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Stories from
The Old Gray House

  1. a reflection on the changing values of Hatteras and Ocracoke

  2. What Islanders Did During Medical Emergencies

  3. Hatteras and Ocracoke Eggs The day eggs closed cape point

  4. garments of gray to garments of glory

  5. Fish and people

  6. Fifty years of clashing currents

  7. When Your Ship Sinks What Will Wash Ashore

  8. ghost of the Gray house


  10. December 7th, 1941: A Day That Has Lived In Infamy

  11. the sweetest sound

  12. the legend of the devil's pocketbook

  13. collecting cockles

  14. living in a love basket for fifty five years

  15. The ghost of kings point

  16. Confronting the 'Monsters' of aging

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

  18. the secrets of sunrise

  19. Gardening Forty miles out to sea

  20. Sand and Ant lions

  21. The Value of Speaking For Yourself

  22. My Favorite Island Dog

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

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

  25. Remembering the many smells that made the islands special

  26. Memories of Christmas Past on Hatteras Island

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

  28. law and order in hatteras island

  29. out with the old in with the new

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

  31. my mother's cameo

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

  33. How communicating on the island has changed

  34. Beach rocks

  35. The creatures of Hatteras and Ocracoke

  36. An idea for building those precious family memories

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

  38. the gathering of grandchildren is a rite of summer

  39. the mystery of the cat's eye shell

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

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

  42. give me that old time hatteras island religion

  43. a cemetery never ceases to be a cemetery

  44. an essay on change and progress

For more stories
Read My Stories

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

a reflection on the changing values of Hatteras and Ocracoke published in: June of 2002

by dewey parr

Hatteras Time - A reflection on the changing values on Hatteras and Ocracoke "What time is it?" "Do you have the time?'" These questions are asked over and over in many parts of the world. Yet, on Hatteras and Oacroke they are seldom asked.

Why is there so little emphasis on time when you come to the Islands? Could it be that when you cross over Bonner Bridge or take the ferry to Ocracoke, you enter a new and different time zone in which the values of the past remain fixed in place. Values such as taking time to be nice to people, sharing a pleasant word, accepting people for what they are, or showing a genuine interest in their well-being. There are times, I will admit, when I feel like a stuck record, spinning in the same old place when I repeat over and over answers to the questions visitors ask me. "Where did the people come from who first inhabited these islands? What do people do who live here? What did people do to make a living in the past? What kind of schools do you have? What is the plant out back that has those strange-looking berries? Where is the best place to find shells? Why are all the turtles dying? How long does it take to get to Ocracoke? What is there for me to see?" Of course, the most important question of all that is usually asked is about the best place to eat. My wife, Mary, often chuckles about the question asked her by one visitor to the Old Gray House. The woman asked, "Do those steps go upstairs?"

As I recall, in 17 years of roaming the yard of the Old Gray House and answering thousands of questions, I never have been asked, "What time is it?" Why? Could it be that visitors realize I am on "Hatteras Time."

I have a mind-set similar to that of my ancestors, who had three major times they centered their lives around: the rising sun, the sun directly overhead, and the setting sun. Really, there wasn't much need for a clock. Our watches were not on our wrists. The sun and sea governed our lives. Day in and day out, our activities remained constant. The men worked the sea and the sound from sunrise until sundown. The women kept the home fires burning morning, noon, and night. Life was tranquil and full of family happiness. The evenings were full of entertainment as family and friends gathered to share the excitement of the day. Everyone helped one another and basked in the joy of watching and helping the island children grow.

Over the years, there has been a change in the meaning of the term "Hatteras time." It seems to me that it is no longer a time for one another or to enjoy the beauty of nature. It is now a term used to describe some trades people, the majority of whom have no ancestry on theses islands. When a person says to you, "You have to understand we do things differently here" or "We are on Hatteras time," you better beware.

Now is my time to tell you about a roofer. To appreciate this story you have to understand that in a hurricane prone area there are times when everyone is in need of a roofer at the same time. Hurricanes are what keep a lot of our independent local construction people going. At one time we had an Island roofer that would tell you that he would be there to get the job done for you as quickly as possible. What he would do is be there the first day as promised. Load your roof with shingles and have his crew tear off a small section and start the job. The next day he and his crew did not show up. They were down the road starting another job with the same vain promise. By doing this he would tie up ten jobs so others could not get them. I was one of those unfortunate people who had a stack of roofing sitting on top of my house for two months. During that time he would show up with a small crew and do a little more and then off he would go. This went on and on. You could have heard me a mile away when he said to me one day, "Now you have to understand we do things different here for we are on Hatteras Time. When I finally got through with him I doubt that he used the phrase Hatteras Time as his excuse for being dishonest anymore.

I have only heard two major criticisms about living on these islands other than hurricanes. Those are mosquitoes and workers who seem to be on "Hatteras time." I hear complaint after complaint from homeowners who have people tell them they will be there to do a job and never show up. The homeowner waits and waits, re-contacts the person, only to be told once again that the worker will be there tomorrow and yet never shows up.

When it came to keeping promises the old-timers on the islands had an entirely different concept than many today. If they said, "I will be there in the morning," you could count on it. They would be at your door ready to go to work at sunrise. If they couldn't make it, they sent the kids or someone to tell you why. A promise made by an islander was a promise kept. It was important to them to keep promises. It was a matter of personal integrity. We were taught in our early childhood, through the example of our parents, that the most important thing we had was our word. Our word was our bond. There was no need for written or binding contracts back then. Our word meant something. The greatest compliment you could receive was for someone to say, "He is a man of his word."

In some areas there might well have been a need for better records of promises made by the old-timers to one another. Many a land-battle between families on these islands has been the result of promises made by ancestors that were not recorded. A lot of land deals were done by a mere handshake. That handshake and verbal agreement were as solid as any written. You could stake your life on the word of an islander. Of course, our island forefathers, never envisioned a day when land would be as valuable as it is now and people would be fighting over every inch of it. They gave land to each other, swapped it, and sold it for a little bit of nothing.

When the old islanders did measure anything, it was in yards and they used a "pacer." A "pacer" was someone in the community known for his ability to step a yard. I can vividly recall my Uncle Kendrick Gray, the last of the Gray family to live in the Old Gray House, demonstrating to me that he could pace off a piece of land to the inch. He was short, and he would raise his arms up - one in front and the other in back - and step forward, swinging his arms dramatically, pacing, and counting out loud. Each step was an accurate yard. He was a "pacer" who married a "finder" from the Spencer family of Ocracoke. You probably are not aware, as I wasn't, of the special gift bestowed some islanders, known as the "finders." I once asked Uncle Ken why he called Aunt Helen a "finder." He said she had the gift from childhood of being able to use her toes to find the biggest and best clams buried in the sand or mud on the bottom of the sound.

Things really began to change during the formation of the Cape Hatteras National Park. Park Service officials met with the islanders and led them to believe they would now have a chance to become wealthy because of their land. They also warned them to be cautious of outsiders who would attempt to acquire their land. Land suddenly became valuable and Islanders were no longer letting it go as freely as they did before. Some Islanders who in times past trusted everyone they met now became a little leery of folks whom they did not know.

I well remember the many evening conversations in the Old Gray House after meetings with the Park Service. It was said to me many times, "Sonny, all of us now have a chance to be millionaires. We need to be on the lookout for those land grabbers they told us would be coming to the Island to trick us out of our land." Suddenly, land was valuable and verbal promises made by the old-timers had little or no meaning to some families. There was a mad rush by the younger generation and outsiders to grab what they could. The old island way of a promise and a handshake was gone.

The old ways the Islanders had of doing business became a serious problem for surveyors. Landmarks began to disappear or reappear in new locations. Old roads and access ways, and even unattended family cemeteries, became problems to be solved, either in the courts or the dark of night. The island code of honesty and integrity was now under scrutiny. Through it all, the majority of the islanders remained loyal to the practices of their forefathers and honored the promises they made.

Today, a majority of islanders still believe and practice the old-fashioned concept of keeping promises made and being truthful with others. They are the people who believe that Hatteras an Ocracoke time is a time for doing unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

A friend recently said to me, "It is a shame that a few rotten apples have spoil the barrel at Hatteras when it comes being true to keeping your word." I think it is shame, that there are those on the Island whose actions dishonor the memories of our honest and upright ancestors. Never forget, actions speak louder than words

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what islanders did during medical emergencies published in: September of 1998

by dewey parr

Oregon Inlet Ferry Schedule

Note:   This article was written September 1998 at the time Dare County was embroiled in a controversy over which hospital group would be granted the right to build the hospital in Nags Head.

The number one concern of those who live on Hatteras Island has always been proper medical care. There was a time when many did not survive on the island simply because they could not acquire medical attention in time. A connecting bridge to the Island, paved roads, medical centers, doctors and 911 were merely a figment of someone's imagination. Prior to the paving of Highway 12, it was a tremendous effort to get anyone off the island to a hospital. I recall medical emergencies in my family when this was a problem. When I was very little my father would have died of pneumonia if he had not been a military man. They landed a Navy pontoon plane in the sound. We watched as they put him on a boat to carry him out to the plane. He was then flown to the Naval Hospital. The Island's practitioner said he had "the sweats." Sweats was an island term for many illnesses. I don't recall too many people dying of things like heart attacks, cancer, or diabetes. The talk I heard was people died from other diagnoses, such as the time Riley died. They said he died from eating a pound of cheese before he went to bed. I love cheese and every time I eat a chunk at night I wonder if it will kill me like they said it did poor ole Riley. I will never forget his wake.

They had the wake in his house the night after he passed away. Back then they buried you the next day. They didn't keep your body on ice or take you away to embalm you. We had no funeral homes or undertakers on the Island. The night of his wake we kids were all watching the adults hovering around the casket. The casket then was a fancy wood box created by one of the Islanders. Brittania, or Miss Brett as she was affectionately called, was sitting in a rocking chair facing the casket dosing off from time to time, as was her habit. They said she was always the first to arrive at a wake, and the last to leave. It was a standing joke that she slept through most of the staying-ups. Now you have to understand that a good old-fashioned sitting-up was in many ways a part of the islands entertainment. When the concept of the wake began in it was not support for the family as much as it was for the protection of the body from insects, rodents and larger animals. Later on, the wake evolved into a time to meet and greet friends as well as show sympathy to the family of the deceased. For us kids it was a time for lots of good food. Everybody that attended the sitting-up brought something good to eat. Someone needs come out with a Hatteras Island wake recipe book. Now the reason I am telling you this is that I am preparing for Miss Brittania's sitting-up story. We kids all loved Miss Britt. She was always hugging and kissing us.

We were, wide-eyed, waiting and watching Riley's homemade casket. Miss Britt was sleeping in a rocking chair directly in front of the casket, probably dreaming about Riley. Suddenly she opened her eyes from her catnap and yelled out, "He is alive! He moved!" I will never know if Riley moved. I know we kids moved, fast as lightning, out the door. Another story that my dad and Lupton Gray used to love to tell was the time that Miss Brittania fell asleep at a sitting-up and they moved her and the chair out onto the front porch. Supposedly she remained there for a long period of time only to wake up with everyone peeping out the door at her. According to her granddaughter she used to laugh about that one herself.

Whenever I pass Mr. Johnny and Miss Britt's old home place, now owned by her granddaughter, I always think of the many stories they used to tell about her. It might be of an interest to you to know that her old home has a historical significane in that it originally was in Kinnakeet (Avon). In 1901 Mr. Johnny disassembled the house and floated it by boat to Buxton. They placed it on a cart and pulled it from the sound up the landing road to where it is now. Back then it was an allday effort to get off the island. In a medical emergency your choices were very limited. It was boat, plane, or a sand road. You could go by boat across the Palmico Sound, which didn't really mean much because when you got there major medical help was as limited as it was on the island. Of course to take off by boat you had to take into consideration there could be a sudden sound squall or the boat might stall. In fact it might have been better to take your chances of recovering from your illness on the island rather than sinking into the sound. I remember well one time when Mom and I were headed for Englehart on the mail boat. We got out into the middle of the sound and the boat stalled. We bobbed around like a cork for a long time until they repaired the engine. Picture yourself, very ill, in that circumstance.

The most used means of escape from the island was the treacherous drive up the beach. I realize it is hard to visualize today what a chore it was before we had a paved road. You planned your trip up the beach according to the tides. Sometimes you had to run the wash in the event that there had been an overwash. You rode awhile. Then you got out in sand and pushed. Hopefully if all worked well you made it to Toby Tillett's wood ferry before his last run to get across the inlet. Once across the inlet you were home free as you made your way to the hard road beginning at Whalebone Junction. It was there the rack of whalebones awaited you at the intersection.

