than a dying dog, and the kerosene lamp was flickering from the draft. As the roof began to tear apart, Mom decided it was time to go before the house caved in on us. The three of us left the house, clutching hands, bucking the blinding rain and wind, and trying to make our way to the next house down the road. Being the littlest one in the family, I was tossed to and fro by the wind with my feet floating in air. Later we realized it was a wise decision to leave the house, because the storm completely destroyed it.

Through all the bad storms, I can not recall anyone talking about leaving the island for good. After each storm, people literally picked up the pieces and happily did their best to put their lives back together until the next storm came. There was not much talk about why they continued to stay here. They felt that, at worst, the island was a much better place to live than anywhere else in the world.

I would like to share with you some reasons we who live on Hatteras and Ocracoke continue to stay here and that visitors keep on coming back.

First, the islands have a natural beauty that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. In the early mornings, I drive to the beach and stand in the water, looking out over the ocean and seeing the sun rising on one side and the moon setting on the other. The only noise is that of the sea gulls and the roar of the pounding surf. The air is fresh and free of factory and automobile fumes. In moments like this, you realize that when the Creator fashioned Ocracoke and Hatteras, he provided the world with a glimpse of the magnitude of beauty that awaits them in the hereafter. Truly, these islands must be a taste of heaven.

The islands generate generation after generation of gracious people. People on the island (native or otherwise) are kind and generous in their acceptance of others. They are genuinely interested in you as a person and wish you well. They love to share with you information about the islands and want you to love the islands. Nothing makes them happier than to see others enjoy their stay. I am reminded of my childhood days in Buxton when the greatest pleasure my family seemed to enjoy was having the opportunity to share the beauty of the island. I can recall, time after time, my family opening up their hearts and homes to strangers. People on these islands just naturally like to share with others.

The islanders are always ready and willing to give a hand to those who are having problems or are less fortunate than they are. Individuals, churches, and civic organizations work together to eliminate the suffering of others. This is openly demonstrated after every disaster when you see neighbors going out of their way to help each other. It is true our storms are ferocious, but they also serve as a blessing. They bring out the true nature of the islanders' concern for others. A classic example of how this attitude still prevails is all the kind and generous things that the business people do, such as Browning Art Works' collection of canned food annually for the needy, Connors Supermarket's constant donations to worthy projects, and Frisco Campground's assistance in raising money for daily meals for the elderly.

The islands are a wonderful place for children. The community effort of Ocracoke and Hatteras in providing activities for our youth is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. When I was growing up, we did not have all of the games and activities our youth have today, but we realized that we kids were considered the greatest treasure on the island. Everywhere we went we were welcomed and considered to be everybody's kid. I retired from a large school district where I served as a teacher, principal, and central office administrator, but I have never seen anything to compare with the love and compassion the island schools have for each and every child. Basic learning is important in the schools, but building the child's self esteem is equally stressed. The islanders take you for what you are. There are few status symbols. Many who move to the islands are surprised to find that there is no exclusive social set. Climbing the lighthouse is probably the only apparent social climbing to be found on the islands. A happy island man is usually one who has an old hat and a four-wheeler rusting from saltwater with a fishing rod holder on the front. On the other hand, a happy island woman is one who has a happy island man who likes to take her to visit all of the island restaurants. The beach is probably one of the greatest levelers of mankind known. It is hard to distinguish who is wealthy or important when everyone is roaming the beach, barefooted, in shorts or a bathing suit. You could be brushing shoulders with a millionaire and not really know it. When the disasters come, we are all on the same level, for we realize that our earthly treasures are of no importance.

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

How communicating on the island has changed published in: April of 1999


Dewey Parr

In this computer age, talking is becoming a lost art. Little by little, we are becoming a world of people who talk by exercising fingers rather than mouths. How we communicate with each other has been the area in which I have seen the greatest changes in my lifetime.

It was the field of communications that gave me the privilege of growing up on Hatteras Island. My father, Dewey Parr Sr., a radioman in the Navy, came to the island in 1920 as a young man stationed at the Buxton Wireless Radio Station.

The Buxton Wireless Weather Station where Reginald Fessenden comducted his
experiments that led to the first transmitted human speech by radio.

How we communicate on the island has changed drastically since I walked these old sand roads roads as a boy. Here at my Pentium processor with MMX technology hooked up to the Internet, with my local scanner, telephone, radio, stereo, VCR and television, all in arm's reach from my easy chair. I can control it all with a click of a button without leaving my chair. To add to my confusion about what to do with all of these gadgets, my wife gave me a digital camera for Christmas. The thing doesn't use film but has a computer disc that will take 10 million pictures. I can load the pictures into my computer and print them out, or e-mail them. By this time next year, they tell me, there will be television sets so thin I can hang them on the wall, and I will have to dress up to talk on the telephone or when I am using e-mail, because you will be able to see me.

The early means of disseminating information on the island was by word of mouth. When you walked the village sand roads and passed someone's house, they came out and chatted with you. They always gave you an invitation to come in and sit a spell. "Sit a spell" meant, let us share with each other what is happening on and off the island. It was always a welcome guest who had adventures and news to share.

Another good source of news was the daily trip to the post office. I often thought the reason Mom sent me up the hot sand road to the post office was not so much to get the mail, which we didn't get often, but was in hopes we would get some publication like a Sears catalog that we could use in the outhouse. (As you who are older know, paper was at a premium in those days.) The post office usually kept the villagers informed of the major happenings in the outside world. The mail boat captains not only brought the mail but also provided word-of-mouth news. My grandfather, William Hawkins Gray, carried the mail from the landing to the post office for many years.

The Buxton Post Office in 1945
Photo from Standard Oil of N.J. Collection.
Photographic Archives, University of Louisville

The daily trip to the old Buxton Post Office was one
way we stayed informed about the news of the day.

During my childhood in the '30's, the person in charge of the post office was Mrs. Maude White. "Miss" Maude, in my estimation, was probably one of the most knowledgeable and intelligent persons on the island at that time. You will notice on many of the older deeds that Miss Maude did the notarizing. The White family and their descendants in many ways were the ones responsible for helping to keep Buxton in tune with the outside world.

In many ways, the old-fashioned process of spreading the news has not changed much even today. It is still a pleasure to visit many of our general stores, tackle shops, post offices, and churches throughout the islands and receive a friendly smile and island information.

I remember well all the things I learned about our island and the world from hanging around Halloway Gray's general store. The store was directly across the road from our house. Mr. Halloway had me run errands for him and keep the wood floors swept for the price of those old-fashioned candy sticks. Just by being there, which I dearly loved, I was exposed to the island news — such important things as when the fish were running and who killed a large cottonmouth moccasin. You know, that kind of big news stuff that really mattered back then.

One snake that I can still see in my imagination is the one that was laid out on the store's porch. It lay there all day and overnight so that everyone could count its rattlers and hear the tale of how it was killed. Now mind you, I was a small kid living right across the sand road from that aggravating snake all stretched out. I listened all day long as the snake tale was told over and over with all of the other island "can-you-top-this" snake tales. They said the snake was so powerful that it jumped from the side of the road, making a loud thud, into the flat bed of a truck. Each time they told the story of the struggle by the truck driver to kill the snake, that beach rattle snake grew another 10 feet in my eyes. That night I fought to stay awake, armed with my ball bat, watching my bedroom window and waiting to beat that snake away should it come back and search me out. To this day, as my neighbor Johnny Conner, owner of Conner's Supermarket, can tell you, I am not a fan of snakes. He still chuckles about the day, while putting the motor on my boat, I fell into the Muddy Marsh Ditch with a water moccasin. The poor little water snake took one look at me and I took one hard look at him, and we both scooted in opposite directions as fast as we could go. There are times when it pays to be so ugly you can scare things away.

One exciting thing I did at the store was deliver messages up and down the sand road when the crank telephone rang. Back then the only phones that existed on the island were the ones in the general stores. Sometimes I would have to run across the cut-over from the front road, now Highway 12, to the Buxton Back Road to deliver the telephone message. If the messages were important, they would have a call-back time. It was an exciting time to receive a call from someone off the island. Usually some member of the family, or the whole family, would hurry back with me to the store to wait for the call-back. On the way, they would express their worries that it might be bad news about someone living off the island or in the service. If the call-back brought good news, there was a sigh of relief, but if it was bad news, there was much sadness and tears. In those days every call that came to the island was something to talk about. Later on, the importance of the general store as a community center of communication began to diminish. Those who could afford it had party-line telephones in their homes. When your phone rang, so did everyone else's and they were ready to listen in on your conversation and then call a friend on another party-line to share the news with them. This was our substitute for a daily newspaper, which we still do not have. In a matter of hours, everyone knew the major happenings of the day. When it comes to telephones, times have definitely changed. It is interesting for me to notice how many people on the island now have those cell phones growing out of their ears as they zip by me while I am waiting for 20 minutes to get out of my driveway onto Highway 12 in the summer. In many ways, it saddens me to go up to Canadian Hole and look out over the sound-side of our island and count the tower lights that blink in the night. It seems like it was just yesterday that the only light at night on our skyline was the flashing of our beloved lighthouse. If you have not looked across the sound at night lately, I suggest you do so. It will make you realize that things will never be the same on Hatteras and Ocracoke again. You will see lights blinking from towers for the communications centers of the island such as, cell phones, emergency services, police and fire departments, radio stations, and so forth. These tower lights indicate that we are no longer an isolated fishing village but a part of the new age of communications. The villagers who spent their time mending and setting nets have traded their nets for the Internet. My second cousin Gary Gray, the village barber and a life-long commercial fisherman, is a good example. I never thought I would live to see the day when you went into his barber shop and you would see a computer hooked up to the Internet. Our youth are paving the way for the new life that is overtaking the island by becoming computer knowledgeable with the help of our superb school system. I think you will find all of the islanders my age have concluded that we either join the parade of progress or we will be left sitting in the lurch.

I never realized until I got on the Internet how small this world really is. Now in a matter of moments I can communicate with people from all over the world and tap into information banks on any subject. The old adage, "No man is an island" applies to our island. No matter how much we idolize the past life on the island, changes are here to stay. We have arrived. We are now a part of the new world. There awaits a new and exciting adventure that we who are older need to approach with a sense of excitement and anticipation rather than fear and distrust. Granted it is overwhelming, as Neil Tawes said to me recently, but I am learning it is worth taking the time to learn how to be a part of the new age of communication.

My only concern is that we not lose the quaint and unique characteristics that sets our island culture apart from the mainland. At least for the moment, let us be thankful we are still in many ways fantasy islands, possessing natural charms with peace and quiet. I would welcome your e-mail, but don't be surprised if I don't reply soon. I am still trying to figure out how to use this "cotton-picking" thing they call a computer.


Dewey Parr, Sr.









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They said the snake was so powerful that it jump from the side of the road, making a loud thud, into the flat bed of a truck.

Dewey Parr Sr.

Dewey Parr is seen here after many years in the Navy as a Radioman. He was stationed in a little building on the beach at the entrance to Buxton known as the Wireless Radio Station.

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Beach rocks published in: June of 1999


Dewey Parr

Rocks have always held a fascination for me. This year I decided to start a rock garden at the Old Gray House composed of rocks brought to me by family and friends from off the island. The first rock in my collection is from Newfoundland. It was brought to me by Rich Moorefield. My rock garden was prompted by a big blank spot in my garden due to the loss of my treasured wild cherry tree during Hurricane Bonnie. This fascination with rocks is a result of my formative years on Hatteras Island. Children who grow up on Hatteras and Ocracoke in the early days did not have the privilege of seeing any rock other than what we call beach rock. When we found anything other than beach rock it was something to treasure and to talk about.

I recall finding black rock on the beach occasionally. I would wonder where it came from and how it was formed. Dad said it was from ships that passed or sank off the coast. I also learned that black rock would burn when ignited. It was something to see rock that would burn and could be used to power ships as well as heat homes and cooking stoves. I do not recall anyone on the island heating or cooking in their homes by burning black rock. Little did I realize that world events would later lead my family to live in an area where the mining of black rock was the major industry. During the big war my Dad was put on Naval Recruiting in Huntington, West Virginia. It was there that I met and married Mary, my wife of 45 years, and became aware of just how important rocks were to the world. They not only mined black rock, or coal, but had huge quarries extracting all types of ore from the earth, including just plain rock for building roads, walls and buildings. It was something to see how little regard the mining companies had for the environment or the future welfare of the people. They stripped the hillsides bare leaving the soil and the people who lived nearby to suffer the ravages of flooding and erosion. West Virginia was plagued with absentee land owners whose main objective was to make money without regard of the cost to the State. The reason I am taking the time to point this out to you is that I see a parallel between the plight of West Virginia and Cape Hatteras Island. Now that it has been announced to the world that we are one of the last undeveloped areas on the East Coast, combined with all of the national attention we are receiving from the moving of the lighthouse, makes us a desirable area for quick growth. I am sure many an investor is now taking a long hard look at our little island. You think it is congested now in the summer. Just wait a couple of years. The major difference between the Barrier Islands and West Virginia is in the area of reclamation. West Virginia has been able to restore a major portion of their land abuse through good conservation methods such as reforestation, whereas on Hatteras and Ocracoke once the land is cleared of vegetation there will never be an opportunity to reclaim it. The old-timers on the islands can tell you from experience that once you clear a piece of land and let it go to blowing sand there is never a point of return.

A few fragments of rock that caught my attention in early 1930 was the ones we kids found while playing at the Upper Landing as you come into Buxton. On the sound-side in the proximity where the old dump used to be we unearthed some bones and pieces of smooth rock. Some were slick, grayish, and pointed. We ran these rocks home, wondering what great treasures we had found. We were told it was flint and shown how the Indians used to make arrowheads and spears from it. That evening at the regular family gathering around the wood burning cook stove we heard tales about the Indians that lived on the Islands. Grandmother Melissa Farrow Gray from Avon, said that she was told that the Indians helped some of the early islanders by sharing information with them. She said the method she used to plant her garden, by putting a seed in the ground and then skipping a space and burying a dead fish between the rows was taught to the early settlers by the Indians. I don’t know if it was true or not I only know it worked. Her root crops, collards, beans and corn were fantastic. I notice that some of the islanders still bury dead fish in their gardens. If I did it at my Buxton home, I would heap a huge crop of raccoons digging up dead fish, rather than baskets of vegetables.

Rocks were not a part of our daily conservation like you find in most areas. When we went to church and the preacher spoke of the foolish man who built his house on the sand and the wise man who built his house on the rock, he took time to explain rock meant a firm foundation. Because of no rock formations visible the Islanders interpreted that to mean it would be foolish to build on the beach rather than in the woods away from the water and wind. You didn’t hear islanders talking about people having rocks in their heads, but you might hear it often said to a fidgety kid, “You got sand in your breeches.” Little off-the-island pleasures, like throwing flat pieces of rocks in a pond to see how many times you could make them skim over the surface of the water did not exist here. We threw shells. If you had a large rock, you treated it like an antique, like the two red rocks at the entrance way to the Gray House. They were brought in by my ancestors from the beach right after they blew up the first lighthouse.

David Stick in his book entitled, “The Outer Banks of North Carolina,” gives a vivid description of the first Cape Hatteras Lighthouse which was about 600 feet south of the present lighthouse that is before it is moved. It was commissioned by Congress on May 13, 1794. The location where it was is now under water, which gives you some idea how bad the erosion has been. Stick points out that in 1806 William Tatham described it as being composed of two kind of stones that made it an architectural Eye Sore. Tatham’s suggestion was that the white stones should be painted the same color as the red stones. After much debate about the effectiveness and the structural condition of the first Cape Hatteras Lighthouse it was decided by Congress to build a new lighthouse, which is the present day one. A short time after the second lighthouse was lit for the first time on December 16, 1870 the first lighthouse was blown up and the rocks were strewed on the beach. The islanders made it a point to collect these rocks from the beach to keep as a memory of the first lighthouse that served the ships at sea. If you notice large reddish or white rocks around your property, you can rest assured is one of the original stones from the first Cape Hatteras Lighthouse that was brought in from the beach by one of your ancestors or the former property owner. The one mystery I would like to have solved for me by someone who might know is where did the reddish stones that were used in the first Cape Hatteras Lighthouse come from and how did they transport them to the island. By the way if you have not read David Stick’s book you need to drop by Gee Gee Rosell’s quaint Buxton Book Store and see if she can get you a copy. Her bookstore is a bit of Island history in itself.

Another rock that brings back sweet memories to me were the beach bricks that we used to find on the beach. They were not like the manufactured bricks of today. These were bricks that did not have any rough edges. The edges had been worn smooth by the grinding sand as they rolled for years in the ocean wash. My fondest recollection of these rocks was the chilly winter evenings when my mother would place them on our only source of heat, which was the wood burning stove in the kitchen, to get them toasty warm. She would then wrap them with a clean chicken sack and lovingly place them at the foot of my bed to warm my feet as she tucked me in. I often think of those chilly Hatteras winters and my mother’s love for me when I am walking the beach and spot an ocean sanded brick rolling in the surf. I was told that the origin of some of these bricks could well be from the load of bricks that was lost at sea when they began to build the second lighthouse or from the many ships that sunk off of the coast.

There are two other types of rock formations you will find on our beach. One of them is what I called Lightning Rock. It was frequently found on our beaches in the thirties. In fact you could find large chunks, but today it is not very common due to all the beach traffic and people trampling it underfoot. This formation was a result of the lightning striking the sand on the beach. It strikes with such force and intense heat that it melts and solidifies the sand producing a gray chunk of light-weight rock. The scientists of today call it Fulgrite and have an explanation for it, but all I know is the lightning strikes the sand and up pops this strange looking formation we call Lightning rock. A lot of people confuse Fulgrite with the other type of rock we call Beach Rock. Lightning rock is created from the sky in a flash and beach rock is a product of a lengthy process.

Beach Rock is my favorite rock. Years ago islanders collected it as it washed up on the beach after storms and piled it up to form barriers around their properties. It reminded you of the many inland farm fences made of rocks stacked on top of each other that the farmers collected out of their fields as they cleared them for cultivation. The practice of collecting beach rock disappeared from the island because the stacked up rock became a great place for snakes, spiders and wasps to hide. It is not often that you see huge chunks of beach rocks on our beaches today. I am not sure how beach rock is formed. My guess would be that it is formed as a result of shells and sand accumulating on the ocean floor and the pressure being exerted on them bonds them together. If you look close at a piece of beach rock, you can find evidence of thousands of pieces of shells representing hundreds of species bound together by nature’s cement. Sometimes you find whole shells such as whelks, quahogs, and moon snails imbedded in the rock. I have even found whole shells that have beautiful rock crystals being formed inside of them.

If we really take time to look at our beaches we can find there is beauty in places we never thought about looking. Having had a period of blindness in my life prior to an operation to restore my sight, I learned that beauty abounds in everything regardless of how insignificant it might appear to be. Even though it grieves me to see the change in the amount of trash that is being thrown on our pristine beaches I even appreciate the fact I can see the trash. When I walk our beaches I see the footprints of those who are looking only for that perfect shell without any blemishes rather than taking the time to behold the beauty they crush under their feet in the quest for the single perfect shell. It also bothers me to see the insensitivity of people who drive their four wheelers right down the middle of the shell line on the beach. I guess they get a kick out of crushing the shells so others can not collect or enjoy them.

Next time you walk the beaches of Hatteras and Ocracoke take the time to pick up a piece of beach rock and take a close look at its composition. See how many species of shells you can recognize imbedded in the rock. Ask yourself how many shells are represented in this rock and how deep in the ocean was it? If you have nothing else to do, bring your beach rock by the Gray House and we will chat about your adventures on our beautiful beaches. You can usually find me strolling round the yard, or sitting under the old oak tree.

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The creatures of Hatteras and Ocracoke published in: June of 2000

Buster The Cat


Dewey Parr

Many flying, swimming, crawling, creeping, and clawing creatures inhabit Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. And islanders have always had a love for — or at least a respect of — these creatures. It is debatable how they got here. Some say they were brought here from the mainland, or they arrived on the islands off ships that ran aground. Most island homes had at least one dog as a pet, and another one just for hunting. The hunting dog was treated differently from the pet dog. My favorite island dog was Queenie. Queenie stayed by my side through my earlier years, and remained day and night at the foot of my bed during the year I was confined as a result of an accident in which I was burned.

As a child, I was surrounded every day by nature. In the evenings, I would listen to tales of the many adventures in the woods as a result of encounters with the wild animals. I always looked forward to the evening gatherings at the general stores or at the Old Gray House, the home of my grandparents. They were precious moments. It was a time when family and friends would get together and share the events of the day and stories from the past.

I can recall, even to this day, sitting on the porch of the Gray House and hearing William Alfred and Thelma (Barnette) Gray making their way down the Dark Ridge Path to the family gathering. Uncle Alfred hated snakes and mosquitoes. He would beat the air with a branch to chase everything away, while Aunt Thelma carried the lantern and sang hymns. It was swish, swish, and "When the saints go marching in," as they made their way through the woods.

You didn't roam our woods at night back then without a lantern. The nights were pitch dark, except for the flashing of the lighthouse. Is it any wonder the Ocracoke and Cape Hatteras lighthouses were almost revered by the islanders? They were our only man-made lights in the night sky. When you walked our woods at night, you knew there were many animal eyes watching every move. The nights were majestically dark back then, and on a clear night, the sky sparkled, revealing the mysteries of the universe. The night sky provided hours of entertainment as we learned from our elders about the constellations and planets. As we sat on the screened-in porch looking up at the night sky, it not only sparked tales from mythology but also of night-time adventures at sea. The islands at night were an astrologer's paradise. Things have sure changed since I was a small Buxton boy. Now I can hardly see the dippers, or the flashing of the light from the lighthouse, because of all of the bright shining towers and lights. A lot of people must have a lot of money to burn because they burn unnecessary lights all night long.

When the family gathered, we sat on the porch of the Old Gray House, swatting mosquitoes until dark, and then we moved into the kitchen around the old stove. In the flickering of the kerosene lamp, we listened to stories about how some of the Islanders were chased up trees by wild boars that roamed the Buxton woods. We no longer have wild boars in our woods. They have been replaced with the nutria or what we call the Russian rat. If you have never seen one, you are in for a treat. It is an animal I would not advise you to try to housebreak. I’m not sure it came from Russia, but it is impressive, aggressive, and downright scary. Rumors have been flying that the animals have been attacking cats on the Buxton Back Road.

Many of the wildlife stories were told over and over. They involved huge snakes and the dangers that lurked in the sound and woods. Snakes were always a favorite topic. One of our family members liked to roam the swamps, capturing cottonmouth moccasins and rattlesnakes to get their skins to make belts, pouches, and wallets. Some would tell of adventures in the sound with stingrays. I can still recall times when we were in the sound crabbing with a dip net or clamming, and we would come across a stingray. We knew better than to hit at it. If you made it mad, it would run ahead of you and then back up and ram its jagged tail into you.

I recall only one person getting speared by a sound stingray. It was his fault because he hit the creature with a dip net. He had a bad leg for a long time. Some said the reason he got hurt was because he broke the island rule that prevailed with the creepy creatures. You avoided them, got out of their way, or left them alone. It was a "you don't bother me and I won't bother you" attitude. We kids roamed the island barefooted, wading the swamps and sounds, without fear of the wildlife that lurked there. I am sure that many a time, we were close enough for a snake to bite us without even knowing it, but for some reason the wildlife seemed to avoid hurting us. Of course, you must understand island kids did not do the things you hear about children doing today, such as torturing animals. Our generation respected nature and took from it only what was necessary for our survival. We didn't kill for pleasure. We killed animals to feed our families.