The beach ride I remember the most was the time when I had appendicitis and had to have an immediate operation. We didn't have a doctor available on the Island to tend to my little tummy. They loaded me up in a wagon and headed up the beach for the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth Virginia. After a long hard drive up the beach, with my mother hovering over me, we made it across the wood ferry past the rack of bones at whalebone Junction. We reached the paved road and were well on our way until we came to the wood bridge at Southern Shores. A storm had passed through and cut out a section of the bridge. Some way, somehow, they went through the Duck area and got me to the Portsmouth Naval Hospital. By that time my appendix had ruptured and I was as a sick little boy for awhile.

Just recently I took another ride up the beach, but that ride was a lot different from the time I had appendicitis. In the middle of the night I began to feel pressure like someone was pressing down on my chest. My fingers in my left hand were numb and there was a numbing all round my lips and a funny feeling in my body that said "Hey! Old man things are not right with you. You'd better get help quick". I did by dialing 911. Now if this had been 1930 they would have been having a wake for me and they would have probably said he died of side pleurisy. Thank God this is a new Hatteras when it comes to medical attention. A Hatteras that has around the clock emergency service that is equal to any area. With the help of our (EMS) staff I was soon on the way, strapped onto a stretcher in the back of an ambulance, for a three-hour ride to the Albemarle Hospital in Elizabeth City. This time I didn't have my mother hovering over me. I had a trained technician by the name of Rita ready to administer whatever emergency measure needed to keep my heart ticking. Hope you never have to take this ride but I will tell you the EMS workers are probably the most pleasant and accommodating people you will ever meet.

In many case it is necessary to transport you by helicopter. Those who have had this experience tell me it is a much more pleasant ride than the ambulance. The people of Dare County need to consider themselves really fortunate. According to Skeeter, Dare County Public Safety Director, ambulance service is provided free for every resident of the county, and the helicopter is free to residents and nonresidents. You are asked to sign your name giving them the right to collect from whatever insurance you have and they will take what they can get and not bill you for the balance. This is a tremendous help to those who live on fixed incomes in this area. It might be of an interest to you to know that in the year 1997 Dare County provided 263 helicopter and 9558 ambulance rides.

Editors Note:   Things have changed since this article was written and published. . I now carry a transportation policy at a cost of $400.00 per year to avoid huge medical transportation bills. It has cost some of my friends as much as $8,000.00 to get off the Island during a medical emergency.

I love to remember the good old days and all the good times associated with the island. But when it comes to the area of medical attention, I am grateful for all the changes that have occurred and appear to be on the horizon. It is wonderful to know that no longer do we have to move our elderly citizens off the island to stay with other family members, as I did with my mother, so they can obtain immediate quality medical help. There is a possibility of an Outer Banks Hospital being built soon. That is if it doesn't get embroiled in politics and delays due to appeals. There was a time when doctors didn't want anything to do with the island because of the isolation and poor people. Now they are fighting over which group is going to be build the hospital to serve the county and the Island. I guess Hatteras has finally emerged as a part of the affluent society, whatever that is. It is strange to me that there is so much pressure being brought by two hospital groups who purport to be not for profit to influence the powers that be to certifiy them to build the hospital. From all appearances it looks like the Outer Banks Hospital Inc. group, associated with the Pitt County Memorial Hospital, in Greenville, NC has the politicians in their hip pocket. The other group connected with the Albermarle Hospital in Elizabreth City seems to be preferred by the general public. Will it be the public or the politicians? Hatteras Island along with the rest of the Outer Banks will definitely be watching and waiting to see if a decision based on the evidence of what is best for the citizens of Dare County rather than what will profit the hospitals or politicians.

I would like to leave you with a suggestion to prepare you for your unexpected emergency trip. I know help is as close as 911 but that doesn't mean much if they have trouble finding you. Be sure you have your emergency house number posted on your house. It is not something you do if you want too. Law carrying a penalty of $50 or imprisonment not to exceed 30 days mandates it.

Editors Note:   Permission to build the hospital was given to the Outer Banks Hospital group. The same group that now owns the Clinics on Hatteras Island.

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

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Hatteras and Ocracoke eggs
the day that eggs closed cape point
published in: may of 1995

hatteras and Ocracoke Eggs

The Day That Eggs Closed Cape Point
by dewey parr

Eggs have always played an important role in the lives of the people who live on the Islands of Hatteras and Ocracoke. Everyone who grew up on the Islands knew there would have been a void in our daily diets without eggs. Every morning it was my chore at my Buxton home to go out to cautiously check the chicken house to see if the old hens had blessed us with some eggs. I learned from experience I was not the only one that gathered eggs. Often I would encounter a snake, cat, coon, or fox that also was fond of eggs.

My mother would make good use of the fresh eggs by preparing a pan of cornbread or other goodies. If we had extra I would run them up to Grandmother Grays. Another event centered on eggs was the annual Easter celebration. We had fun coloring eggs. Every year at the Church there was an Easter Egg Hunt for the smaller children. It wasn't a big affair because there were not that many of us but it was always something to look forward too. As we got older we had the fun of helping to prepare the eggs and hiding them for the smaller children.

Just a second ago, without knowing I was reminiscing on my computer about my egg days, my wife was fussing at Buster, our domesticated wild cat, about sitting himself in an empty box she was getting ready to use. He loves boxes and curls up in everyone he can find. She told him he was a "rotten egg".

I am sorry to say we have a lot of rotten eggs visiting our Islands these days. These are the types of rotten eggs that are causing problems for the future enjoyment of the Islands. I am referring to people who have no respect for the protection of our wildlife and plant life. Many of them will plow right through a turtle nesting or bird enclosure area crushing the eggs. In recent years we have even had reports of individuals deliberately taking the turtle eggs from the nest. There was a rumor going around that it was the Mexican population doing it. It was said they ate them as an aphrodisiac. Of course this was not true. Our Mexican population are fine upright people who love these Islands as much as we do. Since the rumor that turtle eggs are aphrodisiacs I have had some doubts about some of the native Islanders. Can they be trusted around turtle eggs anymore? I have a couple friends who get a gleam in their eyes when you mention turtle eggs.

Sea Oats (Unila paniculata) help to maintain the dunes. They catch the wind blown sand. They have a very long root system which stablizes the sand. When you cut a sea oat you are helping to destroy the Island. Please Do Not Cut Sea Oats.

Destruction of turtle and bird nesting areas has nothing to whether or not the eggs are from an endangered species. An egg is the beginning of life and needs to be respected and protected from useless destruction. When you hold an egg in your hand you are holding the beginning of something's life. Children growing up on these Islands did not disturb a bird or turtle nest. There was an inherent respect for the egg. Before the Park Service came there was no need to rope off bird or turtle nesting areas. Islanders did not disturb them. I can recall that when we came upon a nest with eggs in it we did not touch it, but waited and watched to see the marvel of nature when a new life would emerge. I was told that if you touch a nest the momma bird would not come back to it and you would be the cause of some baby not being born. What fun it was to watch this great miracle and see new life emerge from eggs and begin to move about in the beautiful environment of these Islands.

I consider us to be fortunate on these Islands to have those dedicated in the National Park Service to protecting our wildlife so that future generations will have the same pleasure we had growing up on Hatteras. Everyone should thank the National Park Service for providing the opportunity for our children and grandchildren to bask in glories of nature as the result of a little egg. To see baby turtles peel back their eggshells and make their way to the ocean is an experience every child needs to witness. It is as exciting as any major sporting event. Our National Park Service needs to spend more time-sharing this type of experience with the public.

It seems the National Parks Program of sharing the Islanders unique way of life and the glories of the natural beauty of the Islands in their summer programs is gone. I remember well the many evenings we attended the open-air sessions out by the Cape Point Campground with the Rangers on the beach to listen to their talks about our beautiful Island. Many times they even had older locals telling their experiences. They shared with us things that we who lived here had not taken the time to appreciate or did not fully understand. They told my children, as did other Islanders, the importance of protecting the wildlife and their babies. We came away from those meetings feeling good about our Island and thankful we had a part in bringing the National Park Service to Hatteras Island. Somewhere, somehow the Park Service seemed to forget about these programs and began to move into more commercial adventures.

Eggs have always been an important part of our Island heritage. Little did we ever think that in later years it would be the egg that would be the cause of ill will between the National Park and the locals and the possible destruction of our Island economy? This came home to us in the summer of 2005 when the National Park threw up a barricade, with armed guards in front of it, blocking us from going to the famed Cape Hatteras Fishing Point because of the piping plover eggs.

I remember that day well for I had just returned from Nags Head. When I pulled into the Old Gray House there was a young reporter from the Virginia Pilot waiting to talk with me. About that time a friend pulled up and said, "Have you heard they closed down Cape Point. We are all going out to the beach to protest." I said to the young lady from the newspaper, " Come on let's go." When we got there what I saw was a shock to me. The Park Service had erected a barricade with armed guards and state and county troopers were there with them. It was if they thought the locals where going to storm the beach and destroy the piping plover eggs they where supposed to be protecting. There was no doubt in my mind that someone in the National Park Service overreacted. The only good thing I see that occurred that day was I gave a young reporter from the Virginia Pilot the opportunity to cover her first major story.

Not only where the local citizens outraged, but also the tourists where upset to the point that many resolved never to return to the Island. Things of this nature have a way of coming back to haunt an area for many years. This act by the Park Service only served to leave a bad taste in the mouth of the general public that far exceeded that of any rotten egg. To add insult to injury this was also the summer the National Park Service ected to not have lifeguards on the Island. It surely was not because of lack of money that ou visitors to the Island had no protected swimming area. The Park Service spent more money needlessly protecting eggs than they would have spent on lifeguards for the many years.

The solution would have been simple, as the new Park Superintendent has indicated. Provide a way to drive around the eggs. As you well know few people in our government think simple. It always requires wasting taxpayer's money.

Throughout history the egg has always been the symbol of a new beginning. Artists and crafters have used the egg to create elaborate works of art to adorn the homes of royalty. While during a tour in the Navy, as a corpsman assigned to a Naval Research Unit, I became aware of how important the egg could be in medical research. The egg is often the medium used to develop vaccines such as the flue vaccine, which we were working on at that time.

It was eggs that divided the locals and the national Park Service. Now let us use the egg symbol of a New Beginning to unite the National Park Service and the Islanders. From this point on there needs to be a concentrated effort on the part of those who were on both sides of the barricade to work together to not only protect the eggs, but return peace an quiet to our beautiful Islands.

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garments of gray to garments of glory published on: January 19th, 2008

The Muricadae or Murex family of shells is not only the largest but composed of some of the most colorful and unique shells in the ocean. When you visit the Old Gray House this a few of the Murex shells you will see.

by dewey parr

Do you remember a time when there was only black and white TV? Do you remember when there were limited numbers of colors available in fabrics? My wife and her friends love to quilt. Some of the old quilts had beautiful patterns, but not much color. Colorful materials just where not available. Today quilters are blessed with having to make decisions what hues of the primary colors to choose for their patterns.

I recall the days on Hatteras when most of the clothing worn was not very colorful. You did not see the beautiful colors in the rainbow being worn by people like you do today. Probably the most colorful items were the feed sacks the ladies used to make clothing. For a short period of about three years of my life I was deprived of the privilege of seeing colors due to a serious eye problem. Everything was Gray or Black with a little white. When I was fortunate enough to come back to the world of color I became more aware of how colorful our beautiful Island is. Nothing can compare with watching our sunrises and sunsets. Believe me it is no fun to have witnessed the colors of this world and then be deprived of it. That experience made me not only appreciative of colors but also more understanding what those who have limited vision are enduring. Take care of those eyes.

Murex Ramosus
Murex brassica. This colorful shell is found from Peru to the California. It is also called the Cabbage Murex. Look close and you will see that it has three brown bands

Imagine living in world of little or no color? What would it be like to live in a world where garments were drab and never seemed to be different from day to day? From what we can gleam from various history sources, people lived that way before a group of people in the village of Tyre, a Phoenician city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, found they could produce a dye from the animal in the Murex shell. Not only did this discovery revolutionize the garment industry but brought great fame and wealth to the Phoenicians. The only sad part about the discovery was that as usual it was the rich and powerful that benefited by it because it was so expensive. It also led to the over fishing of the Murex Shell. Mounds and mounds of crushed smelly Murex Shells dotted the horizon as the industry grew. It is said it took around 10,000 shells to produce the dye for one robe.

This discovery meant little to average people. Sensing the importance of the discovery the ultra rich and the royalty of that day seized the moment and capitalized on the industry. They immediately locked it up for themselves. The rulers of that day such as Julius Caesar, Cleopatra and Nero reserved the color purple for themselves. Only those they permitted could wear Tyrian Purple, so named after the city of Tyre. Nero is supposed to have worn all purple robes and decreed that anyone else that did would be executed. Because of the Murex Shell the fashion shows began. Now at last the high and mighty all over the world could walk the streets of ancient Rome and say to the rest of the world, "Look at me, look at my clothes. I am different from the rest of you. Take note, I am rich and an important person and the purple stripes on my garments show it."

Murex Pecten

Murex Pectin
(Lightfoot 1786)
This strange looking member of the Murex family is also called Venus Comb or Mermaids Comb. Legend has it that it was used as a comb by mermaids and Venus the Goddest of Love . It is also called fish-bone because it resmebles the skelton of a fish.

Murex Alabaster

Murex Alabaster
Chicoreus (Siratus) alabaster, Reeve, L.A. 1845
This beautiful delicate Murex shell is listed as one of the 50 rarest shells in the World.

These are Some of the Many Different Species
of Murex or Rock Shells You Will Find At the Old Gray House

Even the hierarchy of the Church got into the act. Sacred Purple was reserved for the priests and parts of the temples. Among churchgoers the fringe of purple on a garment became a signal to all that the wearer had God's approval. Even to this day there is a quest to determine what species of the Muricidae family or Murex Shell was the one used to produce the sacred purple. I have a friend who told me when she went to visit the Holy Land that there was an aquarium in one temple with different species of live Murex Shells in it. She was told by one of the priests that they were used in experiments to determine which particular Murex Shell was the one that produced the Sacred Purple of the Bible.

After much research it has been determined that Royal Sacred Purple came from one of three species of Murex: Murex trunculus, Murex brandis, and Thais haemastoma. There is a company today that produces sacred strings dyed with extracts from the Murex shell that you can purchase to mark your Bible. I assume it is the fulfillment of the scriptures as well as showing your dedication to God.

Murex Ramosus For many years the Phoenicians had a monopoly on the production of Murex Purple. Their waters were full of Murex shells. As they worked and labored and perfected the art of producing the dye their market expanded. They found as time went on they could produce different hues of the color purple that approached red by controlling the amount of sunlight and adding other alkaline ingredients to the dye vats. When the fluid is first extracted from the shell it is clear with a yellowish tint but when it hits the sunlight it turns purple. The Phoenicians put the extracted solution in salt water not only preserve it, but to reduce the smell. They added other ingredients to control the density of color. They even were known to use urine of the workers in the vats. Can you imagine the pleasure some of the workers had knowing the rich and mighty were wearing garments saturated with their urine.

This domination of the dye market was soon to change. Others such as the Chinese found that their raw silk material adapted well to the dye, so they entered into the picture. Just as our local waters no longer provide us with the abundance of clams and oysters due to over harvesting so did the Mediterranean waters no longer yield less quantities of Murex Shells. This, along with the fact other color fast dyes from insects and chemicals began to come on the scene, the use of Royal Purple was no longer in demand.

Murex Ramosus Murex Ramosus Murex Ramosus Murex Ramosus

These are pictures of local Murex Shells that washed up on the beach with the animal inside. Notice the animal that has withrew inside and closed his trapdoor or operculumn for protection.

When I am walking our beach today it is seldom I find a Murex Shell anymore. When I do it is usually not in great shape. The major difference between our Murex and Mediterranean Murex is that the glands on the shell are near the surface and the fluid can be extracted from them without having to crush the shell. If you have ever held a Hatteras Island Murex Shell in your hand with a life animal inside you can attest the fact that the animal emits a huge amount of mucus or slime from its hypobranchial gland. This was not the case with the Phoenician shell so they crushed the smaller shells and separated the fluid from shell for their dyeing vats. In some cases they were able to extract the dye that produced fluid from the larger shells without crushing them. Can you imagine the smell that arose from piles of rotting shellfish along their shores? Occasionally Cape Point smells from all of the dead fish that line the beach, but nothing like people endured over there. It has been said that when ships used to pass Hatteras they could smell the difference. When Mary and I passed Hatteras coming out of Norfolk aboard ship on the way to the Caribbean we did not smell the difference, but we felt the difference from the rough seas.

When you visit the Old Gray House Shell Shack you will find a variety of Murex Shells available. They are beautiful to look at but in many areas they are not held in high esteem for the animal inside the shell is a predator that enjoys a good meal of clams and oysters. They have the ability to bore holes into the shells of their prey to gain entrance to the meaty delight. We do the same thing at Hatteras only we use a knife to pry the shell open. Should you decide to attempt to collect them all you will find it is an endless an expensive task.

Probably the showiest of all is the large Murex Ramosus which is becoming less and less available each year. I call it the Shell of Royalty. I keep one on display in my home all the time to remind me how the Murex Shell was used to bring our world from garments of gray to garments of glory.

Murex Ramosus - Front view

Murex Ramosus - Back view

Ramosus - The Shell of Royalty

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fish and people published on: december of 2007

by dewey parr

Fish illustrations from the book Florida Fishes, copyright Great Outdoors Publishing Co. and used by permission.

When you live on Hatteras Island you cannot help but be aware of fish. Never a day goes by that the word fish is not a topic of discussion. No matter how old I get I will never cease to be amazed by the wonders of God’s creations. The Good Book states, “He gave us dominion over the fish of the sea.” In the Bible you find a lot of references to fish. It speaks of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish, which most people just naturally assume is a whale. There are many other mentions of fish such as in the feeding of the five thousand, a coin obtained from the mouth of a fish, and the great catch of fish. It even tells of dietary laws that were enacted concerning fish that were considered unclean and unsafe for human consumption.

I recall the evangelist that used to come to our Buxton Church comparing how we humans in many ways, are like fish. We can be caught or hooked. They spoke of how the old devil would bait his hook with the glitter of the world and dangle it in front of us. Because of weakness or greed we would swallow the hook. Seems like each evangelist had a different version of what kind of bait the old devil used. They all had one thing in common. They concluded that Adam and Eve demonstrated in the Garden of Eden the weakness we humans have in common with fish.



Over the years I have heard Islanders use the word fish to designate the actions of particular people. They would say of a person who doesn’t seem to be able to help himself, “Poor Fish”. I also heard it said of some who couldn’t handle their liquor, “He drinks like a fish”. They also had a saying about company coming. They are like fish. After three days they begin to smell.

When I look at the world of fish I can see in the names applied to them as well as their looks and actions that remind me of people. Together, let us look under the waters of our beautiful ocean and cite a few examples of how some fish remind us of our own actions as well as those of some people we know.

There are two particular fish, that when you look at them, remind you of people with poor attitudes. I am sure when you look closely at these two pictures you will be reminded of someone you know.


Common Or White Grunt

Common or White Grunt


The Goat Fish

The Grunt Family of fish gets its name from the way they make a deep muffled grunting sound that can be heard below and above the water. Do you know some people that when you speak to them all you get out of them is a grunt? They act like they are mad at the world and everybody in it. I have a met a few like this. You say hello and they grunt turn their head away and hurriedly rush out.

Look at the Goatfish. This fish reminds you of people who always have a scowl on their face and never smile or seem to be happy about anything. I heard a lady refer to her husband as the Old Goat. I feel sorry for those with this type of attitude. There is so much in life to be joyous about. We have a little lady that comes into the Old Gray House that seems to light up the whole place with her joyous attitude. It such a joy to see people like her who find something beautiful to talk about and be thankful for all the time. I love those types of people. When you are around them everyday seems special.

This next fish I am sure will bring to mind someone you know. He displays, out in the open, his feelings for all to see. At a moments notice, when provoked, he will swell up and let you know his feelings.


Puffer:also known as swellfish

Puffer or Swellfish

When you are around this type of person it seems when you least expect it they swell up and blast off at anyone around them. They are always ready to spew out their wrath on anyone that near them. It seems like such a shame to waste all that energy on trivial matters. They definitely need to heed the admonition to be “slow to wrath.”

There are three close-knit buddies that roam the ocean waters that keep up on everything that is going on. They flit here and there and never seem to miss a trick. Look closely at these fish and see if you are familiar with the traits they possess.




Longnose Gar

Longnose Gar


Large Mouthed Jawfish

Large-Mouthed Jawfish


Are you familiar with people who take it on themselves to judge others? Some people try to find out everything they can about another person, or stick their nose in other peoples business. It has never bothered me for a person to be like the big eye and find out about my personal business, but it does bother me when they are like the large mouth jaw fish and blab it all over the neighborhood. I think the looks of these three friends of the sea are enough to tell us we need to avoid looking like them. We all need to be reminded that the Good Book says, “Judge Not”.

Since we started our shop I have encountered a lot of married men in particular who have the traits of this next fish. They seem to want everything for themselves and nothing for their wives. They think nothing of purchasing an expensive rod and reel, golf clubs or whatever they want. Often they will tell their wives they cannot have an inexpensive item they want to purchase for themselves. Only one time, in the seventeen years we have been open, have I heard a woman tell a man he could not have something he wanted.



Do you know anybody that is so selfish that they want to hog it all for themself?

This next little guy gets his name from his slick body that just seems to skip through the water.




I guess in many ways we all tend to possess this trait. We skip this and that intentionally or otherwise. Most of us have the philosophy to never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. I remember one time I forgot or skipped remembering to get something for our anniversary. It was a costly lesson for me. It cost me $500.00 to get out of the doghouse. My advice is don’t skip doing what you know you should be doing.

See if this next fish reminds you of someone you know.


Bighead Sea Robin

Bighead Sea Robin

Have you ever met anyone that had the big head or was so conceited it was ridiculous? I have. I met a person one time when I was in the Navy that thought he was God’s gift to the world. He only talked about himself and how smart he was. He constantly spent his time in front of the mirror flexing his muscles and primping. Little did he know that the other sailors where always behind his back laughing and mimicking him. When it came time for us to leave the ship to go ashore he would douse himself with cologne so strong that you could smell him a mile away. I guess his philosophy was he didn’t just want people to look at him, but smell him coming. There is nothing wrong about thinking highly of yourself. When it becomes an obsession it needs to be controlled.

Now this last fish has the distinction of being considered as one of the world’s most desirable fish. It is admired for its beautiful colors as well as the gentle way it glides through the waters.


Paradise Fish

Paradise Fish

The Paradise fish is symbolic of the attitude we should possess. In the many years Mary and I have been dealing with the public we have learned that true beauty comes from within and not without when it comes to people. People come in all colors, sizes and shapes. The only real difference between them is how they perceive themselves and the other people around them. It is our hope that we, along with others we meet will acquire the true Hatteras Spirit of being a joy to all.

As you can see fish in many ways resemble people. A fish for many years was a symbol for those who followed the Great Fisherman. During the persecution of the Church if someone drew half of a fish in the sand you would draw the other half to let them know you were a follower of The Great Fisherman. When you draw the symbol of the fish you are also revealing that you cherish the things of God above the things of the world. Here is my half. Can you draw the other?

Picture Of The Drawing Of Half A Fish.

Here is the one half of the fish, can you draw the other half?

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fifty years of clashing currents published on: July of 2003

by dewey parr

Cape Point Have you ever stood, on a stormy day, at Cape Point on Hatteras Island and watched the clashing of the currents. It is a breath-taking scene to behold. The waves clash together, sending water twenty feet or higher that fan out in the air like an umbrella. One after another they come together leaving the watcher in a state of awe at the majesty and strength of the mighty ocean. I have been watching this magnificent miracle of nature since my childhood on the Island and I find it as refreshing in the new millennium as I did back then.

Once you behold this phenomenon of the sea you can readily understand why the Outer Banks is known as the land of shipwrecks, wind, and mighty waves. Off the coast of Hatteras two currents come together, one from the north called the Labrador Current, and the other one from the south known as the Gulf Stream. These clashing hot and cold currents along with the air currents make the Outer Banks area a fascinating place to work and play. On some days the currents bless us with mild tropical weather and other days they become violent and provide us with an angry ocean that spews forth its wrath upon all that gets in its way. It is often said by those who live on the islands if you don't like our weather just wait twenty minutes and it will change. The Islanders have learned over the years to respect and admire the ever changing currents. One might say the people of Hatteras and Ocracoke have learned to live in harmony with the ocean. There is a mutual understanding between the two. Each knows their limits and boundaries.