Now I want to digress here for a minute, and ask you if you know anything about the blue racer snake? One day when I was 8 years old, I was walking alone up the Dark Ridge Path from my house to the Buxton school. I heard this swishing sound and saw the bullrushes shaking and falling over as something cut through them. I asked my dad about it when I got home from school. He said it probably was a blue racer. He said for me to avoid them because they would chase you down, back up on you, and cut you to ribbons with their razor-like tails. You know, ever since then I have wondered about that. Is that a true story or is it like the one that my wife's father liked to tell about the hoop snake that rolls up like a hoop and rolls across the fields out west?

There was one animal that was always present everywhere you went on the islands. You would see them darting throughout the woods or creeping around the house in search of food. It was the wild cat. Cats roamed the island, and you did not reach your hand out to pet them like everyone does today without first knowing that your intentions would be acceptable to the cat. The little furry creatures that roamed the island freely were a breed of cat that hunted to exist. Their claws and teeth were sharp and ready to sink into their prey. They, along with the islanders, learned over the years how to adapt to our harsh environment. Some said they came to the islands by boats or shipwrecks. We kids thought some of them must have surely been the pets of pirates who came ashore to bury treasure chests. We often wondered, if we followed them, if they would lead us to a pirate's treasure. Most of the islanders always had a few cats at their doors waiting for scraps. In fact, they encouraged them to hang around to help keep the snakes and rats away. As the years have passed, many of the wild cats have become domesticated, but you will still occasionally run across one that has that wild look in its eyes. Not long ago, I had one that kept coming to me, but would never let me pick it up. It did get so that, while I was feeding it, I could gently rub its head. It came to my door daily for food and a kind word. No matter how hard I tried to domesticate that cat, it still heard the call of the wild and strayed off in the woods.

I have an unusual Hatteras "wild cat" now. It appeared one day at the Old Gray House while Larry Bates and I were working on the tin roof. I told Larry I was not going to feed it and maybe it would go away. Larry watched the cat fly up a tree after squirrels and birds and decided it was used to fending for itself.

Larry called the cat "Buster." It hung around for days and drove my wife, Mary, crazy. Every time the door would open, it would dash up the steps and get in the middle of Grandmother Gray's old iron bed, right on top of all of the linens Mary had on display. I tried everything to get rid of that cat, without having to turn it over to the animal control folks. I have too much island culture in me to destroy animals unnecessarily. Finally, in desperation I loaded the cat up and took it to my home so that Mary could have some peace at the shop.

Did I feed it? Of course, I did. You knew from the beginning of this story that the cat outsmarted me and finally won me over. They call them "dumb animals," but I think they are smarter than we are. If you own a cat, you know exactly what I am saying. You don't really own the cat. The cat owns you.

After I worked with the cat, I talked Larry Bates' friend, who lives up in Kill Devil Hills, to take the cat on a trial basis. I thought the darn cat was finally gone. Five days after he took the cat, the friend brought him back. He was tearing things apart. Now that has been over a year ago and guess where the ferocious Hatteras wild cat is today? You got it. Sleeping right now on a towel on my couch in my workshop, while I am sitting here at the computer writing. Usually when I am writing, it is lying on my scanner, reaching its paws over and clicking the mouse. If Mary is on the phone and the cat wants attention, it will push the button on the receiver to hang up. Another of its tricks is to push the button to turn my printer on, so the machine will warm up while the cat is lying on it. The only nice thing about Buster is that he is still wild enough that he does not require a cat box and likes to roam outside all night.

I justified feeding this cat by deciding it was cheaper to keep it around than having to pay exterminators to help with the mouse problem we were having. The cat must have heard me because it started bringing me mice that it had killed and laying them down at my feet for me to inspect. It was as if the cat knew that if it didn't earn its keep, it was gone.

I have also dubbed Buster my "Secret Service Cat," in addition to the title of "Computer Cat." Every morning, Buster is waiting me for me on the edge of my outside shower roof to serve as my escort. He walks proudly by my side, looking in every direction as if he is guarding me, as we walk to the top of the hill to get the morning paper. As we make our journey back, Buster dashes to the workshop for the morning feeding and then a snooze.

I have been laughing lately at Ray Schaaf of Avon, who never really liked cats. Seems like a hungry cat begging for food has finally won Ray over. While up at his house, I happened to notice a cat come walking across the yard and rub up against his leg. And then without thinking about it, I saw Ray reach down and gently pet it. Looks like another cat hater has fallen by the wayside.

Yes, times have definitely changed since my childhood days on this island, but I still see evidence of the love and appreciation that islanders and visitors who come here regularly have for all of the creepy critters that roam our Banks. It thrills my heart to see our wildlife being preserved on the islands for future generations to enjoy. It is a joy to live on an island where you see people taking time to give a turtle the right of way as he crosses the road.

I hope that you will be inspired to pass on to your children or grandchildren a feeling and appreciation for all life forms, no matter how insignificant they might seem to be. If you have nothing else to do, drop around the Old Gray House. I will be sitting under the old oak tree, waiting to share cat stories with you.


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Buster The computer Cat Rules the roost at our house.

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An idea for building those precious family memories published in: July of 2003

String of Ark Shells

Ark Shells


Dewey Parr

As I sit here at my computer with my trusted friend Buster, my wild cat, nuzzling his purring head on my keyboard and occasionally tapping the keys with a front paw, I am reminiscing about the good times at Hatteras and Ocracoke. Those were the times when people could come to the islands with their families and have a whole summer's worth of fun on a shoestring.

I am sure that some of you who now live here full time can remember those good old days. Many of you have shared with me that before you finally came to Hatteras to live, your true love for the islands began in camping experiences in a tent or low-rent housing in not-very-fancy motels or cottages. With a joyful gleam in your eyes, you have related that you had little money while rearing a family, but that you were still able to have a wonderful island vacation.

I love to hear the stories people spin about good times at Hatteras and Ocracoke — such as the night the tent blew down or a 'coon came to visit. Crabbing, clamming, and fish stories are now treasured family memories of those bygone days of vacationing in leaner times.

Dave and Karen Kelmer love to tell about how their three boys — Kenneth, David, and Jonathan — fell in love with Hatteras when they came here every summer. At that time, Dave and Karen were short on extra money to burn, but long on family togetherness and love for each other. They found, as many others did, that they could come to the islands and have a wonderful time together on little or nothing — on a shoestring, so to speak.

The boys found great enjoyment in just being on Hatteras. They learned to be in tune with nature and to bask in the joy of the wonderful things nature provided for them, such as ocean waves, sandy beaches, fresh air, and a maritime forest full of exciting adventures around every tree. There were no amusement parks or places to spend money. Gift shops did not abound, and those who came felt that the only gift they needed was the gift of being together. The biggest expense was food, which they usually brought with them or fished for from the sound and ocean beach.

Food selection was not as plentiful as it is today. Back then, we did not have the modern grocery stores we are blessed with today. Before the paved road came, we depended on the general stores to provide us. Right after Highway 12 was built, cars became more numerous on the islands. We would make a day trip to the big city of Manteo with our coolers to load up on meats and other commodities at a lower price. I am sure that many islanders can remember those good times. In fact, it was the paved road and the Navy commissary out by the lighthouse where the Coast Guard Station is now that brought about the demise of the little general stores.

Old Gray House, that young adults have shared with us the joy they had as children coming to the island to camp with their parents. With fondness for family togetherness, they relate their experiences on Hatteras and Ocracoke. Many times it is in a tone of respect and awareness of moments shared with a departed mother or father. I suspect their annual pilgrimage to the islands was not merely a time for fun and laughter in the sun, but a living memorial to their loved ones that chose to share the greatest gift they could give them as children — time together in a place where they and they alone were the center of attention and the recipient of their parents' love. Time together is probably the greatest legacy we can leave our children.

As I look back on my life as Dave and Karen and others do, it was the living on a shoestring that seem to bind us affectionately and snugly together. This year in particular has become a year of memories for Mary and me because we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. I remember the time Mary and I ran out of gas on a mountain without a nickel to our name, and she had to get out in the snow and guide me back down that big hill with cliffs on the side. Oh, well, you have stories like that you have probably forgotten — stories that end up with some good Samaritan whose name you have forgotten or never knew who gave you a helping hand. When God calls me home I hope that someone greeting me will point a finger at me and say to the Master, "Why that is the guy, whose name I never knew, who helped me that day I was stuck on the beach at Hatteras. He said it was his pleasure to help me and he hoped I would come back to visit his beautiful islands."

Have the living on a shoestring days ended on Hatteras and Ocracoke? I guess we will have to agree it is not like it used to be. I never thought I would live to see the day that our access to the beaches would be in question and that we would have million-dollar homes all over the islands. Nor did anyone ever imagine that the time would come when you would have to pay to climb the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse or fight your way through the traffic to get to the Ocracoke Lighthouse. Why, I remember the good old days when the doors of the Hatteras lighthouse were open all the time, and we kids ran up and down it at will.

Things have changed, but there are still a few things a family can do together on a shoestring. One good example is entertaining your family on the beach. Give each member of your family a long string with a big knot or shell tied on the bottom. Tell them this is going to be the only evening entertainment for the week of vacation. Tell them that you are going to take a beach walk together every evening and collect shells with holes in them and string them on this so-called shoestring.

While you are at it, take time to help your children appreciate the wonders of the beach and ocean creatures by sharing with them why many shells on the beach have such precision-cut round holes in them. Explain to them that it is not just a matter of wear and tear from rolling in the ocean waves, but the work of a creature of the sea. That creature is the moon snail or, as we call them on the islands, shark eyes.

Moon Shells Moon Shells

Moon Snail Shells

I believe that the Hatteras driller, my name for the moon snail, is probably the greatest friend a shell crafter has. This little sea creature is equipped with a radial tooth that can drill a neat little hole in other shells that provide it with an ample supply of food. When animals in shells are attacked by their enemies, they are like the proverbial turtle. They pull back into their shell and shut their trap door. Their trap door is called an operculum and is usually carried around on the bottom of their foot. It is composed of a tough substance that is impregnable to their enemies. Some trap doors, especially that of the tapestry turban shell, are so solid and beautiful they are used by crafters to make jewelry. Cat's eye jewelry is made from the operculum, or the trap door, of the Tapestry Turban Shell.

When true specimen shell collectors see a shell with the trap door (operculum) displayed, it is a signal to them that the shell is of high quality. It was either taken live or immediately after the natural death of the animal inside and has not been damaged by the rolling waves or effects of the sun from lying on the beach.

However, the moon snail is not in any way thwarted by the mere closing of a trap door. It says, "Go ahead. Close your trap door. I will huff and puff and drill a hole in your shell and eat you anyway." And so it does.

It climbs aboard, wraps his foot around its prey to hold itself in place, and slowly begins to drill a neat little hole. As it drills, the moon snail spits out an acid to lubricate its drill bit. When finished drilling, it extends its proboscis, or snout, into the little hole and sucks out the succulent flesh of the animal inside the shell. The moon snail is not picky. It will also eat its own kind, along with any other marine gastropods it can find. Isn't it amazing the way the Good Lord equipped the creatures of the sea with the ability to survive, just as he provided our ancestors the ability to survive the harsh environment of Hatteras and Ocracoke.

Back to your having a good time on a shoestring. As you are walking along the beach, you will find different species of shells that have holes in them, but there is one in particular that always seems to be on the beach that others do not collect. They pass it by because it usually has good-size holes in it at the top. These holes are initially caused by the moon snail, but the action of the waves tossing and turning the shells in the surf, widens the hole. This shell is called the "arc" shell. It is called that because it arcs or twists at the top.

Even when people will say to you there are no shells on the beach, you will probably find arc shells or other shells with holes in them. Remember that what most people mean when they say there are no shells on the beach is that they cannot find that perfect shell. Never forget that true beauty is not always found in perfection but surrounds us on every side. Add the unwanted arc shell to your shoestring, along with all others you find, such as the common oyster. To others they might not reflect beauty, but to you they will have a value beyond money.