Often, as I stand looking at the clashing currents, I cannot help but think how wonderful it would be if the National Park Service and the Islanders could also learn to live in harmony with each other. Ever since the beginning of the Park Service in 1953 it seems like all I can remember is the constant clashing of the currents between the locals and National Park Service Personnel. Things go along smoothly just as it does with the ocean and then suddenly there seems to be a shift in the wind and you can see the water begin to churn and the currents spewing forth its wrath. The shift in the wind is often caused by some member of the park service team making rash statements or judgments without any consideration of how it might affect the lives of those who lived on these islands long before there ever was a park service.

Cape Point I recall, evening after evening at the family gatherings in the Old Gray House listening to stories of how the park service betrayed the Islanders by not keeping the promises they made in the beginning in the meetings with the locals. When the park service first began they had meetings with the locals and made promises that they would not ever interfere with the Islanders access to the beach. The beaches would always be open and free to the public. They definitely stated, according to my family who was present at the meeting that they would not in any way stop them from hunting in the woods or fishing. They were also were led to believe they would get rich, because they would become the custodians of the many tourists who would come to the Islands. At the meetings they where warned to be on the look out for wolves in sheep's clothing who would be trying to acquire their land. Many Islanders still have copies of the letter that was sent to them by Conrad L. Wirth, the National Park Service Director at that time. Not long ago when the park service superintendent, was questioned at the Anglers Club about these written promises he made it clear past park services promises were no longer valid.

At first everything went along fine. In fact many of the Islanders, being the generous people they are, even provided land to the park service in exchange for what was to be a fair price. A member of my own family, who had beach property, soon learned that there seemed to be little that was fair in dealing with the National Park Service. To put it bluntly the feeling of many locals is that when it came to acquiring land it was the Park Service that was the wolf in sheep's clothing. Little by little the Park Service and its personnel began to take the attitude that they were much smarter than the Islanders and they needed to begin to establish rules and regulations to keep the Islanders in check. Many Islanders tell tales about employees hounding them. They tell how they were followed watched. It became a game between the Park Service and Islanders to see who could outsmart the other. It was a little like the adventures of the roadrunner cartoon. Granted often it is true. The locals needed to be reminded that the land owned, or taken, by the park service, as some would say, was no longer theirs to use as they well pleased, but now belonged to the entire nation. But on the other hand it was not proper for the Park Service Employees to act so high and mighty and flaunt their education. Their, "we no what's best for you", attitude not only showed their lack of a proper education, but led to a constant clashing of the waves. To put it in the local's language, "they had book learning but no common sense".

Cape Point on Hatteras Island Even to this day after fifty years, the gap between the park service and the locals continues to widen. The currents run hot and cold clashing furiously together causing some locals to froth at the mouth at the mere mention of the Park Service. Recent events with the moving of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse showed what some called the insensitivity of the Park Service in their approach to what should have been a mutual agreement by all parties concerned. Everyone had the same goal of saving the lighthouse. There was no avenue provided to communicate those feeling with each other. The appearance the Park Service gave, whether it was a deserved one or not, was we are in control and we will do what we want and we don't care what you think. Granted many of the locals jumped to their feet in a rage just like the waves clashing at the point and began to question the validity of moving the lighthouse without considering other less costly alternatives. Without any hesitation the public perception that seemed to permeate the air from the Park Service personnel towards the locals was, if you question or don't do it our way you are either a selfish business person or a would be self appointed historian, who has little or no knowledge of what is best for these Islands. Rumors began to fly and brash moves by some Park personnel who appeared to be disseminating their own form of propaganda began to infuriate the locals even more.

One incident in particular that bothered me was when an uniformed park service person stopped an elderly lady coming out of a local grocery store and scolded her for wearing a, Don't Move The Lighthouse Button. Others began to report that they were told to remove, Don't Move Stickers, from their vehicles or face possible prosecution for driving across park service land. Tourists came into our shop sharing with us statements made to them by park rangers about the locals who opposed the moving of the lighthouse. As is the case in most controversial issues, I am sure there where gross exaggerations on both sides, but nevertheless in my estimation the Park Service Administration did a poor job in controlling their troops and communicating with the public. Probably the best thing the Park Superintendent could have done for public relations at that time would have been to put a sock in the mouth of some of his employees who felt it was their job to straighten out the locals.

During this time period as many of you well remember many expressed their concerns not so much about moving the lighthouse but the future erosion problem that would occur at the entrance way to Buxton. They felt it would imperil their homes and the entire village of Buxton, if the Park Service continued with its philosophy of not replenishing or maintaining the dunes and the existing groins. Predictions were made that the moving of the lighthouse without a beach nourishment program would be the beginning of an inlet above Buxton. It was also predicted that the moving of the lighthouse would be the beginning of a fee system and limited access to the beaches.

As I now look through the mist, at the clashing currents, I see in the future that the lack of continual beach nourishment, and the rising oceans due to global warming, will result in Hatteras and Ocracoke no longer being single islands but a series of small islands that are cut asunder by the clashing currents and waves. For Hatteras Island I can see five islands with Rodanthe and Avon being the largest one. Buxton and Frisco will be a single island, and poor little Hatteras village will be all alone. I am not sure what Ocracoke will be like but I think there will two or three separate islands.

It is true that when I asked the question of our new Superintendent at the Cape Hatteras Anglers Club, "Can you envision a time when we will no longer be able to drive the beach?" he answered. "No." A further question that I feel I should have asked is do you ever envision a time when only a limited number will be allowed to drive the beach at a time. I think an honest answer from the Park Service would be, YES.

A good example of improper communication between the park service and the locals is the problem shared with me by a local commercial fisherman. When they pull in their nets on the beach if they are caught with illegal fish in their trucks or nets they can be fined. They are not allowed to take illegal fish off the beach by the marine enforcement agency and the park service will not allow them to leave them on the beach or to put them back in the water. Sounds impossible to me that some local commercial fishermen feel that the National Park is deliberately doing everything they can to hurt them.

Hatter Island Lighthouse The other morning as I drove past the area where the lighthouse used to be. I accepted the fact no longer would I ever see the lighthouse with the ocean and the sunrise behind it again. Now I cannot change the fact the lighthouse has been moved. I have learned to cheerfully accept and adjust to the changes in my health and I will do the same thing about the lighthouse and the fee system that is being instituted to climb it and eventually a fee to drive the beach. Admittedly I will probably pay the fee only one time to go to the top of the lighthouse. That will be out of curiosity to see if I can see my house from the top. My wife says I need to be careful when I do so because the Lighthouse might throw piece of the steps down on my head.

The many tourists who visit our beautiful islands for the first time every year will not pay any attention to the location of the lighthouse. They will pay the fee, climb the lighthouse, and go home singing the praises of the Park Service who saved the mighty tower. The only people that the fee might bother are people like a friend of mine who comes to the island every year and climbs the lighthouse twice a day. He had always been in the habit of giving a dollar donation every time he climbed it. He will not pay a fee twice a day. It could also bother families with lots of children. On the other hand, they might do like my wife and I used to do when we didn't have the money to spare. We did not go ourselves but let the kids go.

I think it is time for the Islanders to swallow our bitter pills about moving the lighthouse, land deals, and past comments by Park Service Personnel. We need to hope that as time goes on that the Cape Hatteras National Park Service and the Locals will be able to work closer together to implement plans to preserve what will be left of the island after nature whittles it down. As I see it the goals of the locals and the park service are basically the same. The problem seems to be there is not an avenue of communication between the two.

It seems to me it would behoove the new park service superintendent to set up a standing committee composed of locals, business, and community leaders to discuss the issues that are confronting the Islands. Prior to implementation of something as drastic as a fee to use or drive the beach, definitely needs to have community evolvement. It could devastate the economy of the entire region. Somewhere along the way we need to keep the currents from clashing.

We have a new Park Superintendent. He seems to be diligently working hard to mend fences and work closer with the Islanders. This is a refreshing change from what we have had in the past. There are many things that have happened in the past and those things need to be put on the back burner and we need to work with our Superintendent rather than create more clashing of the currents. It is time we put ourselves in his shoes and come to realize his is not an easy task trying to juggle what is in the best interest of the Islanders and the Park.

My Island Mom also added another little statement to her saying when you had to accept something you didn't like. "It is a bitter pill to swallow" and, "it is stuck in my craw". The younger generation, who has never had to kill, pluck and clean a chicken, might not understand the saying, so I will translate it for them in Island terms. Islanders will have to accept the fact the Park Service is here. The lighthouse has been moved. A fee will be charged to climb it. Eventually they will be paying a fee to use or drive the beach, and there will be a limited number of vehicles on the beach. This we must accept. But that doesn't mean we will ever like it.

There is no denying that there are many negative aspects one might have about the attitudes of the National Park Service But there are also many positive. In my estimation the positives outweighs the negatives. Just because we speak out about the things we dislike does not mean we do not appreciate and approve of having a National Park on Cape Hatteras Island. We only speak out because we want what we feel is best for all those who lives on these Islands as well as those who come to visit us.

Fifty Years of Clashing Currents
Fifty Years of Clashing Currents

Recently while watching the clashing currents at Cape Point I asked myself the question, What would Hatteras Island be like without the National Park? It is doubtful if it where not for our Park Service that we would be able to enjoy our wide open beaches. Can you imagine what the real-estate developers would do with the present Park Service land if they had it? Million dollar houses would line the beach with little or no public access to the beach. Even though North Carolina law states the people own the beaches that would mean nothing if you where not allowed to cross over a persons property to get to the beach. There is no law on the books that says a property owner must allow you to cross over their property to get to the beach. Imagine miles and miles of no public access to a beautiful beach that sits there primarily for those who are wealthy enough to own beachfront property. I call it government-financed beaches for the rich. Fuss as we may about this and that about the Park Service, they have provided, not only we who live here, but all who come to these Islands the opportunity to share in the joys of the ocean and the natural beauties of nature.

I wish everyone in the whole world could have the same privilege we have each day of our lives to bask in the sun on a beautiful untouched beach. We can fish, surf, swim, collect shells, sun bathe or whatever turns our crank. The National Park Service is responsible for preserving and protecting our Island Paradise. We need to count our blessings and come to realize just how important the Cape Hatteras National Park Service is to maintaining our personal happiness. It is rather nice to have a beautiful park as it where in your back yard

This old world is full of turmoil and unrest, but thanks to National Park Service Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands are places of peace and tranquility. Our former Island ways have been maintained as a result of the Park Service. The many history and nature walks and talks they offer will tell future generations of the natural beauty and cultural aspects of these Islands.

My wife and I have a lot in common with the Park Service for we are both celebrating our fiftieth this year. Mary and I will be married fifty years this year and our Park is fifty years old. WE SAY, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY CAPE HATTERAS NATIONAL PARK .....WE LOVE YOU."

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when your ship sinks what will wash ashore published in: May 13th 2006

by dewey parr

One of the most important treasures we can provide for our children and future generations is the GIFT OF KNOWLEDGE about a family's heritage.

One of the most important treasures we can provide
for our children and future generations is the
GIFT OF KNOWLEDGE about a family's heritage.

The legacy of shipwrecks is spotty. You find pieces here and there. Pieces from the past are all over the Islands. They tell a story. They conjure up visions of pirate's sunken treasures and what life was like. The never-ceasing rolling waves that splash on our beaches are constantly depositing small glimpses into the past at our feet. As you stroll along you will see at your toes bits and pieces of driftwood with holes in them that once held pegs from ships that have met their fate at sea. You may encounter a gleaming object in the sand providing you with a precious treasure from the sea. In my daily walk along the oceans edge I find not only am I closely linked with God and nature, but also I am in tune with the past.

The Old Houses of Hatteras and Ocracoke all have many stories to tell. Almost every old house has boards, bolts, and artifacts from old shipwrecks incorporated into them. When we worked on my grandparent Gray's old home, we found floorboards from shipping crates that had washed ashore from ships. They had inscriptions on them from many different places. There were a host of other items such as pegged rafters, a door, a mirror from a ship, ships mast, and iron bolts. In the yard sits an old iron buoy hauled from the beach. How they got it there I will never know. As you enter the house, the entrance way is flanked with two stones from the first Hatteras Island lighthouse that was built 200 years ago in 1803. Constantly pieces out of the past seem to surface around the property. The remains of old stoves grates, tools, fishing gear, irons, and old bottles pop up here and there. The sands of the Islands hold many secrets still to be revealed. History is to be found in our Island sand.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if the old boards and artifacts col1ected over the years by the Islanders could speak. What stories would they tell about the trials and tribulations of families that came to the new world to start life anew? Think how exciting it would be if the old-timers in your family had taken time to record their adventures in writing so that you could enjoy them. Wouldn't you love to be able to read about the day-to-day lives of your many loved ones whose ships have sunk in the sea of life? My grandmother, Sarah Muphy Farrow, arrived on Hatteras Island as a result of a shipwreck. I only wish she had left a written legacy. Not only do we not know of her family background, we have not been able to locate her burial site on the Island. Why Islanders kept such treasured items a secret from their families I will never know.

Living is a lot more than waiting for someone to etch on a piece of stone, metal or wood telling the world the date of your birth and death. Living is the day-to-day adventures and the way we perceive and interact with the immediate world around us. History is more than dates and figures. It is the record of the action-packed lives of those who chose to remain on these Islands against all odds. One only has to look at the devastation in the village of Hatteras as a result of hurricane Isabel to understand the many hardships faced by Island families of the past.

Island history is more than pictures on a wall in a museum. It is the stories of how Island families bravely banned together to battle the forces of nature. It is tales of how they managed not only to survive but also live happy and productive lives. It is lives that are reflected in the happy faces of their descendants who still inhabit these Islands regardless of the annual visits of hurricane winds and water. Thousands of tourists return to these islands year after year because they see the joy that the Islanders have received from just being on the Islands. That joy is so contagious that everyone who comes in contact with it secretly wishes they could live on these Island Paradises.

Now, after many years of sailing the seas of life, I sense my ship is in danger of sinking as it is slowly headed for the treacherous Diamond Shoals. I ask myself: "What will wash ashore when my ships sinks. Will there be any bits and pieces of life as it was in my day for future generations to ponder". I am thankful that a few years back, as the result of Irene Nolan, editor of the Island Free Press, I began to put in writing my recollections of Island life. Many years ago I wrote my first article on the subject of change and progress on the Islands, and submitted it to Irene. I have absolutely no training or knowledge of how to write or what to say. I just wanted to get something off my chest about how all these changes on the Islands where affecting our lives. I never figured she would publish it. They had so many talented writers, not to mention the superb writing ability of the Editor. After the article was published Irene encouraged me to write more. She said, "You know, you don't have to be trained to write, you merely need to write about the things you know and feel. You need to write for no other reason than to provide a record of what life was like during your time for those who come after you." Thanks to Irene, I have to come to realize, as someone said, "One of the most important legacies we can provide for our children and for future generations is the GIFT OF KNOWLEDGE about the family's heritage". Since that time, when the spirit hits me, I have taken the time to jot down the things I remember about my days on the Island. I have designated my daughter as my family historian. Some of my writings have been published on a variety of topics about the Islands such as Religion, Cemeteries, Shells, Island Legends and host of other subjects. A lot of times the things I write are not worthy of publication, but at least there is a written record someplace for those in the future.

I would encourage you to start writing down the things you remember and submit them to your designated family historian or someplace for publication. If you don't want to give them to anyone then fold them up and attach them to your will. If you are now on vacation a good place to begin is to write a letter to the Island Free Press about your trip. I am sure it would bring great pleasure to your children and grandchildren in the future to look back on the good times you shared together.

There is a benefit that Irene Nolan did not mention to me. It is the therapeutic one that comes from writing. Sometimes I go out to the ocean and sit with a pad and pencil in my hand overlooking the endless ocean to let my thoughts flow like the waves. There is a sense of release as you write. It is as if you are entering a whole new realm where there is peace and tranquility as you jot down the joys of life as well as your thoughts from the past. Of course you have to take it for granted that a lot of that feeling comes from the fact when you are on the Hatteras beach you are overlooking the most beautiful scenery in the world. I encourage you to try it. Why not you have nothing to loose and everything to gain.

Clearing our minds of all the baggage we are burdened with is a lot easier than loosing all those extra pounds we carry around. Getting away from it all is not physical it is mental. When they first opened our Island to tourism I was fascinated watching tourists who set up easels on the beach painting scenes from the ocean. As I looked on and observed them splashing vivid colors on their canvasses, I envied their talent to produce such magnificent pictures of our beautiful Island. Sad to say seldom do I see this anymore for it has been replaced with people running around, with boxes bulging from their eyes called digital cameras, snapping up Island scenery. You may be as untalented in these areas as I am, but you have the ability to draw pictures with your words. I learned when I studied Greek in my theological training that words depict pictures. It is not the words you will be writing that are important. It is the pictures you will be drawing with those words that will have such a deep meaning to the future. You have the ability to paint with your words pictures of your present and past experiences that will be viewed as family treasures in the future by your loved ones.

One tip I would give you is to force yourself to forget about your grammar and punctuation as you write. Be more concerned with the story you want to tell. Your grammar and punctuation can be corrected later, especially if you have a computer. If you worry about what others might think about you rather than what you have to say you will probably never find much pleasure in writing. Let your thoughts flow freely without any inhibitions. Be like the seagulls gliding in the wind. In no way think about writing for profit but write for pleasure. Write in your every day colorful words about the things that have brought you joy and happiness. Share the little things of life that might be insignificant to others but have meaning to you. Another tip is to make it short and sweet if you hope to have it published. This is a problem I definitely have never been able to master.

Hopefully you will take time to consider, what will wash ashore for your family to remember when your ship sinks? I am sure many will be looking forward to reading and visualizing the word pictures you provide about your adventures and views. I would love to hear from you. It would be appreciate if you would share your writings with me as I am doing with you.

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ghost of the old gray house published on:January 11th 2008

by dewey parr

Do you believe in Ghosts? Is there such a thing? Have you ever been someplace where you sensed the presence of some unseen force? These are the questions I asked a few friends of mine recently.

One friend, who is an avid hunter and fisherman, shared this experience with me. He and his brother often took trips to hunt in the Canaan Valley area of West Virginia. He stated that there was a certain valley that every time they entered it they sensed the presence of some supernatural force that made their skin crawl. In fact he said that it got to the place it was so bad they avoided the area. He thought there might have been some tragedy that took place in the valley in time past and there where spirits lingering there. I can recall times that I, too, have had that funny feeling that I was not alone even thought there was no one present. Have you experienced this?

Another friend said that the night his wife's grandfather died, miles away, that a wind went over the bedroom and he could feel the presence of someone. Later we learned it was at this exact time he died. They surmised it was the spirit of her grandfather passing over into the hereafter. I have heard others speak of such things. Have you?

What is a Ghost? Everyone has their own concept. Some say they are merely figments of your imagination. Others say they are bits and pieces from the past that are embedded in our memories. Many hold to the idea that ghosts are spirits of departed ones that are not at rest or are trying to reach out from the grave to warn us of impending dangers.

Now I am not sure what or if there are ghost. I do know that there are many times I have been on the premises of the Old Gary House and sensed the presence of The Ghost of the Gray House. It is not just the sensing of the Ghost but incidents that make me believe that there are unseen spirits present. One time in particular while I sitting in the Gray House Garden under and oak tree while the wind was gently blowing I heard a familiar voice whispering in the wind my name. Over and over my name was spoken. Other times I have been working in the yard of the Gray House and laid down a tool only to reach down and pick it up and was gone. I now for a fact I put the tools down and they disappear. Their have been times that I felt an unexplainable presence as I walked through the garden or heard a swishing of the underbrush.

I have finally come to the conclusion that we do have a Ghost at the Old Gray House and it is the spirit of my favorite, Uncle Kendrick Gray the youngest child born to my grandparents, Melissa and Bill Gray. His spirit is not at rest for he is seeking a final resting place on Hatteras Island.

Kendrick Gray

This Is a Picture Of The Ghost Of The Gray House
Sitting On The Porch

There is not a lot I can tell you about my Uncle Ken. He never did anything spectacular in his seventy-nine years on this earth. He had little or no money most of his life. Kendrick spent a short time in the Army and his major achievement was that he received a sharpshooter's award. He lived in the Old Gray House with his mother for a considerable number of years as a bachelor and later in life married Helena Spencer who was originally from Ocracoke. At one time he and aunt Helen drove the county mosquito truck spraying the Island with a solution of DDT. As you know we later learned that DDT was not only harmful to mosquitoes but humans as well. It almost wiped out the Pelicans on the Island. Some to this day think it is responsible for the many cancer cases on the island.

My fondest recollections of the Gray House Ghost was the hours we spent together talking about hunting and fishing and past history of the Island. He shared with me his adventures in the Buxton woods where he hunted and trapped animals. It was always exciting for me to accompany him to the sound and the woods for he knew where the best places where to hunt, fish, trap, clam, and crab. He indeed was a man of the woods and the sound, which became apparent in the only written record I have found about him. In 1985 there was a survey of the Buxton woods entitled, The Disturbance History of the Buxton Woods, CPSU Technical Report 16, written by Susan P. Bratton and Kathryn Davidson and sponsored by the National Park. In this publication they quoted Kendrick Gray along with ten other locals as to the nature of the Buxton Woods as well as the animals on the Island in the early 1920's and thirties. When one reads this they are presented with an entirely different view of the Island from what we see today.

Can you envision Hatteras Island with a forest that extended to the waters edge full of wildlife with a population of people who had cattle, horses, sheep, goats, and pigs? Maude White the postmistress during my childhood days told how that my stomping ground, Buxton, was called by the children of Avon Goat Town because there were so many goats running loose. Curtis Gray and Rany Jennette estimated there where at least 200 ponies and five to six-hundred cattle. The interviewers went on to say almost everyone had at least two or three milk cows and a few horses.

Kendrick Gray (interview) reported his family had 25 to 30 hogs, and number of other families maintained herds of cattle and horses for commercial sale. The ponies and sheep preferred to stay out in the interdune grasslands, where as goats frequently grazed in the woods and hogs preferred the marshes. Kendrick and all of those interviewed agreed that the underbrush of the woods was clear of small shrubs due to the grazing of the cattle. It was not until after the passage of a North Carolina Law stating all livestock was to be penned by Feb. 1, 1937 that the shrubs began to come back.

This comprehensive report on the history of the Buxton woods gives us some insight as to the density of the maritime forest during the pre-colonial days as well as why we no longer have an extended forest today. The Ghost of the Gray House, Kendrick Gray, said he could remember pines 4 feet in diameter growing in the Buxton Woods in 1915-20. According to Kendrick and others, local people would cut dogwood and sell it to outside buyers for cotton mill spindles. They also spoke of the cutting the oaks and cedars to be transported off the Island to the mainland for boat building. Timber was cut for firewood not only by the locals but the coast guard stations. They also spoke of the fires that swept the woods.

One fire I remember well was the one in the 1940's that swept through the Jeanette Sedge and the fresh water ponds. It was an exciting time for all. Everyone gathered to battle the fire to keep it from spreading into the village. As I recall it burned for days and the wind helped to swirl the flames higher and higher and everyone was fearful of loosing their homes. I also remember the animals as well as the snakes fleeing from the flames.

This is a Hatteras that few can remember today. All we see now is the devastation that has been created by storms as well as the over-developing of the Island. I remember well the beauty of the Buxton woods back in the 1930's before the building boom began. I am sure there is much unrest among the spirits of the past as they see what is happening to our beloved Islands today. The needless cutting and clearing of the forest canopy exceeds any devastation that was caused in times past by the fires that broke out in the woods. It was because of Uncle Kens love for automobiles and a little nip now and then that I learned to drive the sand roads and the beach at a very early age. He loved to tinker with old cars. He had an old model T Ford for years that he pieced together. Many where the times he would say to grandma that he was going to take me out and teach me to drive as an excuse to go down to Tandys. Tandys was our village bar that was located where the Quarter Deck Restaurant is now. Grandma didn't approve of him going to Tandy's. When we made our way down the sand road to Tandys I would drop him off and drive around a little and then come back and pick him up. When we got back to the Old Gray House Grandma would say, Sonny, Ken didn't do anything he should not have did he? I would say, "no grandma he just taught me to drive."