You might even mark your string so that you can recount each individual day's walk. Or as a project later, you might take the time to organize your collection on your string by size or species from the greatest to the smallest.

At the end of your vacation before you leave the islands, take time to gather together and reflect not only the number and type of shells on your strings but the good times you had together strolling the beaches. Parents, long after you are gone, these shoestring memories will remain. Maybe somebody else in a little island shop like mine will hear your children and grandchildren tell them about the moments shared with you on these beautiful islands.

It is not the luxurious houses, amusement parks, or fancy restaurants with delicious food that keeps people of all ages coming back year after year to these islands. It is the shared moments of family love, combined with the wonders of the sea, sound, and sky found only on Ocracoke and Hatteras islands.

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the whelk is one of the most interesting shells of the Outer banks published in: August of 1997

the whelk is one of
the most interesting Shells of the Outer banks

The Whelk Shell The Whelk Shell


Dewey Parr

Of all the shells found on the Cape Hatteras beach, probably the whelk is the most interesting. When I was growing up in Buxton, I don't recall anyone calling the whelk shell a whelk. We always spoke of them as being conchs. Now that the islanders have become sophisticated, as well as scientific, we have learned to distinguish the difference between a conch and a whelk.

When you say conch, most people think of the pink conch that comes from Florida and Caribbean. The difference is not so much in the animal that lives inside the shell but the shell itself. The pink conch is foreign to the Carolina waters, even though they are plentiful in gift shops. Conchs are sold as a courtesy to tourists who want to take home a brightly-colored shell from the ocean.

When you buy a pink conch, there are a few things you need to check. The price depends on the size and condition of the flange on the shell. Look at the back to see if there has been a slit cut in the shell. If there is a slit, it means the animal inside has been extracted for food and the price should be a lot less than one that does not have a hole. The hole, however, can be valuable to you if you want to hang the shell or insert a light inside it. An easy way to display a shell with a hole in it is to put a nail in a board and sit the hole over the nail. The word roller is a term used for a conch that has rolled in the surf breaking off the flange. The flange has usually been filed even, so that it is not rough.

We humans seem to want everything smooth and neat looking even though nature doesn't work that way. Our gardens usually portray this attitude. We put everything in neat rows. God's garden is not planted in rows. Look closely at Hatteras and Ocracoke and you will find that most of the vegetation is helter-skelter. It was planted by bird droppings from the trees and animals flitting through the forest.

So it is also with the shells that you find on the beach. I am sure if you were tossed around day in and day out by the ocean surf, you would have a few blemishes and rough edges to show. I guess the reason the Carolina conch or whelk shell is my preference of all the shells found on our beaches is that it depicts the rough, rugged natural beauty of Hatteras and Ocracoke.

When you pick up a Carolina conch, or any shell, you need to consider the fact that the shell is someone's empty house. In dealing with children, we need to create an interest in getting them to learn more about the creature that lived in the shell. To do so will help them develop a deeper appreciation for preserving our natural resources. Some good questions to ask children about a shell they find on the beach are: Who lived in this empty house? What did it look like? What did it eat? How did it move around? Is it beneficial to us? Will it harm us?

The animals that live in the shells are seldom seen by visitors to the beach. In fact, many would find these animals rather repulsive, even though they have a natural beauty and interest all their own. Take a close look at the animal that lives in the whelk shell, for example. In many ways it resembles a large, elongated snail. The thought of eating such an animal could easily turn a lot of people's stomachs, yet in many European societies such an animal is considered a delicacy and good source of protein.

I am not aware of anyone on the island who eats the whelk, but it could be some do. I just learned recently that some islanders make a stew out of the small, colorful coquinas found on our beaches. I would not find eating a whelk anymore distasteful than eating an eel. Many of the islanders ate eels. I recall watching my Grandmother Gray slice and fry eels on her kerosene stove. Watching them hop in the frying pan was bad enough, let alone eating the things. I wondered if they wiggled as you swallowed them.

To some, another past island practice of going out in the sound and collecting a wash tub of oysters in the shell for an evening meal might not be appetizing either. The family gathered around the fireplace with a pan of biscuits and a knife for opening the oysters. The oyster shells served as their own plates. You opened an oyster and ate it from the shell with a few bites of biscuit and shared in the conversation. This process continued until the food and conversation were consumed. The part I remember most about the oyster supper was the little juicy baby crabs that you sometimes found inside the raw oyster.

While I am on the subject of past island dietary habits, it might be of an interest to you to know that many islanders, including my family, ate robins. In the late fall, the robins migrate in large numbers to the island. Throughout the winter months, when food was not plentiful, fried robin was a welcome treat on many dinner tables. My mother, Melissa Gray Parr, considered robin legs and breast a delicacy and said they were much tastier than chicken. She also mentioned that it took a considerable number of birds to feed the family, even though the robins were fat from feeding on the variety of island berries that were available at that time.

Over the years, the islanders found many uses for the whelk other than eating the animals. They have used them for door stops, liners around their flower beds or walkways, holders for loose change, etc. One common use was to surround grave sites. I also remember well the big shells that always seemed to be handy when you needed a dipper for watering plants in the garden.

One enjoyable use I have found in my retirement years for the whelk shell is making what I term "Hatteras holders." With a little effort, I like to transform the shells into useful objects, such as holders for plants, loose change, soaps, candies, nuts, and paper clips. It gives me a great sense of pleasure to see how many practical uses I can come up with for the whelk shell. I guess you could say I have found a therapeutic value for the shell. It gives me a feeling of peace and serenity as I transform the whelk into various types of holders. The biggest problem I encounter in working with the whelk shells these days is finding sufficient shells on the beach. The days of going to the beach and coming home with a bucket load of empty shells has definitely ended. Most island children learned from experience at an early age not to disturb whelk shells away from the ocean's edge. To kick or pick up a shell in someone's yard could well be an invitation to trouble. Wasps and spiders seem to think an empty shell is designed for their use. While my wife, Mary, and I were shelling out at Cape Point, I also learned there is another slimy creature that thinks an empty whelk shell makes a good home. I waded out in shallow water and picked up a Carolina conch, and much to my surprise a small octopus plopped in my hand. Not being a connoisseur of octopus meat, I was glad to let him go. The common practice of picking up a shell and putting it to your ear to hear the ocean might not always be in your best interest. You never know what may crawl into your ear.

Knobbed whelk laying eggs
at the Rachel Carson Reserve
Photo taken by Paul Dunn
A unique feature of the female whelk is the method in which she lays her eggs. As you walk the beaches of Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, you often come upon a strange looking piece of flotsam — a string of flat, button-like discs joined by a band at one side that looks like pieces of dirty rope or snake skeletons. Before toys were available on the islands, some children imagined them to be the lost sea necklaces of the legendary mermaids. Some even playfully wore them like a Hawaiian lei.

Actually, these strange strings released from the sea are the egg cases of the Atlantic whelk. Female whelks lay long strings of egg capsules. Each egg capsule is formed in a round pore near the end of the foot. About 100 eggs are sealed in each egg capsule. The mother attaches one end of the egg case to whatever is available, such as a rock, dead shell, or sea fan. The size of the egg case depends on the age and size of the mother.

If you are fortunate enough to find an egg case washed up on the beach before the baby whelks break free in the sea from the opening in the capsule, you will see a secret of the sea. Clip the end of an egg capsule with scissors or a knife. Gently shake the baby whelks out into the palm of your hand and you will see a miracle of the sea. The babies are miniatures of the mother whelk shell. Over the years, the baby animals remain in their original shell. The shell grows in proportion to the animal inside. It differs from the chambered nautilus in that as the animal inside the nautilus shell grows it produces a new and larger chamber to house it and then moves into the new chamber, sealing off the old.

Another point of interest about the Carolina conchs you find on the Hatteras and Ocracoke beaches is that some are left handed and some are right handed. The next time you kick a shell, take time to remember that you just kicked someone's house. Hope you have good luck shelling on our Hatteras and Ocracoke beaches. Remember the early bird gets the worm, and when it comes to shelling in the summer, I do mean early.

Hatteras Holders

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A Whelk Shell

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Dewey's favorite Whelk Shell is the one he made to hold nuts.
Whelk Shells Make Great Live Plant Holder.

Caroina Conch

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Caroina Conch

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Caroina Conch

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The Whelk Shell "Caroina Conch"

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The gathering of the grandchildren
is a rite of summer
published in: September of 1995


Dewey Parr

There's something about the Island breeze that causes a person to relax and reminisce about the good life. Each time I sit under the old oak tree in the front yard of the Old Gray House in Buxton, with the ocean breezes blowing gently on my face, I begin to think about the good life on the Outer Banks. The breeze, along with a scene that is slowly passing in front of me, takes me back to days gone by and my happy teenage adventures on Hatteras Island.

In front of The Old Gray House, there is a man sitting on a tractor pulling a wagon loaded with the sweetest little girls you have ever seen. Up and down Light Plant Road they go, waving at everybody and spreading a little joy to hearts of those who are older. It is not only the happy faces of the girls that catches my attention, but it is that smug, proud look on the face of the grandfather pulling the wagon. The driver is none other than a Hatteras Island grandpa by the name of Chuck Giannotti.

Summer on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands is a time for the gathering of the grandchildren. Excitement and enjoyment for the kids and grandparents. That special time when the kids whose mothers and fathers no longer live on the islands make their annual pilgrimage to get their feet wet in the salt water and leave the kids with grandma and grandpa for a long visit.

It is also a time when many grandparents, such as Barry and Nadine Baker from Wooster, Ohio, gather all of their grandchildren on the island, so they can appreciate the beauty of the Outer Banks. The Bakers have been vacationing on the islands for 35 years. Even though they are not natives, they have a deep appreciation for the ocean and want their grandchildren to be a part of their enjoyment. This summer they had all six grandchildren with them, along with their parents. A total of 15 of them stayed in cabins near the Frisco Pier. One of the neat things they did was to have everyone paint matching T-Shirts with palm trees, ocean waves, and three little fish on them. Then they all went out to dinner together at the Quarterdeck Restaurant wearing their matching T-Shirts. They were the hit of the restaurant that evening.

Many parents don't realize that sharing their children is probably the greatest gift they could give the kids and their grandparents. For a brief period of time, grandma and grandpa have the opportunity to share their wealth of knowledge about family history and participate in the development of their grandchild's future. The kids not only obtain pleasure but pass on to their grandparents what it is like to grow up in the new technological age.

It is also an opportunity for many of the kids to come to realize that their modern day island grandparents are not out of touch with reality. In fact, some of the grandparents are more knowledgeable about the new world we are living in than the kids. Many a grandparent has taken up computers. For example, according to Johnny Conner, owner of Conner's Supermarket, the grandchildren of his mother, Mrs. Bernice Conner, are finding it rather hard to keep up with her. Grandma has acquired a computer. She is busy writing, broadening her knowledge of the computer world, and traveling the information highways.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if someone could set up a special program on the islands called Adopt-A-Grandchild to give kids who have never witnessed the beauties of the beach an opportunity to spend a week on Hatteras and Ocracoke? It might help solve some of the problems that a lot of the city school systems are having with today's children.

Watching Chuck Giannotti pulling the girls and the gentle motion of my Hatteras rope swing leads me to my most remembered teenage summer session in the Old Gray House. I spent the entire summer with Grandmother Melissa Gray and Uncle Kendrick Gray. A summer that had everything a young teenage boy in the 1940's could imagine — adventure on the sea and sound, wheels (Model T Ford), old and new buddies, a hurricane, and, of course, girls.

After the usual welcome-home hugs and kisses, the first thing I did was head down the Dark Ridge Road, across the cross-over to the Front Road, now called Highway 12, to hunt up my friends. Not only were they all there, but many of the other grandchildren were in for the summer. The Folbs, Barnettes, Grays, Jennettes, Tolsons, Quidleys, Williams, Austins, Farrows, and many other names were represented. As the years went by, the list of family last names began to increase with the marriages of the island girls to off-the-island men with new last names. I don't know how it happens, but all the island teenagers seemed to be automatically drawn to each other. It must be something in the ocean breeze that directs them to each other. Before we knew it, our group of girls and boys was set for the summer and fueled by additional grandchildren plugging into the group as they arrived on the island.