Another joy we shared together was going to what he called Sears and Roebuck, the dump. He loved to collect the many valuable things others threw out and make a good use for them. I guess that is where I got my enjoyment of taking items others cast away and reworking them into something useful. Today we call this recycling. Tourists who come to the Island today enjoy going to rummage sales and second hand shops. What we forget is, in the early history of the Island, no one had anything to recycle. They were all in the same boat, so to speak, when it came to finances. Many of the items they used came from the ocean. As years went by Uncle Ken added things he collected to the Old Gray House. The siding on the Old Gray House for example came from the Walter Barnette House they were tearing down. He not only pulled each piece of siding off but also saved every nail. He only had enough to do three sides so on the backside he used roll roofing he had collected from the dump. How he ever managed to nail the siding on the thin planks that covered the house I will never know. He also collected paint that was thrown out by the coast guard and the naval base to paint the house. It is true, the old house did not often look the best, but you have to give our ghost credit for using what he had available to make things better. It was a survival economy.

Kendrick was no ordinary person when it came to his genuine interest in other people. He had little or nothing but he had the Hatteras Spirit of being ready to share what he had with others. He also possessed the gift of being able to make you feel good about yourself when you were in his presence. He loved to have people who came down the Dark Ridge Road, now called Light Plant road, come and sit with him on the Gray House Porch and chat. As a general rule you would always see him sitting on the porch when he was not in the sound or the woods. Most of the time he would be barefoot and have a rope holding up his pants in place of a belt.

It was the way Kendrick Gray died that has led to his spirit being in a state of unrest. Many Islanders have asked us over the years what happened to him. He was here one day sitting on the porch and suddenly he seemed to disappear from the Island. It is really a one of the saddest stories that the Old Gray House has to tell.

His wife Helen had a brother in Florida. Her brother decided to give them what was probably their first major vacation by taking them to Florida. This was a real adventure for Kendrick for he seldom left the Island. While he was there he became ill and died. His wife had him cremated and buried in Florida. There was no funeral or obituary on the Island nor did his wife return. To the many Islanders that where used to talking with him or seeing him sitting on the porch of the Old Gray House he just disappeared. One day he was here and the next he was gone.

When he was alive he had often remarked that when he died he wanted to be buried in the woods behind the Old Gray House. There is no doubt in my mind that his spirit is roaming the grounds of the Gray House seeking a satisfactory burial site. It is our hope that he will find a final resting place on the Island he loved and seldom left throughout his life. He is the only member of the Gray House family to be cremated and not buried on Hatteras.

When he was alive he had often remarked that when he died he wanted to be buried in the woods behind the Old Gray House. There is no doubt in my mind that his spirit is roaming the grounds of the Gray House seeking a satisfactory burial site. It is our hope that he will find a final resting place on the Island he loved and seldom left throughout his life. He is the only member of the Gray House family to be cremated and not buried on Hatteras.

The ghost is seen sitting
here with his wife
on the porch of
The Old Gray House

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Hatteras Islanders remember the horror published in:december 7th, 1996


Hatteras Islanders remember.
A war that changed life forever
By Dewey Parr

A series of Interviews conducted by Dewey Parr with locals who were present at Pearl Harbor about a war that changed their lives. Take time to read these first hand accounts.

Most of us who were around at the time - even those of us who were but youngsters - can remember where we were and what we were doing on that Sunday, Dec. 7,1941, when Japanese bombers, fighter planes and torpedo planes attacked the American Naval Base at Pearl Harbor on the Island of Oahu, Hawaii. But there are some Hatteras islanders who have reason to remember that morning more clearly than the rest of us. They are the ones who were there when the Japanese swooped down from the sky in a reign of terror and death.

"Listen to what some of them have to say about that "day of infamy."

Harry and Erma Lange, who live on the soundside below Buxton, were stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1941. "On the Sunday morning of the bombing 1 got up to put water on for coffee." Irma remembers, "but the coffee never got made. There was a loud pounding at the door and it was our friends. Rebel and Gladys White from Charlotte, at the door yelling, "Get up, hurry, open the door. What's the matter with you folks? Don't you know we are being bombed?" "Harry left immediately for the base," Irma continues. "I didn't hear from him again for about a week.. I spent the rest of the day on the porch, taking pictures and watching the ships and buildings burn. We lived in an area they called "the Punch Bowl." It was high up on the .side of a hill. The view from our porch overlooked the harbor. Those ships burned for a week. The thing I remember most was when they came and took my short-wave radio, camera, and the film I took of the bombing. Martial law was declared, and we were not allowed to be out of the yard after 4 p.m., and no light could shine from our windows, for fear of a night attack." Harry says that at the time of the attack he was stationed aboard the San Francisco, which was in dry dock for repairs. When he got to the base, the second attack was just beginning. It was during this second wave of Japanese bombing that the Arizona suffered extreme damage that resulted in 1,777 American sailors being entombed at the bottom of Pearl Harbor forever. He could see and hear the explosions from the attacks all around him. The Americans thought this was just the beginning, so preparation was being made to get all the ships out of the harbor.

Harry and Irma had just been married for three years when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Irma is Originally from Avon and is the daughter of Willie and Ersie Gray. Harry came to the Island in the Navy. He was stationed at the Navy Radio Center. He and Erma met that first year, fell in love and were married. Next month on Jan. 8. Harry and Irma Lange will be celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. That is a long way from the terrible memories of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Lawrence Lee Austin, a true Hatterasman was a gunner's mate aboard the battleship Tennessee when, without warning, the attack came. "We were hit with two 2,000 pound bombs," he remembers. "The West Virginia was sinking on one side of us, and the Arizona was blazing in back of us. A lot of our damage was caused by the explosions from the Arizona. We were completely surrounded by sinking and damaged ships. It took them 10 days to cut us free. It was an experience that I hope nobody ever has to go through again." Lawrence is now 77, he was 22 at that time and had been aboard the Tennessee for four years before the attack. After Pearl Harbor, he also experienced the attacks of the kamikaze (suicide) bomber pilots in the battles of the Philippines.

Austin was born and reared in Hatteras village and is actively engaged in net-fishing daily in the sound. He proudly states, "I am Hatteras born, Hatteras bred, and when I die I'll be Hatteras dead."

Lester Ballance was away from his ship on the beach at Pearl Harbor when the bombing began. "My ship, the Phoenix, was one of the lucky ones," Lester recalls. She got out of the harbor right in the middle of the bombing. She stayed outside the harbor for three days, and I assisted with the running of the liberty boats, transporting others back and forth from the ships. The one thing I remember most was the black oil on the water from the sinking ships. It was over a foot deep, and it was our job to go around picking up the bodies floating in the oil. We were told to shoot anything that had a red dot on it."

"I was not the only Ballance boy from Hatteras that was there," Lester says. "Myron and Thurman Ballance, who have since died, where there also. "Ballance was 19 years old on that terrible day. He is now 74 and still lives in Hatteras.

P.T. Dicksey witnessed the events that make Dec. 7, 1941, a day that will never be forgotten in American history. "At the time of the bombing I was aboard the USS Cummings, a destroyer in the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard. " Dicksey relates. "I never thought I would see a battleship blow up, but I did. I was looking right across the bay at battleship row when the Arizona blew up. It was a terrible sight, something I can never forget. I just can't get over a lot of people's short memories about that horrible day. My ship managed to get out of the harbor and we suffered only a couple of minor injuries."

Dicksey, who is 87 years old and partially blind, lives in Hatteras village next door to his daughter Chris Ballance. He spent 20 years in the Navy and another 20 years as a civil service employee in Norfolk, Va. Even though Mr. Dicksey's eyesight has dwindled in recent years, he has a clear vision of the bombing burned in his memory forever.

Winford Whitlock was walking down the gangplank toward the launch when all of a sudden out of the sky, the bombs and bullets began to blow his ship, the destroyer Shaw, to pieces. He jumped into the launch, which headed for shore, towards the Wheeler Field Air Base. With tears in his eyes, Whitlock describes what he witnessed on that day. "It was a horrible sight to see. There were some overboard, trying to swim under the oil on the water. Body parts and limbs were being hurled into the air from the explosions. We lost a third of our ship. When I got to the air base, it was worse yet. The Japanese fighter planes were bombing the P40's. The planes were all lined up just like for inspection, and the pilots and other men were running to them, attempting to get them off the ground They were bombing and shooting them down as fast as they ran to the planes. The air was filled with flying metal and bodies." Still with tears in his eyes, Whitlock recalled that for a long time after Pearl Harbor, he could not shed a tear, because it was as if it took the life out of him. But today, he knows he is alive because he can shed tears for those who suffered and died that day.

Whitlock came to Hatteras Island in 1937 during the Great Depression to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). He was 19 years old and earned $30 a month, but only got to keep $5. The government sent the rest home to his parents to help them through the depresson. The CCC camp barracks were located just south of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. One day, Whitlock attended the Avon Methodist Church, and a young woman named Esther, the daughter of John Newby and Annie Gray Scarborough, sang a solo. He married her, and they have been making music together for 52 years.

Editor's Note: I did these interviews on the request of the editor of a local newspaper. Never did I realize that in talking to these men and their wives that it would cause me to reflect on how the bombing of Pearl Harbor and War has affected my life. Even though I was young at the time the war had a profound impact on my life. My wife, education, and all the things that have gone into making me

Since Pearl Harbor there has been little freedom from war throughout the world. In America alone we have had one conflict after another that has disrupted families such as Korea, Vietnam , Afghanistan, and now the big one Iraq. Who know what the next one will be. My father served in the World War II. I was in the Korean Conflict and my son in the Vietnam. Call them what you may, wars or conflicts, they all do the same thing. They destroy lives and alter the lives of those who remain on after the war. They are useless adventures born out of greed and lust for power by deranged rulers and politicians. In the long run they benefit nobody. Those who start them never live to profit from their efforts. Yet mankind continues to start them. We have been told, "There shall be wars and rumors of wars".

Where did we get the idea we can solve the world's problems by killing one another and leaving a war scared society to face the future? Do you have the answer?

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December 7th, 1941: a day that has lived in infamy published in:december 7th, 1996

December 7th, 1941: A day that has lived in infamy

A War That Changed Life Forever
For An Island And A Boy
By Dewey Parr

It has been 55 years since that terrible day. At 7:55 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor. Nineteen American ships were damaged or sunk and 2,800 Americans were killed in the surprise attack. I was young but I remember it well. Momma had just returned home from the hospital the day before, and she was in bed recuperating from an operation. Daddy had his head stuck in the radio, getting all the news. The next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that the United States had declared war on Japan. Dec. 7, 1941, became a day, as Roosevelt predicted, that would "live in infamy." The attack on Pearl Harbor changed the destiny of many lives and, eventually, brought Hatteras and Ocracoke into the 20th century.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a little like the hurricane game we play every summer on the Outer Banks. As Dave Kelmer, my favorite Hatteras Island tree surgeon, says, "It is not a matter of will a hurricane happen, but when and where it will happen." Similarly, the U.S. government knew war was imminent long before it was declared.. Billy Mitchell, after whom our Hatteras Island airfield is named, had demonstrated to the government off the shores of Hatteras Island that airplanes had the potential to destroy a naval fleet. For some reason, the government did not heed his warning of a naval disaster from the air. It was not a matter of would it happen, but where and when.

In fact, six months before Pearl Harbor, there was a recall of military men with specialized rates. My father, Dewey Parr, Sr. was one of them. Dad, who was a retired navy chief, had a critical rate considered important at that time. He was a radio radarman. Dad was recalled to active duty and put on recruiting duty in Charleston, W. Va, He, along with thousands of other fleet reservists, were placed in these temporary holding positions until the time when they would be needed. The move to the mountains of West Virginia from the sands of Buxton was a traumatic experience that changed my entire life and made me cling closer to the memories of the marvels of Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. Suddenly, I was in what I felt was a hostile environment. We were living at the Naval Ordnance Plant in the heart of the chemical valley in South Charleston, W. Va. People and attitudes were different. People lived in houses and apartments three feet from each other, behind locked doors. People were nice and polite, but there was an automatic sense of distrust of all strangers. Whereas, the attitude on Hatteras Island was that you trusted people until they provided you a reason not too.

Cement, fences, and rocks were everywhere in my new home. I was not used to seeing rocks. The only rocks I recall on the island, other than beach rock, were those in the base of the lighthouses. The air was terrible. It was tainted with the smell of chemicals, and black soot settled daily on everything. There was no fresh sea breeze, nor sand or ocean or sound, and no woods to roam. What was even worse to me was the fact that I had to leave my favorite friend, Queenie, my dog. I stayed awake many a night thinking about crabbing, fishing, swimming, boating and all the fun things I used to do on Hatteras. Things, I am sorry to say, that many of the locals take for granted today, not fully realizing just how beautiful and wonderful our islands are. Things I am fearful will begin to disappear, one by one, as the wheels of progress continue to turn.

School was a drastic change also. I became aware that our island culture and educational practices were very different. At first, the West Virginians thought I was retarded because a lot of times I would sit and stare into space and make no comments about anything. I did this because anything 1 said would be laughed at, or corrected by, the teacher, who spoke a foreign language as far as I was concerned. When we would be doing math she would use terms I did not understand. Little simple things such as subtraction, I knew how to "take away," but I did not know how to "minus." I had been taught that if you had twelve crabs in a pot and someone took six away, you had six left. On many occasions the teachers would stand me up in front of the class and have me pronounce certain words that bore the island dialect - words such as house, out, fire, high tide, etc

I thought to myself that when I became a teacher, I would not single out my students like the teachers constantly did me. It became apparent to me that the job of the school system there was to make us all look, act, and sound alike. When you think about it, that is exactly what Hitler wanted to accomplish - an Aryan nation composed of only the fairest and most intelligent of human beings who looked and sounded alike. He felt he could accomplish his task through genetics. Many in our country try to use our educational system to do the same thing.

One of the wonderful things about Hatteras and Ocracoke is that nobody tries to change anybody else. You are accepted as you are. War is a terrifying thing. Such a senseless waste of human life and energy. Killing was not easy for those from Hatteras and Ocracoke who were snatched from the peaceful island environment where a great respect for life and living things was ingrained in them from birth. The only killing that was done was to obtain food, and that was only for the necessary amount to sustain life. In fact, children of the islands were taught a philosophy of live and let live, that everything has a purpose for living. Birds, animals, spiders, reptiles, and plants were treasures of nature not to be abused. You did not bother other living things or corner them - even a cottonmouth or a stingray. If you came upon a cottonmouth moccasin in your path, you didn't borrow trouble by trying to kill it. You waited for it to clear the path in its good, old time or you went well around it. If you were in the sound crabbing with a dip net and you came across a stingray, you knew better than to poke at him, because he would back up and take a poke at you. We also understood the meaning of the saying, "He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword." As we look back into history, we realize that the efforts of the dictators of the Second World War - Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo - were meaningless. They are gone and the world is still revolving without them.

In World War II, we equated dying for our country with doing our duty to God. This was soon to change with the Korean Conflict and, the final test of our thinking, the Vietnam War. The age of blind obedience to our elders and governmental leaders was soon to end. Mothers and fathers, as well as the young people, began to ask such questions as, "Why should we die for something in which we really have no involvement?" and "Who is really profiting from all this?" It surely was not the inhabitants of Hatteras and Ocracoke. Many of the islanders were directly affected by the war. In fact, Pearl Harbor was the beginning of the big change that was to soon occur on the Islands. Families were separated as many of the men marched off to war not knowing if they would ever return. The sad thing was that many did not.

In my own family, things were never the same for Uncle John Brown and Aunt Nellie Gray when their youngest son, Palmer, was killed in Germany. It was such a senseless death a young man of only 19 years of age dying because a power-crazed dictator wanted to rule the world. Palmer was an unusually polite and bright young man who was full of life and enjoyed every minute of living on Hatteras Island. He loved the Buxton woods, beaches, and the sound. Palmer's death on March 19, 1945, and the deaths of other islanders added to the isolation of the island. The whole world was in agony, but it seemed that our little islands were to become a focal point of the war that many in the United States even today don't realize happened.

Battles were fought off the shores of Hatteras and Ocracoke between German U-Boats and other vessels. Many a day and night, the sounds of war were heard by the islanders. They witnessed the flashing of the guns as the ships fired at each other and saw unlucky Allied vessels burning in the night. For a long period of time, the beaches were not fit to roam because of the tar and oil that washed up on the shore. This had a chilling effect on the islanders. They could not help but wonder if the enemy's guns would be directed toward the islands, or if they would invade.

The islanders were made aware that this barrier chain, jutting out some 40 miles into the ocean, was considered a strategic point of interest to our government, as well as the enemy. We became the ears and eyes of the east coast. With the expansion of the Navy Bases and the restricted areas set aside for sonar or underwater detection of submarines, we knew that Hatteras and Ocracoke were important to our defense. As the battles off shore began to intensify, fear of an invasion to destroy the lighthouse began to mount. The present Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was shut down in 1938 do to erosion. It was moved to a steal open-framed tower on the Buxton Back Roads, so the ships at sea could safely pass the dreaded Diamond Shoals.

Today I realize that back then our government had the power to censure the media, so that the rest of the nation was not aware of how close the enemy was to our shores. I guess officials felt that to reveal that Nazi submarines were just off the east coast would possibly panic the nation, so they kept it quiet. Can you imagine what the news media of today would have done with information that battles were being fought off the shores of Cape Hatteras? I am sure it would have created more excitement than Orson Wells' fake radio broadcast of the invasion from outer space.

Changes occurred fast after the war. Roads were built and the Bonner Bridge was constructed, opening up the islands to the modern world. Now the people of Hatteras had access to the outside world with all of its influences. The roads and the expansion of the commissary on the Navy base led to the demise of the neighborhood general stores, which were the meeting places of the islanders. With the help of the G.I. Bill, many islanders returning from the war became enterprising business people, ready to meet the challenges of the new day that was dawning. The end of the war was the beginning of the big building boom that started on the islands.

Bonner BridgeBonner Bridge

Bonner Bridge

The bridge that changed Hatteras Island

On April 7,l964, the day after my 33rd. birthday, Hatteras Island became attached to the mainland as a result of the completion of the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge. The bridge was named after NC Representative Herbert Covington Bonner. This 12,865+ feet bridge or 2.5 mile chunk of concrete created rapid changes in the way of life of the natives of Hatteras Island. In October 1990 a dredge collided with it and part of the bridge fell. Once again the Island was cut off from the mainland for a number of weeks. This woke up the Islanders and the County officials as to how valuable Bonner Bridge and Hatteras Island was to the tax base of the County. Today Bonner Bridge has out-lived its life expectancy. It is in need of immediate replacement. Every time I cross it I wonder if I will get across before it falls. Replacement efforts have been embroiled in political controversy for a number of years and will probably result in even future delays. It is doubtful that at my age I will have the honor of celebrating a birthday by crossing the new bridge. I wonder if they will change the name when they build it? Seems like the only thing we can count on anymore on Hatteras Island is CHANGE.

Since Pearl Harbor, there have been many changes on Hatteras and Ocracoke. One thing has not changed. The islands are still a wonderful place to retreat from the sad memories of all of life's problems. One merely has to venture to the ocean's edge and gaze at its beauty to benefit from the peace and tranquility it provides.

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The sweetest sound published in: January 8, 2000

by dewey parr

Have you ever taken the time to consider the many beautiful sounds you hear that are associated with living on Hatteras Island. As I am writing this I am away from the Island visiting with friends who live in the city. City sounds are entirely different from the sounds that I associate with Island living.

I remember well the sounds that were on the Island during the nights in the days before electricity and roads. In the summertime we did not have any air conditioning and our windows were open day and night. The sounds of nighttime were different from those of today. At night I would lay near the window in my little bedroom, which later became a bathroom, in the house my daddy built on the Buxton Front Road, now Highway 12. The sounds that came through that window at night were such things as the crickets chirping, hoot of an owl, fluttering of the chickens in the coop, the blowing of the wind, crackling of the embers in the wood burner in the kitchen, or noises of the animals moving through the woods. Most of the night sounds where accompanied with the ever-roaring ocean in the background. Occasionally there would be a loud rumble in the hen house that woke the whole family and caused us to run out to protect the chickens from a wild animal or a snake.

Things have changed drastically today. Modernization came to Hatteras and Ocracoke. With the coming of electricity and paved roads now we find that the daytime as well as the nighttime sounds are entirely different. It is no longer the muted roar of the ocean we hear but that of central air and heat. Refrigerators, televisions, and that ever-modern sound, "you got mail", seem to permeate our surroundings. I live near the Buxton Volunteer Fire Department and often the blare of their warning system and the sirens from police cars and ambulances make us aware someone on the Island is in trouble. It is cling-clang of garbage trucks and beep-beep of backing trucks and roaring cars on our paved roads that are the sounds of a changing life style and economy for our Islands.

With all of this there are still some familiar sounds that I love to hear associated with our Island. When I go to the oceans edge the same sounds are there that have always brought me joy. What a joy it is to hear the splish-splash of the waves as they hit the shore accompanied with caw-caw of the birds. Nothing is more wonderful than to hear the sounds of laughter coming from children playing on the beach. I am thankful that the with the help of the National Park Service there are still areas left on these Islands where you can hear the unique sounds that have always been associated with our Islands.

We recently had a city slicker friend come visit with us. I have the old Hatteras habit of getting up early in the morning to drink my coffee and watch the sun come up. This is my special time. I was drinking my coffee looking out the window watching the new day begin when suddenly I heard a strange noise in the house. I could not detect where it was coming from or distinguish the weird sounds. I went quietly, not wanting to wake up everybody, on a search to find where the strange screeching and roaring sounds where coming from. At first I thought maybe it was a wounded animal under the house that was dying. The more I looked the stranger the sounds were. Finally I detected it was coming from the bedroom where my city friend was sleeping. I thought to myself, that this is the most unusual snoring I ever heard. Later that morning when he got up the subject about the weird sounds that emanated from his bedroom came up. It was not his snoring, but his automatic alarm clock that went off that was programmed to wake him with the sweet sound of nature. The alarm went off but he did not hear it until an hour later. The nature of his sounds was not the same sounds of nature that I remember hearing at Hatteras. I guess if you live in the city you have to resort to such gadgets to bring you in tune with nature.

If you really want to enjoy Hatteras and Ocracoke then clear your head of the sounds that surround you daily back home. City Sounds such as radio, television, cars, and so forth. It has always amazed me to see people on the beach with a radio playing or earplugs stuck in their heads listening to man made sounds when they could be listening to the sounds of nature. I often wonder why they pay good money to relax and get away from it all when they bring back home with them. I tell my friends who come to visit me, "If you really want to enjoy your vacation when you cross over Bonner Bridge at the inlet coming to the Island leave all your cares on the other side. The problems you leave there will be waiting for you when you return, but hopefully after your Hatteras retreat they will seem minor to you."

The good ole-days to me on Hatteras Island where the days before the noise from the television. I recall the quest of my father to have good TV reception. Being so far away from any TV station it was hard to get good reception with an antenna. He would go out and turn the antenna by hand to try to bring in reception. The picture and sound would come in for a while and it seemed like with the shift of the wind it would fade out. So out he would go again, and again to work with it. This went on time after time until Dad got so frustrated he pulled the antenna down and threw it over the hill. I feel today it would be more than frustration if we found ourselves without the sounds and pictures coming from our TV's. Doubtful this generation would be able to survive without electricity.

Seldom is there a time in our lives anymore when we can say we truly get away from it all. When was the last time you went some place and just listened to the true sounds of nature? Now I am not talking about the canned type of stuff that comes in our heads from a CD. That stuff is not real. There is no other stimuli that goes with it. To enjoy the sound of an oceans roar you need to see the waves and smell the salty air that accompanies the roar. To even better enhance the sounds, take your shoes off and let the water roll over your feet. Or even go a step further and stand waist deep in the ocean and feel the waves as they roll in and listen intently to the sounds they create. When you do this, all of your senses work together in harmony to provide you with the peace and solitude that only comes from actually being present on the beach. This is the real Hatteras and Ocracoke "get away from it all" experience.

Granted the sounds of the Islands are changing. I personally wish it where not the case, but we have to accept the fact we are no longer a small fishing village. There are a few people left on the Island that harvest the sea for a living. Our major industry today is the tourist business. For some ridiculous reason those who come here to open up a business just naturally think that Hatteras should look and sound like all other areas. They feel that what the tourist wants is the glitz, glamour, and razzmatazz you find in other tourist areas. This being the case they clutter the Islands with the same type stores, and amusements they find back home. I had a tourist say to me that if Hatteras keeps changing why should I spend big money to keep coming back here summer after summer. If it looks like, sounds like, and smells like back home, then I might as well stay back home. My reply is, thanks to the National Park there are many areas still left on Hatteras and Ocracoke that are not like back home. You can still find enough reasons to come to our Islands. If you look closely you will find many isolated areas where you can hear the true sounds of nature.