Our days were fun-packed on the beaches, and our evenings were just as exciting even without a VCR and TV. And what's more, drugs, tobacco, sex, and alcohol were not a problem. The adults didn't have to lay awake at night and worry about what we were going to get into next. This was back in the days when kids could bond together and have what I term, "clean fun." This particular summer adventure left me with four treasured memories — a sailboat adventure and a shipwreck, clam bake, taffy pull, and a hurricane.

One of the summer-bunch gang and I teamed up for sailing in the sound. His grandparents, Cyrus and Mary William Quidley Gray, kept their sailboat tied up in Bernice's Ditch where the Pilot House Restaurant is located today. Grandpa Cyrus told us we could use it for the summer in the sound. Off we went sailing the days away. Uncle Ken had shown me a mirror and a door that he got from a shipwreck on the beach at Kinnakeet. So, I suggested we sail to Kinnakeet harbor. After we tied up the boat, we walked over to the beach. At that time there were no houses on the beach. Nobody would dare build on the beach because of the storms. I can still hear some of the old timers saying, "Why you would have to be out of your mind to build on that beach." Look at it now!

G A Kohler shipwreck
Photo from Standard Oil of N.J. Collection,
Photographic Archives, University of Louisville

This is the remains of G.A. Kohler shipwreck as seen
on the Hatteras beach 1945 that ran aground in a 1933 hurricane.

Sure enough there was a freighter that was marooned in the wash. It was low tide and an unusually calm day, so we swam out to the wreck to check out the vessel. This to us was high adventure on the seas, but to the islanders shipwrecks often brought supplies for their homes. In fact, when we were repairing our old island home, we found that a lot of the floor was made from crates that had washed up on the beach and the rafters were masts from old ships. The islanders over the years, because of their isolation, became ingenious people in learning how to utilize whatever the ocean brought them. This might account for why so many of their children in later life became so successful in their chosen professions when they left the island to find work. Their parents had passed on to them the secret of being satisfied with what you had and to rely on your imagination to make the best use out of what was available to you. Our boating adventure evolved into a memorial clam bake on a small island that had formed in the sound. We spotted the island while swimming in the sound off Captain Ballance's boat that he kept moored out in the sound. Someone suggested it would be fun to have a clam bake and oyster roast one evening there. That's all it took. We had an organizer who knew how to put it all together real quick. Before we knew what hit us, Eleanor Gray, daughter of Charlie Gray, the Buxton school principal, had us boys raking for clams, crabbing, and gathering oysters. At the appointed time, all boats were headed into the sound loaded with dry firewood, for an evening of fun on what we named Gull Island.

Now if you have never participated in a clam bake, I suggest you need to spend one evening with your family and friends either on the beach or at least around a grill roasting clams and oysters. The kids of today might not be enthusiastic about eating oysters and clams out of the shell, but it is an adventure they need to encounter for their sea-side education.

Needless to say, we had a wonderful evening of just laughing and joking and enjoying that quiet moment as we celebrated the sun slowly sinking into the sound, soon to be replaced with a full moon that had the water glistening like sparkling diamonds. Eleanor, being Eleanor, always had something for us to do. So with the help of her mother, Odessa Gray, she put together an old fashion taffy pull at her house. Have you ever been to a taffy pull? It seemed like we stretched the taffy from one end of the house to the other. We pulled, we kneaded, we laughed, we learned what a true taffy pull was all about. The sweet part of those old-fashioned taffy pulls was not the candy we ate, but it was the fellowship of being with friends. A taffy pull like the one we had that evening formed a bond among us that has cemented memories about the Charlie and Odessa Gray Home Place in Buxton, with its old-fashioned kitchen that will never be forgotten. Today when I drive by and see how Jack and Mary Gray have remodeled the old house, I wonder if maybe there isn't still a trace of candy some place still in that old house.

As with many summers on Hatteras, things began to change dramatically with the threat of an approaching hurricane. There was no doubt in our minds that a big one was on the way because all nature seemed to indicate it. Long before the sophisticated modern-day weather detection devices, the islanders had their own instincts that usually proved to be right about the approaching weather conditions. Even today, if I really want to know what weather to expect, I ask someone like my cousin Gary Gray, a commercial fisherman, who lives by the weather. If he starts to tie his boat to my oak tree like he did during Hurricane Emily, I know without watching the Weather Channel that it is time to head for high ground. One thing for sure, we knew when the sea gulls began to line up on the roof of the old house that things where getting rough at sea. As the wind started to pick up, Uncle Ken began to get excited about the possibility of gathering clams. He rounded up all the gunny sacks he could find, anxiously waiting for the right moment to head out for the sound. Finally he gave the signal to go. "Come on Sonny," he said. (That's what they use to call me.) "Lets go get those clams." We made a bee-line, carrying all the burlap bags we could, for the upper landing located at the end of Rocky Rollinson Road, which was the entrance-way to Buxton at that time. When we got there, it was a sight to see. The sound was emptying of water, and all you could see was ripples of sand with little puddles of water that reminded you of an old fashioned wash board. As fast as we could go, we began picking up clams. Uncle Ken would give me the full sacks to run back to the shore. It was as if he was possessed with clam fever and had a passion for clams. Each time I ran back bucking the wind, he would go farther and farther out in the sound gathering clams.

As I looked down the sound I could see others doing the same thing. This was serious business for many of the islanders who had learned over the years to take advantage of the opportunity provided for them by the approaching hurricane. As a young teenager, who wanted to be around as an old man, I considered it serious also. I kept looking back to the shore and glancing out over the sound, visualizing a wall of water that would soon be rolling back. Common sense told me all that water went some place and would be back with a vengeance when the wind changed. Each time I would suggest to Uncle Ken it was time to go he would say, "just a little longer," and toss me a sack of clams to run back to shore.

During my last run back to shore, the wind began to slack off. It seemed like Uncle Ken was a mile out in the sound. I yelled, "Uncle Ken lets go." He kept picking up clams. And then it got deathly still. I looked up and here came Uncle Ken, running and struggling not to drop his sack full of clams, yelling as he ran, "Sonny, here she comes." That day I found out I could run. When you have a wall of water nipping at your heels, it is amazing how fast your legs can move. We hit that shore and before we knew it we, and the water, were past the upper landing at Nacie and Lillian Midgette's house. After the storm subsided, we went back and retrieved all those sacks of clams that I had trotted to shore. I learned that summer the islanders were resourceful people, living on the edge, who over the years had learned to take advantage of the moment — even if it is a hurricane.

Well, I guess memory time is over, for here comes Grandpa Ray Miller, walking the Dark Ridge Road as he has done all his life. Ray plays grandpa every summer along with the rest of us. He has many wonderful memories to share also. Should you get bored or just want something to do, come sit under the old oak tree with me. We will share grandpa and grandma stories. One thing for sure, you will always find an island breeze waiting for you here under the trees.

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The mystery of the cat’s eye shell published in: august of 1995

Cat's Eye Shell


Dewey Parr

Growing up on Hatteras Island in the middle of nature’s garden paradise surrounded by the wonders of the sea and sound was full of excitement and wonder. One of the grandest moments I remember in the 1930’s was when the Palmico sound froze over. Excitement reigned on the Island. It was the talk of the general store, and around the wood-burning stove in the Old Gray House. “Some are driving their model T’s out on the ice”, Grandmother Gray said. That night I dreamed of sliding on the ice on the sound. Before I left for school that morning the last words out of my Mothers mouth

There was little concentration by the students in Buxton school house that day. All we boys could think about was the fun to be had on the frozen ice in the sound. Mr. Charlie Gray our principal, warned us of the dangers of falling through the ice. The school bell rang and boys, being boys, our feet headed down the Dark Ridge Path to the Crossover Road past, Captain Ballance’s house to the landing where the Pilot House Restaurant now stands to the ice covered sound. Slipping and sliding on the ice we went. We walked all the way to Captains Bernice’s boat. As we approached the shore- line to leave, my foot went through the ice and I got my pants leg wet. Wow, was I in trouble. As I made my way down the sand road, now called Highway 12, to my house the only thing in my head was my mothers last words before I went to school, “Don’t you go near that sound”

When I entered the house there she stood. Mom was just a little under five feet tall, but on that day she looked twenty feet tall. There I stood trembling from the cold and fear, with one pants leg wet from falling into the Sound. Then came those dreaded words, which only a mother can generate to such a degree that they seem to penetrate to the very depth of you inner being. “LOOK ME IN THE EYE; tell me, did you go near that sound?” If looks could kill, I know on that day I would have been dead. What happened afterwards would cause the modern mother to be locked up for child abuse.

Have you ever felt the power in your mothers’ eye? Many of the Islanders spoke of those who had the power in their eyes. Some said they could cast the spell of the “Evil Eye” on you. This was a person that, intentionally or unintentionally, could stare at you and cause you harm. Some believed the stare was associated with jealousy or envy, or the fact that they just didn’t like you. The effect of the evil eye on an adult was that they would slowly become ill. They would have head and stomach aches and get to the place that they had little or no energy. The spell of the evil eye not only drained your energy but drained your ambition or emotions. The evil eye could cause your gardens not grow and your fish nets to be empty or your boats to sink, they said. The effects on a baby were more serious and could even lead to death. It was said in some countries they even separate a mother and new born baby from the stare of others for a period of time.

Now I don’t know if there is such a thing, but I do know that millions of people still believe in the power that is supposed to be in the eye. If you don’t believe it key, in the words “evil eye” and “evil eye jewelry” on the internet and you will see that it is still a prevalent belief throughout the world today. Much of the jewelry in the world today is centered on the old fashioned idea of wearing a good luck charm to ward off the effects of evil spirits.

In my study of shells, I came across a shell that was prized during the Victorian period because it was thought to possess the power, not only to bring you good luck, but break the spell or jinx of the evil eye. The scientific name of the shell is, Turbo petholatus, Linnaeus 1758, and its common name is, “Cat’s eye” or “Tapestry Turban”. It is a beautiful shell with colorful twirls that form a turban. It is the favorite shell of the Hermit Crab because it can twist its little body inside the whorls which help to hold it in the shell. My treasured friend, George Gundaker, who introduced me to the world of specimen shells, shared a sea secret with me about this particular shell. This shell has an unusual trait that makes you marvel at the mysteries of the sea. The animal inside the shell was given the ability by the Master Creator to form a trap door (operculum) as a protective devise from its enemies. When the animal becomes frightened it withdraws like a turtle into its shell locking itself inside with a trap door. The strange thing is that the trap door resembles an eye. When an enemy approaches it sees a staring glaring eye. The enemy becomes fearful just as I was when my mother said to me, “Look me in the eye”. The staring eye of the Tapestry Turban shell is so similar to that of a cat’s staring eye it came to be known as the, “Cat’s Eye Shell”.

At one point in history, because of its close association to that of a staring eye, the Tapestry Turbans shell’s trap door was highly prized as a protective device to not only bring you good luck but to protect you from the evil eye. The green looking cat’s eye was fashioned in jewelry to be worn for good luck. Some to this day still carry the cat’s eye or wear imitation cat’s eye jewelry for good luck. The amazing thing is that many wear jewelry today that was born out of superstition without the knowledge of its historical significance. The cat’s eye is a favorite to put into a mojo bag to help ward off evil spirits.

Now I am not sure if there is such a thing as the “Evil Eye”. I rule out nothing anymore, so to be safe I will carry a “Cats Eye” in my pocket for good luck and protection from the stare of those who might wish me harm. At any rate when I see it or rub it, I am reminded of my mother’s words on that eventful day in my life when she said, “Look me in the eye”.

If you feel tired, worn out, and weary, come by the Old Gray House and sit under the Old Oak Tree with me. I will give you a genuine cat’s eye trapdoor to help break the spell of the evil eye. Please don’t stare at me though, because my mother also told me it was not polite to stare at anybody.

Cats Eye Shell

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Photo By Donna Barnett

The Cat's Eye Shell is made from the trap door of the Turbo petholatus or Tapestry Turban shell. In ancient times it was a highly prized treasure. It was believed to bring you good luck and protect from powers of the evil eye, it became known as the Cat's Eye Shell.

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Island Lore
The legend of the lucky sea bean
published in: may of 2002


Dewey Parr

Passing a Family Treasure From One Generation to Another
Mary Parr Passes to Dewey his Father's Seabean

I recently learned how wonderful this computer world really is. My wife, Mary, had a family treasure that I had not paid much attention to, tucked away after my dad and mother passed away. She, along with many other good wives and mothers, keep little family treasures that others may not deem important because they have little or no monetary value. Their value is in the many wonderful memories they conjure up of loved ones from the past.

The little treasure from the past she presented to me was a brown woody-looking oval object about the size of a quarter that my mother Melissa Gray Parr had given to her before she died. It had been the good-luck piece of my father, Dewey Parr. He found it on the Cape Hatteras beach when he was a young sailor boy stationed on the island at the Wireless Station, which was located near where the Fessenden Center is today. He carried it in his pocket most of his life. This little object was still shiny from the many times he rubbed it to calm his nerves during World War II or to bring him good luck as he sailed the seas.

I really knew little about the significance of this little object, except that he called it his good-luck Hatteras sea bean. With the help of my trusty computer, I began my quest to find out why this object from the Cape Hatteras beach played such an important role in the life of my father. Much to my amazement, when I keyed in the word "sea bean," I saw immediately the connection between this 100-year-old brown object and the life of my sea-going father.

Let me share with you the information I found on the Internet. When you find a sea bean on the Hatteras or Ocracoke beach, you become a part of one of nature's most amazing stories. This little brown wood-like object is actually a seed that has been riding the ocean currents for months or even years. It began its journey from deep in some tropical forest where it fell into a tropical stream, probably the Amazon, from a huge vine known as the monkey's ladder. It has a hollow cavity adjacent to the seed embryo and a thick, woody covering that makes the seed buoyant and resistant to decay.

Sailors of old carried one in their pockets as a good luck charm. They felt if sea beans could survive a long and dangerous journey across the ocean, they might be able to protect their owner. In the Azores they are called Columbus beans by the Portuguese residents. When Columbus found one floating in the sea, he was supposedly so inspired it led him to set forth in search of lands to the west. In many areas heart-shaped sea beans are polished or painted and worn as lucky pendants. Strange as it may seem, the sea bean will sprout after floating in the ocean for years.

When you are walking our beautiful Ocracoke and Hatteras beaches, be on the lookout for a lucky sea bean. Should you be fortunate enough to find one, take the time to rub it gently and let its magic begin to give you the inner confidence needed in your voyage through the rough seas of life.

The Lucky Sea Bean

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This shiny sea bean was carried in the pocket of Dewey Parr's father for many years.

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Advice from a man who planned his retirement (early) and worked his plan published in: September of 1999

Dewey Parr is seen here in swirling hot tub, cruising through the Panama Canal


Dewey Parr

Here I am in a swirling hot tub, cruising through the Panama Canal and reminiscing about my Hatteras Island retirement years. I thank God along with the many guests who visit the Outer Banks and the Old Gray House for providing Mary and me with eight wonderful years. Little did I realize that retirement on the island could be such a fulfilling experience. Mary and I always dreamed of the day when we would be able to just sit back and enjoy life.

As I wander and putter in the Old Gray House Garden and chat with the thousands of tourists who visit our little retirement hobby, I am becoming increasingly aware that more and more young people are becoming retirement conscious. They are beginning to question what will it be like for them as they approach that time when they will no longer be in the work force. The big question is will they have Social Security, Medicare, or a place they can call their own. Hopefully, these are questions that will be answered in the coming years by our Congress, but in the meantime, my mother’s old adage seems to apply to their retirement concerns.

“God only helps those who help themselves,” she used to say. It is because of so many concerns I am hearing from young couples that I want to take a moment to share this personal experience that led to Mary and me to finding retirement happiness on Hatteras Island.

When I was a school teacher, I followed my mother’s advice and instructed the kids that nothing happens unless you make it happen. I pointed out to them that they needed to plan their work and work their plan. Many years before my retirement, I began to practice what I preached. My first project was to determine what Mary and I would really like to do in our retirement. In order to do this, I made a check list of the many dreams for our golden years that we had shared. I also considered the options we had at our disposal for fulfilling those dreams. In our case, there were five things that made us the happiest in life: keeping busy with productive endeavors, keeping ourselves involved with positive thinking people, traveling to exotic places, enjoying the beauty of nature, and last, but not least, having the time to be like a kid again.

The more we talked, the more I realized the only place I knew of that would realize all of our retirement dreams was Hatteras Island. We both agreed that our annual visit to the island from our West Virginia home brought us joy. We viewed the drive from Oregon Inlet to Hatteras Inlet as nothing more than a little bit of Heaven. From the time our wheels touched the island, it seemed like we were visiting a world free from all of the many pressures of our jobs, raising a family, and just surviving in the city.

We soon realized that we were very fortunate. After many years of struggling to exist, we finally landed in professions that provided us with good retirements. The field of education does not provide a lot of upfront money, but it usually does offer good retirement and other benefits. Another way we were blessed was that we had acquired property on the island of our dreams. We were fortunate in that we had made plans for our non-working years by scraping up enough money 20 years before our retirement to purchase my grandparents’ old home place. The main purpose for buying the property was to provide us with a playhouse for our retirement years — a place where we could meet and greet people and share our enjoyment of the Outer Banks with them.

Mary had always dreamed of having a little gift shop, full of hand-made items she could share with others. She loved to make hand-crafted gifts and to work with crafters. Mary’s dream was to open a business for pleasure. My dream, on the other hand, was to spend my days puttering around with plants, entertaining the tourists, and roaming the beach in my four-wheel buggy. I could envision myself going to the beach, taking an early morning dip, and being like a kid again — piddling the day away doing nothing. Much to my surprise, I was offered an opportunity for early retirement. Mary continued working. What a dilemma! For three years, I watched Mary go to work every day while I became a man of leisure. Not being content with this, I set out to correct the situation by getting my grandparents’ old homeplace ready for making Mary’s dream of a gift shop come true. Finally, on Valentine’s Day, 1992, I gave Mary the Old Gray House Gift Shop on the condition that she would be willing to retire early.

Early retirement is the best thing we ever did. If there is any way you can get out of the rat race, do it as quickly as possible. Don’t wait until you don’t have the health to enjoy yourself. Our health may deteriorate tomorrow, but at least we have had eight fabulous years together. Years from now, we will not be sitting side-by-side in our rocking chairs, grieving over what we wish we had done. Instead, we will be laughing about the fun we have had and the places we have been. Believe me, people, life is entirely too short to sit around in a state of boredom, complaining about problems.

Wherever you are, you can find fun things to do. The difference is that when you live on the Outer Banks, you don’t have to go far to find fun. You are constantly in the middle of it. Laughter and light-hearted people are at your finger tips. The major problem we have encountered in island living is that we just do not have time to enjoy all of the activities.

The people who come to our shop in the summer share with us their appreciation for the Outer Banks, and many of them talk of how someday they would like to retire here. My advice is always the same to those who ask about acquiring property and coming to Hatteras: If you are thinking about retiring at Hatteras, you had better invest in property now while you can afford it. I envision property being untouchable for the average person in the next few years. Hatteras and Ocracoke have become so popular that there is little land left, and property can only become more valuable as the years roll by. One thing you never worry about on the Outer Banks is your property depreciating in value.

Living on the islands is infectious. It is such a joyous place to be that you just naturally want everyone you meet to share in your happiness. Mary and I feel we have the best of all worlds in that we live in a virtual paradise. In recent years, we have spent our winter months traveling to other places and have not found anything to compare with the beauty of the islands. I heard about the sunsets in Key West, so we went there for a month to see it. I was not impressed. I can view the Hatteras sun splashing the colors in the rainbow across the sky as it sinks into the sound. Someone said there is nothing like the Caribbean for natural beauty, so we took cruises throughout the eastern and western Caribbean. Admittedly, the islands have beauty, but that beauty was marred by the poverty and human suffering the likes of which I have never seen on our beautiful Hatteras Island. I was told that a trip to Alaska would show me the most fabulous scenery in the world. So we took a cruise and a land trip to Alaska. It was nice, but I was glad to get back to a beach where people actually get in the water and don’t just look at it because it is too cold. Now they tell me that until I go to Bermuda and Hawaii, I haven’t seen anything, so I have booked a cruise to Bermuda, and plan later to cruise around Hawaii and Tahiti. I am sure it will be peachy pink in Bermuda, and the grass skirts will be flowing in Hawaii, but I don’t think anything will ever replace that feeling of awe and amazement that comes over me as I stand at Cape Point and look out to sea.

If you want happy days and a place where you can feel like a kid again, then keeping coming to our islands. Enjoy our beaches. Listen to the happy sounds that surround you. Take time to meditate. Plan your future years of happiness. Take time to ask yourself what your options are for fulfilling your dreams. Then begin to plan your work and work your plan. As long as God allows me to be here, I will sit under the oak tree, waiting to see your smiling face and share with you the many reasons for planning your retirement and working your plan.

Dewey Parr is seen here in swirling hot tub, cruising through the Panama Canal

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Give me that old-time Hatteras Island religion published in: August of 1996


Dewey Parr

While visiting a Church off Hatteras Island, I was reminded of the difference between religious attitudes of today and those of my early childhood days on Cape Hatteras. A well meaning minister was speaking on the topic of unity among believers in God. His version of oneness was that his way or interpretation of the scriptures was the only way to worship God and that people of all other views were dead wrong and headed directly to hell.

As I listened closely to his ranting, my thoughts began to wander back to my childhood religious experiences during 1930 and 1940 in the small community of Buxton on Hatteras Island. During that time, religion was not only our primary distraction from the ordinary daily routine, but it was entertainment and fun. We loved to go to church — all two of them.

My earliest recollections were that our little community of Buxton had two active churches. Before my time, but not before Isaac Jennette's childhood days, there were two Methodist Churches in Buxton, the Methodist Church South and the Methodist Church North. The Methodist Church split over the Civil War and issues such as slavery.

The Methodist Church North building was located on the old Frank Miller property. Ike remembers, as if it were yesterday, attending the Buxton Methodist Church North. He said it was an old building when he attended and it disbanded sometime in late 1920. After the Buxton Methodist Church North closed its doors, the members attended the Buxton Methodist South Church, which was located where the present United Methodist Church is today.

In early 1930, the Buxton Pentecostal Church began, and many of the members of the old North Methodist Church began attending what is known today as the Buxton Assembly of God Church.

The Buxton Methodist Church

The two churches I was familiar with were the Buxton Methodist Church, and the Pentecostal Church. The Buxton Methodist Church was located where the present United Methodist Church, or former Methodist Church South, is located. At that time, it was a white frame building with fancy windows and the entrance was in the front facing Highway 12. It was quaint inside with an altar rail in front and wood floors and pews. The Little Grove United Methodist Church reminds you of it.

The Buxton Pentecostal Church was located on the Back Road on a raised knoll where Dare Building is located. The building was framed without fancy windows. The reason I remember the windows were not fancy is because sometimes during revivals the crowds were so large that kids sat in them and adults stood outside peeping in. The church had some good old-fashioned protracted meetings that lasted for days. People came from all over the Island, bringing lots of good food.

I recall a couple of women preachers who came from some place off the Island. They fired everybody up to the point that they were stomping, shouting, shaking, singing, falling prostrate on the floor, and talking in what they called the unknown tongue. I must admit sometimes it got scary when the preacher would cry out for the Holy Spirit to descend on us and all of a sudden people I knew began to do strange things with their bodies that they could not normally do. Some fell flat on the floor and their bodies rolled like the waves coming in from the ocean. Others began to jerk and shake so that it looked as if every part of their body was going in a different direction at the same time. A lot of them began to speak and shout in a strange language I had never heard before. They called it the "unknown tongue." I had no idea what the unknown tongue was, but Momma said, "It is God telling them what to say". I figured if it came from God it surely had to be all right.

I don't remember the many off-the-island preachers' names, but we kids called one of them the Bat Preacher. Now mindful, it wasn't that we were showing disrespect. But she wore a black cape and when she preached she would raise her arms and her cape extended out to the place that it reminded us of a black bat swooping down. Sometimes when we would play church, we would pretend to be the bat preacher swooping down from heaven to give the world religion.

Well, let's get back for a moment to the Pentecostal Church on the Buxton Back Road. It had a piano on the right side up front with a pulpit in the middle. A lot of times, the members would stand around the piano and sing for hours, never mindful of the time, raising their voices and hands to God. They were all wonderful people who loved not only their God but everybody on the island. I remember one time when Grandma Gray and Uncle Kendrick Gray were talking religion. I asked Grandma Gray what the difference was between the two churches. Grandma said they were not really different. They both loved God and everybody, and one was a little louder than the other. She also said for Uncle Ken's benefit, I think, that they knew to stay out of the Bucket of Blood that was located out on the beach. Now the Bucket of Blood was the island bar. It was said that when the patrons got into fights, you could fill a bucket with blood. Through the years I have often thought about the fact there is not really much difference between Church people. Today more than ever, I realized both Buxton churches were full of good people who merely had different ways of expressing their love for their God. In our small community you could not tell any difference in their attitudes toward each other. The only difference I recall was the way the women folks dressed on the beach. Most of the ladies from the Church on the Back Road walked the beach in long skirts that blew in the wind, and they spent most of their beach time trying to hold their skirts down. While, on the other hand, some of the ladies from the Church on the Front Road wore bathing suits. Also the Pentecostal ladies did not wear jewelry or make up. I was told it was too flashy and would blind their vision of God. I was also told some of the ladies carried their jewelry in their pocketbooks, out of God's sight. Of course, you've got to remember nobody on the island had much jewelry to wear or carry anyway.

Another outward feature that seemed to be different was the way the women wore their hair. Most of the ladies from the Pentecostal Church wore their hair braided or in a topknot, because they did not cut their hair like some of the Methodist ladies. It was said that their hair was their glory. I can remember that a lot the ladies had a lot of glory, because when they let their hair down it touched the floor.

From my best recollection it appeared those who had a lot of religion attended both churches and some were members of both congregations. The Methodist Church did not have preaching every Sunday because their preacher was on a circuit serving numerous churches. Even today the Buxton Methodist preacher, Jim Huskins, serves three congregations. The difference today is that he can hop in a car and travel a paved road connecting the villages and be there in a matter of minutes. Back then it was a long trip traveling the winding sand roads between the villages, so the preacher just handled one church each Sunday. The members of the church considered it a privilege to feed or house the preacher whenever he came to the village. You could usually tell the preacher was coming to dinner because some poor chicken got killed. My Aunt Thelma Barnett Gray, who was married to my mother's brother, William Alfred Gray, continued the Island practice of attending both churches until her death in 1991. She worked diligently to help both churches. She sang in both choirs, attended morning services at the Methodist Church and evening services at the Assembly of God Church and both mid-week prayer meetings and social functions, and visited the sick of both churches. The people of both churches not only welcomed members of the other churches to attend but helped and prayed for each other in times of need.

Aunt Thelma Barnett Gray

Thelma Gray attended
both churches, sang
in both church choirs and
visited the sick of both churches.

Thelma Gray with her husband William Alfred Gray

Thelma Gray with her
husband William Alfred Gray.

I am thankful to say this seems to be the prevailing attitude even today among the churches on the island. Never was this more apparent than during the aftermath of Hurricane Emily when many families completely lost all of their belongings. The good people of the churches reached out to help everybody, regardless of their church affiliation.

The one thing I do not recall on Hatteras Island during my childhood days is ever hearing anyone condemn another person's religion. The islanders just did not have a habit of religious name calling or discriminating against another person because of his or her religious belief. This was clearly demonstrated to me in the way my own father was treated by all of the islanders.

My father, Dewey Parr Sr., came to Hatteras in 1922 as a young sailor stationed at the Wireless Radio Station in Buxton where the Fessenden Center is now located. Daddy was from a French family in Franklin, La. He was the oldest of 12 children who were all raised in the Roman Catholic faith — a religion that was hardly known at that time among the islanders. What Dad found on the island was a true spirit of love and unity that transcended all denominational barriers. The islanders treated him with such love and kindness that he wanted to spend the rest of his life on what was then a remote, sparsely populated island separated from the rest of the world. I am happy to say that, even to this day, I sense the same spirit of love and unity among church people on Hatteras Island.

The churches on Hatteras Island and Ocracoke don't spend their time hammering away at each other. If they use a hammer, it is to work together as a unit to help relieve the pain and suffering of those who are less fortunate in our community. The monthly breakfast meeting of the Buxton Methodist Men's Group, under the direction of Walton Fulcher, is a good example of the cooperation and concern of people of all faiths on the island. At this informal meeting, it is not unusual to find yourself sitting next to a Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Assembly of God, Church of Christ, Lutheran, or another religious brother. Nobody is criticizing you about your personal belief, but they are concerned about what they can do together to help anyone in need, regardless of where they go to church or even if they don't go to church. This small but effective group of Hatteras Island men maintain a food pantry and collect funds to help alleviate the suffering of those in need. The effectiveness of this group of dedicated men may very well be the result of the true Hatteras spirit displayed daily by Walton Fulcher, who is the embodiment of a gentle and kind America.

I also recall from personal experience the love that was shown me as a child by the people of all faiths on Hatteras and Ocracoke. I was severely burned when I was a child and was confined to a bed for almost a year in the old Ignatious Gray house next door to Holloway Gray's store. The house is not there today. It was picked up by a tornado and turned upside down. After the house was torn down, the spot where it stood was converted to a cemetery.

Dr. Thomas Mann, the island doctor at that time, built a screen box around my leg, so the bugs could not get to it. In order to make life more interesting for me, they placed me in a bed next to a window facing the sand road so I could see the people pass by. I could also look across the road and watch Lupton Gray and my father building our new house.

People of different religious beliefs walked or chugged down the sand road in their Model T Fords. The majority of them would stop and come to the window and talk with me or bring me a little gift of cookies, cake, and candy. Many of them took time to pray for me. Others would tell me they were praying for God to heal my little leg. That leg was prayed over so many times that it is a wonder that I did not end up with 10 legs instead of two. I don't know what the religion of my visitors was. All I know is that they had love in their hearts for a little boy confined to his bed with his right leg severely burned in a homemade screen cage.

Another man I remember well, even though I don't know his name. He was with the WPA camp located where Brigand's Bay is now. Every week he collected pennies from the WPA and CCC men, so he could bring me a cigar box full of goodies. I also recall him preparing for the day when I would walk again by whittling out a set of crutches for me. When the big day came for me to get out of bed and walk again, he was there with the crutches. I still have those crutches, and there is not enough money in the world to buy them. Now I don't know what kind of religion he had or if he had any, but whatever he had I sure wanted some of it.

I am so happy that religion on Hatteras and Ocracoke today is basically the same as it was in the 1930's — with one exception. That exception is that you have more choices as to what building to attend and the buildings are fancier. The names may be different over the doors, but I think you will find inside each building not only a warm welcome but also an old-fashioned form of religion that teaches love for everybody, regardless of race, creed or color.

As the minister at the church I was visiting off the island began to sum up his sermon on his version of church harmony, I wished for him that he could live on Hatteras Island and come to understand the true meaning of unity of believers in God. I imagine the islanders could teach him a few things about the love of God and religion that they forgot to tell him about in the seminary.

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A Cemetery Never Ceases To Be A Cemetery published in: July of 1996

A Cemetery Never Ceases To Be A Cemetery


Dewey Parr

The television talk show psychologists seem to indicate that adults are a product of their childhood experiences. Many of the things we do later in life are repetitious of the attitudes and ideas we formulated in our relationships with our family, friends, church, and community in our early childhood days.

As I look back at the many days I served in the public school system as a teacher, principal, and a central office administrator, I am increasingly aware that many of my methods of teaching and my administrative attitudes are reflective of those early experiences I acquired on Cape Hatteras Island in the 1930's and '40's. The early childhood rearing practices on Hatteras Island provided children with the opportunity to discover the many mysteries of this complex world. The adults in the community, along with family members, always took time to encourage learning by listening to the children and giving them ample opportunity to obtain the answers to their many questions. Children were truly a treasure to everyone on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. I am thankful to say this practice and attitude toward children still prevails.

At the beginning of my classroom teaching days, I was confronted with a problem that brought back memories of my childhood days on Hatteras Island. It was my misfortune, which later became my fortune, to be assigned to the only classroom in the school district that overlooked a community cemetery. Now mind you, it was as if you were right in the middle of the cemetery, because the graves were five feet from the classroom windows.

Now I ask, what do you do with 31 fidgety, curious fourth and fifth grade students when the grave diggers start digging a grave 10 feet from the classroom windows? How do you stop their little minds and mouths from working on a hot day when the classroom windows are open and the grave-side rites are being conducted? My solution to the problem stemmed from my recollections of those early days on Cape Hatteras Island when I encountered the many small family cemeteries that dotted the island. It was the practice of the majority of the island families to have their own cemetery on their own land. Often the burial site was located close enough to the house so that it could be visited daily by a grieving family member. Death was viewed as a part of the natural order of things, and ancestors who had crossed over, or made the final voyage, were revered and remembered.

I remember a grieving mother at Kinnakeet, [ now called Avon for some silly governmental reason], who visited her son's grave twice a day. She walked about 30 feet from her kitchen door every evening, kneeled in prayer, then removed the artificial flowers so the night wind and rains would not destroy them. The next morning, she returned to his grave and replaced the flowers. She repeated this ritual daily until she died. Today people would say she was foolish or crazy. Back then they said she loved her boy.

It was a common thing when we were children roaming the Buxton Woods to come upon grave sites identified with weather worn, wooden markers and outlined with whelk shells. Often the centers of the graves were sunken because of the deterioration of the wood caskets. The wood markers were weathered so badly you could hardly read the names, dates, or phrases carved on them. I was told many of the markers were crafted by Pharoah Scarborough. They were made from cedar logs acquired from the Buxton woods. These old cemeteries became learning centers for the kids of Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.

Being kids, the cemeteries sparked an interest in geography. We wondered if these might be the burial places of pirates from other countries who roamed these island waters. Many a night we would dream about ships, pirate treasures, and faraway lands. We learned math as we worked diligently, trying to figure out from the dates on the markers how long these people lived. Those dates made historians of us too, because when we got back home we wanted to know all about the people who were buried there and what was it like when they lived.

Usually the adults would start by telling us whether or not they lived before the first or second lighthouse and who was president during their lives. Sometimes they dated their death by recalling the major storms that had crossed the islands. If the deceased was a family member, they would bring out the family Bible and show us where it was written down about their birth, marriage, children, and death. We also learned communication skills because we were instructed to go talk to other people in the community who had first-hand knowledge about certain individuals buried in the cemeteries. The cemeteries provided us many science lessons. Why does the moss grow on a certain side of the monument or how long did it take for the grave sites to deteriorate?

These and many other lessons just naturally arose from our childish curiosity about life and death. Probably the most remembered portions of our cemetery experience were the many folk tales and legends of the island. One legend I vividly recall was the one told to me by my grandmother Gray. She reminded me many times that it was bad luck to walk across a grave. This prohibition was brought to life for me during an experience I had in the Buxton Woods when one of my buddies took a dare to walk across a grave lined with whelk shells. As he began to walk straight across the grave, I soon learned why grandma Gray told me it was bad luck. As he stepped to the middle of the grave, his heel kicked a couple of whelk shells and stirred up a nest of wasps. I jumped, tripped, and fell in a grave with a wasp hot on my tail. To this day I walk around a grave and have great respect for my grandmother's saying, "It is bad luck to walk across a person's grave."

The more I thought about my 1930 Hatteras Island childhood cemetery experiences, the more I realized the solution to my classroom dilemma was solved. I developed a lesson plan for my class centered around the cemetery that we had to look at every day. This was a comprehensive plan that provided the students an opportunity to learn a vast array of knowledge about math, science, history, the work world, and social relations. With administrative and parental approval, a program of study was implemented that not only benefited the children, but the parents and the school district as well.

The children, under supervision, researched the grave sites in the cemetery and went into the community armed with tape recorders to interview family members and friends of the deceased. Not only did my students learn first-hand information from those they interviewed, but they brought great pleasure to many of the elderly as they asked them to share their wealth of knowledge from the past. The experience taught the children a deep respect for history and created a wholesome bonding between the community and the school system, as my childhood cemetery experience had done for me on Cape Hatteras Island.

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

Hatteras Island children are seen here decorating the grave of their grandfather with sea shells. it was a common practice to use wood markers and to line the graves with sea shells.

Not too long ago, I returned to the Buxton Woods to visit the old cemeteries I remembered as a child. Much to my surprise, I was unable to locate the old grave sites with the wooden markers. I used to teach the children that nobody is really dead as long as they are remembered. I guess there are truly a lot of dead people on Hatteras Island, because no one is left to remember their existence.

Someone suggested to me, not too many moons back, that rather than clutter up the island with little family cemeteries, all the bodies should be shipped off the island to a centralized cemetery where land is not as valuable as it is here. This person felt that by doing so there would be bigger and better building sites, especially in the villages, for the tourist industry.

Land is at a premium on our small barrier island, but it would seem to me that it would enhance the tourist industry to preserve the unique island heritage found in our family cemeteries. Many appear to be in a race to see who can destroy everything that made Hatteras and Ocracoke islands the most unique and peaceful places in the world. Many of the rapid changes that are now occurring on the islands are not really progressive but regressive.

I know of a situation where there are three cemeteries in Buxton within 50 feet of each other. One is kept neatly. Another is surrounded by trash and grown over with vines and trees so badly that you can't see the tombstone, and another grave site is completely removed, even though it is deeded as a cemetery. With these three examples in mind, I ask you, when does a cemetery cease to be a cemetery? According to North Carolina law, cemeteries are considered sacred enough that the legislature has passed an extreme amount of law to protect and preserve them. In fact it would behoove those who for real-estate reasons might be tempted to remove or disregard cemeteries as unimportant to read the law before they bulldoze graves or remove the markers. Our legislature feels cemeteries are so important that they have deemed it the duty of every county to keep an updated record of all cemeteries. This is a quotation from the North Carolina statutes:

Sec 65-1. County Commissioners to provide list of public and abandoned cemeteries. It shall be the duty of the boards of county commissioners of the various counties in the state to prepare and keep records in the office of the register of deeds a list of all public cemeteries in the counties....It shall be the duty of the boards of county commissioners to furnish the division of publications in the office of Secretary of State copies of the list of such public and abandoned cemeteries.

It might be of interest to you who are trying to locate the burial place of your Hatteras Island relatives to know that in the 1930's the WPA did a survey of the cemeteries located on the island, not only giving the location, but listing those buried in each cemetery. Even though the survey is not completely accurate and missed some of the cemeteries, it can be very helpful. This survey does not account for the cemeteries that washed out to sea or are now located in the sound because of the massive erosion that has occurred as a result of severe storms.

Since the time of the WPA Survey, there has been a group of dedicated locals who have worked without any help from Dare County to locate other cemeteries and maintain an updated list of those buried in each cemetery. Should anyone have an interest in obtaining information about the location of cemeteries or have information to share about unknown cemeteries on Hatteras Island, I suggest they contact the following people who really care about preserving our family cemetery history: Ann Burrus Jennette, Beatrice Barnett McArthur, Josephine Austin Oden, George O'Neal, and Charlie Gray. Because of the efforts of these people and others like them many of our Hatteras Island forefathers and mothers will remain alive in our hearts because there will always be a record of the fact they lived and died on the Outer Banks. Speaking from my heart, I have to say, as did the Indians of old who roamed these islands, that a cemetery never ceases to be a cemetery. Regardless of where it is located, be it under your house or a condominium, it is still dedicated land that contains the remains of those who lived and died on these beautiful islands. I think all Hatteras and Ocracoke islanders would agree that anyone who would destroy a cemetery should be severely punished.

I am still trying to unravel a Hatteras Island family mystery concerning the burial place of my maternal great-grandmother. She married John Farrow from Avon. After he died, she married a blind man by the name of Zion Flowers. Rumor has it, that she is buried in the Flowers Cemetery located someplace in Frisco. If you happen to know where my great grandmother Sarah Murphy Farrow Flowers is buried, I would appreciate hearing from you.

A Cemetery Never Ceases To Be A Cemetery

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It was a common thing when we were children roaming the Buxton Woods to come upon grave sites identified with weather worn, wooden markers and outlined with whelk shells.

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An essay on Change and Progress published in: June of 1996


Dewey Parr

As I sit in Buxton, and rock on the front porch of the home of my grandparent's, Bill and Melissa Farrow Gray, I look across at what used to be called the Dark Ridge Road (now named the Light Plant Road), at the wire jungle of the Cape Hatteras Electric Membership Corp. I ask myself, why must everything change? Why is it that our beautiful Hatteras Island, in order to become a booming tourist attraction, has to have no semblance of the past? To become a part of the mainland world, do we have to give up our unique island heritage?

I was born in 1931 and spent my childhood days roaming the sand roads, soundside, and ocean beaches of the Buxton area. Those childhood days are locked forever in my memory. I still remember when there where few or no fences on the island, and children were free to play anywhere. I remember the sand roads, winding through the trees, and the vines running right to the top of the tallest tree. In fact, the vines were so dense that my buddy, Eldon Barnett, and I would run right up to the top of the trees on them. Another fond memory was the dense pine straw on the Old Dark Ridge Path. That pine straw was so deep that we would swoop down the hillside on sleds made from cardboard that we acquired from Halloway Gray's general store. As we became more knowledgeable, we changed from cardboard sleds to those made from barrel slats. With the help of my father and Elmore Gray, our barrel slat, pine straw sleds became so sophisticated they had seat and handles. The Buxton Woods were a child's paradise, full of excitement and pleasure. In those woods we were able to walk freely to find treasures our elders had told us about, such as Indian pipes, wood that glowed in the dark, and gum from the gum trees. Mystery and excitement awaited us at every turn, not only in the Buxton Woods but at the sound and on the beach. The Pamlico Sound and its surroundings provided us constant amazement. Our imaginations were kindled at the many new adventures we found there. One memorable adventure was the day we found a small Indian burial mound in the upper end of Buxton. Each little piece of pottery and flint gave way to visions of the day when the Indians roamed the island. Nature abounded in the sound area. The waters and banks were full of new adventures. Clams, oysters, crabs, fish, sting rays, eels, and birds — all taught us about this amazing world.

We learned early-on the rules of the island. You did not bother the other person's property, such as boats, nets, or oyster beds. The code of the island was ingrained in all of us at an early age. We were taught to respect one another and to accept all people for what they were and not what they had, and most of all to keep our mouth shut about the other person's business. There was no class system, for we were all in the same boat.

The beautiful beach was always there but never the same. With each rolling wave there seemed to be something new to learn. What is this? What is that? Where did this come from? Wow! What wonders to behold! The little things, such as those black shiny objects with hooks on each end that wash up on the beach brought questions that required answers. I will always remember on my way home from the beach, while carrying a black shiny case, the response I got from Pearl Midgett, my Sunday school teacher, when I asked her what it was. After many cookies, I learned the legend of the devil's pocketbook. To this day, I still call those black shiny objects with hooks or horns on them the devil's pocketbook. I now know they are the skate's egg case. One of the wonderful things about being a child back then was that everybody took time to answer our questions. It was as if you were everybody's child and everybody on the island was interested in you and protected you. I could walk from the beach to my home at the middle of Buxton on the front road, and by the time I got there my stomach was full from cake, cookies, and pie from the kitchens of every house I passed. I can still hear Chloe Barnett yelling, as I walked the Old Ridge Road past her house (where Fox Water Sports is now located), "Whoo, woo, Sonny, honey, come in here." Every house had a hug and something to eat waiting for you.

My childhood daytime activities on Hatteras were happy hours full of excitement and adventure. Even though we had no television and few toys except those we created, we never seemed to have a boring moment. The evenings were probably my most treasured memories. They were a time for reflections of the present and past happenings. We gathered with friend and family in the old home place or in the general store. There seemed to be an unwritten agenda for these informal gatherings. First, the islanders shared the most recent news of the day, then they joked a little with each other, always mindful of not hurting each other's feelings. My father contributed to the daily agenda, sharing news he heard as he delivered block ice to the kitchens of the homes on the island. By this time darkness began to set in, and the islanders continued their daily ritual by gathering around the wood-burning stove or near the oil lamp. As the oil lamp began to flicker or the fire leaped out from the wood burner, they seemed to be led to their last and most enjoyable portion of the evening. One by one, they shared tales from the past, often confusing fact from fiction. Now, as I look back, I realize much of their enjoyment came from knowing their audience of little heads nodding in the dark was listening in amazement and awe at the gruesome, as well as the wonderful, tales of the island.

One tale they repeated occasionally, I am sure, was for my benefit. It was the story about the oak tree in the bend of the sand road between my home and Mr. Frank Miller's house. As they told it, there were people who had walked in the shadow of mighty oak who had disappeared in broad daylight. I can remember running barefoot in the hot sand around that mighty oak, being sure that its shadow did not touch me. There was no way I wanted to end up being a branch on an oak tree for the rest of my life. It did not hurt my feelings one bit when they cut that tree down for Highway 12. I heard later that you could hear the screams from the branches all the way to Manteo as they put the saw to that mighty oak.

Tale time was also marked by short intervals of silence, as the islanders stared at the light as if they were reliving the bygone days and just basking in the enjoyment of being together. It was in these moments that I realized they were all wealthy people because they had everything. They had each other.

At the appointed time, the evening gathering just seemed to dissipate and another joyful day on Hatteras Island was soon to close. Hatteras kids would lay their heads down on pillows of feathers and fly away to the happy land of make believe to awaken to another day of adventure and excitement.

My 1930's recollections of Hatteras are fond memories that not only bring me joy but also sorrow. It is sad to realize that no longer will the future generations be able to appreciate freely the beauties of our island as I did as a child. It has rightly been said, "One of the most important legacies we can provide our children and for future generations is the gift of knowledge about the family's heritage and surroundings." The woods, sound, and beach are not only becoming less accessible due to fences and new rules and regulations, but also reflect man's interference with the forces of nature. The trees and vine coverings are disappearing at an alarming rate, along with the old homeplaces that not only stood as monuments to the past but also marked the unique characteristics of the island. The names of the roads and even the villages no longer reflect the past or the presence of the people who originally settled on Hatteras. For real-estate reasons, not only have roads been abandoned or eliminated, but many old cemeteries have disappeared along with the memories of the founding fathers of the island.

The older you get, the more you realize change is inevitable. Your choices are limited as to what you can do about it. The good old days on Hatteras are gone forever, and no matter how much we want them back, we cannot make it happen. The best we can hope for is that each person who loves the Outer Banks will resolve to be a committee of one, dedicated to the preservation of the past, and appoint himself as a protector of the environment for the future. We also need to equip our young people with a knowledge of their rich family heritage and a zeal for preserving the unique island history.

As I rock and look at the asphalt road, covering the sand road that wound through the trees to the school house, I still cannot help but wonder why they thought changing the name of the road from Dark Ridge Road to Light Plant Road was a mark of progress.

A Postscript to the Essay on Change and Progress September 30, 206


Dewey Parr

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