We all have favorite sounds. What is yours? Recently I came to realize that my favorite Island sound is slowly disappearing. The sound I am referring to is associated with my name. When I took the Dale Carnegie Course one of the golden rules was that the sweetest sound in any language is a person's name. I read in the Island Free Press obituaries of the death of two friends from my childhood, Reece Folb and Curtis Gray. Their passing made me aware that my favorite Island sound would soon be no more. My real name is Dewey Parr, Jr. When I was a child growing up on the Island no one ever called me Dewey. They called me Sonny, which was my nickname. The Islanders called my father Dewey or Parr, and I responded to the name Sonny.

Because of work I was away from the Island for a period of years only returning for holidays and vacations. Each time I returned I was always greeted as Sonny. The sound of the word Sonny was a sweet sound to my ears for it told me automatically that the person who spoke it was an Islander associated with my childhood. That sound gave me a warm feeling and sense of belonging. It was a sound I only heard on Hatteras Island. What a sweet sound it was and still is.

The last time I saw Reece Folb was in the Buxton Post Office when I went to pick up my mail. It was there he called me Sonny and we shared Island memories. It was in my cousin's barbershop that I had my last communication with Curtis Gray and he addressed me as Sonny.

I have no idea what you consider to be your Sweetest Sound. Take time to consider what sounds bring you joy. Should it be the sound of the ocean I hope you will come as often as possible to our beautiful Islands so you can enjoy sounds we enjoy daily. I guarantee if you sit on our beaches and just listen to the sounds of the Island it will have a lasting effect on your life. Should you come by the Old Gray House and see me, make my day by calling me Sonny.

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the legend of the devils pocketbook published in: June of 1996

by dewey parr

When I was a child, roaming the beach of Hatteras Island, I found a black shiny object about three inches long with horns on both ends. On the way home I stopped to see Aunt Pearl Midgette, my Sunday School teacher.

I asked, “what is this weird looking object”? She said, “that is the Devil’s Pocketbook”. The Devil carries a pocketbook full of bad things to trick people so he can destroy their lives and souls forever.

In the Bible it tells you about some of the contents of the Devil’s pocketbook, such as hate, drunkenness, lies, stealing. Don’t let the old Devil deceive you. The treasures he offers you out of his pocketbook will not bring you happiness. You can only find true happiness in the treasures that come from God, such as love, honesty and good clean living.”

Later on in life I came to understand that this black shiny object is the skate fish’s egg case. Even to this day, when I see a skate’s egg case on the beach, I call it the “Devil’s Pocketbook”. It reminds me of my Sunday School teacher’s lesson. “The Devil is always walking around to deceive people into following him instead of God.”

Devil’s Pocketbook

Skates lay their eggs in leathery cases known as Mermaid’s Purses

The skates you find on the Hatteras beach are flat bodied fish belonging to the ray family. You usually find them lurking on sandy bottoms near the shore. Fishermen on the Outer Banks consider them to be a nuisance and a trash fish. To the Hatteras angler it is a Devil fish because they hate to hook one.

In many countries the skate is considered to be a great catch. It’s meat is a delicacy to be served in the finest of restaurants. The meat is in the two wings. The wings will provide you with two nice fillets. I was told that immediately after you catch it you need to cut off the wings to avoid an ammonia smell. If the smell continues soak the wings in water with lemon juice. According to a friend, who ate skate in a restaurant, the flesh is pearly white with touches of pink. He said one of the good things is you don’t have to worry about bones to and it has a mild sweet taste. I suggest you try it and let me know what it is like. I have little or no desire to eat a skate. Try it, who knows you might like it. Remember at one time a lobster was thought to be a trash seafood.

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collecting cockles published in: January 1, 2008

by dewey parr

I don’t know why I do it. I just do it. When I am walking the Hatteras beaches I find myself picking up cockle shells. I especially like the big ones. They are more rigid and less likely to break. Cockles roll around in the ocean and the ridges keep the animal from slipping and sliding in the tides. The ridges on the shells has the same purpose as that on a corrugated tin roof. It adds strength to the shell and helps provide protection for the animal inside.

It could be that my early recollection of the shell from the Nursery Rhyme has helped peak my interest. Do you remember the one that goes, “Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary, How does your garden grow? With Cockle Shells and Silver Bells, and pretty maids all in a row.” Another reason for my fondness for the cockle shell might well be my recollection of how my family utilized the shell. Or better yet, could it be watching my crafty wife use cockle shells in making wreath and other crafts.

Cockle Shells Found On Hatteras Beach

I can recall my mother and grandmother taking a bag of cockle shells they had collected from the beach out to the chicken pen and crushing them on the ground until they were in small pieces. Their explanation for this was it helped the chickens digest their food. If you have ever observed chickens you will notice they scratch the soil picking up bits of shells, rocks, and. Chickens are like of lot of people my age. They don’t have any teeth of their own. They have a craw, which serves as a grinder for their food. They used the crushed cockle shells to help grind the food before it is sent to their stomach for digestion.

I was surprise to learn that in Ireland and parts of the British Isles at one time there was a huge industry built around the cockle shell. In one area called the Morecambe Bay the tides come rushing in and out so fast you cannot out run them. When the tides go out the bottom of the bay is visible and Cockle Pickers rush out to collect the cockle shells. They extract the animal from the shell and use it for food, crush the shell and sell it to the chicken farmers.

Another interesting thing they do with cockles is extract the animal and pickle it. It was a common thing to find big jars of pickled cockles in their pubs and general stores. It reminds me of the big old-fashioned jars of sour pickles that used to be in the Hatteras general stores. I can recall nibbling the end of those pickles and shuttering at the sour taste. They were really sour, but you kept going back for another bite. I have never eaten a pickled cockle and I am not sure I desire too. I guess it would not be any worse than eating a raw oyster.

I met two men one cold morning at Cape Point who were racking in the wash for whole cockle shells. My curiosity got the best of me and I asked them what they were going to do with the animals inside the cockle shell. They told me they were using them to feed the feral cats that hung around their Frisco homes. Guess everybody has a different use for sea life.

There was an incident on February 5, 2004 when 21 illegal Chinese workers drowned while collecting cockles as a result of the fast tides coming into the Morecambe Bay. This incident not only brought worldwide attention about the cockle shell but led to changes in the law in England regarding importation of illegal immigrants. Seems like history is repeating itself again for the one of the biggest problems facing our country today is what to do about illegal immigrants.

Our rising and falling tides are not as swift as those in that area. Incoming and outgoing tides need to be respected by those who visit the Islands. We had an incident in my mother’s family that taught us to respect the changing tides. My mother’s brother Isaac Gray was in the Palmico sound clamming in Oregon Inlet where the tide currents are unpredictable. He drowned leaving a wife and a baby.

I remember times when the hurricanes were approaching the Islands that the wind would blow the water completely out of the sound and the bottom would be exposed revealing many clams. It was during the lull, before the wind changed, that we would run out in the sounds collecting clams and running them back to shore. The temptation to keep running back and forth collecting clams was great even though we knew of the impending danger of the sudden wind change and the rolling back of a wall of water that could easily drown us. When those tides came rolling back it would be like Morecambe Bay. You would have no chance of out running them.

I recall a stupid thing I did while Mary and I were traveling in Nova Scotia in the Bay of Fundi area. We were driving around a small fishing village situated on a bay. I saw a beautiful pile of rounded rocks about fifty feet down the slope at the bottom of the bay area. Loving rocks like I do, the temptation was great to climb down and get one of those prized rocks to take back to Hatteras to remember my visit to my great grandmothers homeland. I made my way down to what I thought was a small stream to collect my treasure. When I brought it back to the top of the cliff I learned from a local that in another thirty minutes the tides would have been rolling in so fast I could not escape and I would have been under fifty feet of water.

Why do we do such foolish things I will never know. I guess it is because we enjoy the challenge and the excitement. Some people swing on the trapeze, walk tight ropes, fly to the moon, climb to the top of mountains, wrestle alligators, or as one man who comes to my shop every year, go into the Buxton woods and catch poisonous snakes and release them. Why we risk our lives I probably will never know. Why I keep collecting cockle shells to put along my path at the Old Gray House I will never know.

Could it be, when I look at the cockle shell, I see something that reminds me of the center of human life itself. If you take a close look at a whole Carolina Cockle Shell from a side view you will notice it is heart shaped. In fact the scientific name of the cockle shell reflects this. The scientific name of the cockle shell family is Cardidae. Cardiac is the term we associate with he heart. To me the cockle shell or the Carolina Heart Clam as I prefer to call it is a symbol of life and love.

This Is A Picture of Side View of Cockle Shell
Look Close And You Will See A Heart
The Carolina Heart Clam is a Symbol Of Live and Love

There a lot of crafty things you can do with the cockle shell besides using them in wreaths. One teacher at the Hatteras Elementary School one year had her class paint Christmas Scenes inside the shell to be sent to Washington to be hung on the national tree. My wife Mary, fills small net bags full of potpourri and glues them inside the shell. Another great idea is to use them for a dinner party place marker by writing the name of your guest inside the shell. Another expansion of that idea is have a Carolina Heart Clam guest basket and have them write their name inside of the shell with a magic marker and place them in the basket as a reminder of their visit. Probably the most wonderful thing about the Carolina Cockle shell is that it is plentiful and inexpensive. All you need is your imagination.

As for me I will just keep walking the Hatteras Beach collecting cockles. It is doubtful I will ever have a stature in my honor because of the cockle shell like Molly Malone has on Grafton Street in Dublin Ireland. Nor will I have a song written about me like she did entitled, “Cockles and Mussels”.

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living in a love basket for fifty five years published in: January 1, 2007

by dewey parr

Venus Flower Basket
Euplectella aspergillum
also known as a glass sponge

Over the years I have heard many stories about shells and creatures of the seas. None have caught my interest more than the one about the Venus Flower Basket. This story not only portrays the love one creature has for another, but the magnificence of the creator of all things.

The story is centered on a strange creature of the sea called the Venus Flower Basket or Euplectella aspergillum sponge. This animal of the sea produces a lattice like long finger about a foot long. When you look closely at the construction of this miracle of the sea it reminds you of frosted glass that has been spun and then crossed back and forth to produce a cage. The cage is anchored in very deep water at the bottom of the ocean with extremely fine hair like silicon fibers. The water freely flows through the openings that are about an eight of an inch in the lattice. It is the flowing water that provides the nutrients needed for the growth of this creature.

Upon close investigation you will notice that the lattice construction is fortified with an additional spiral-like substance that works its way to the top where it slightly fans out. The top is covered over so that nothing can escape from within it. When you lift the skeleton of this strange creature to your eye and peer down it is like looking into a tunnel with light coming through mesh openings. At the bottom you see what appears to a mixture of sand and other residue from the bottom of the ocean. If you shake it you will notice debris that resemble flakes of cereal rolling up and down the tube.

What fascinates me most about this phenomenon of the sea is the story that is told about how it becomes the host or home of two lovers. As the story goes two very tiny male and female shrimp while in the larvae stage willingly find their way into the basket like tunnel created by the Glass Sponge animal. They mate and make this glass sponge their home. This is why it was named the Venus Flower Basket. Venus as you know in mythology was the Goddess of love thus the idea of living together in a basket of love came into being.

I have heard a couple of versions how they became entrapped inside this basket of love for the remainder of their lives. One says they came through an opening in the top and it closed up. The other states they were so small at the time of their entrance into the basket of love that they came through the opening in the lattice. I like the latter one the best. When I tell the story I add they did what we do. They ate too much and grew so fat they could not get out. How they go there is immaterial. What is significant is they chose to be together to spend their lives living in a basket of love. They had babies and their babies left the basket through the opening. Their youngsters followed in their parents footsteps and sought out the love of their lives and a Venus Flower Basket in which to make their home.

As the story continues, this couple of their own accord who chose to be together in the this basket of love at the bottom of the sea not only lived in harmony and happiness together but remained there for their total lives. They cared for each other in their old age. Eventually they died and were buried together in their love basket. When you turn the sponge upside down and see something rolling around it is the remains of the two shrimp lovers that were united together till death.

The symbolism is so significant in this story from the sea that it is said that at one time in history Asian people sought a Venus Flower basket to give to young couples getting married to remind them of the importance of their vows to remain together in harmony and love for the remainder of their lives. I have a preacher friend who has incorporated this story into his wedding ceremonies as a means of stressing the true relationship a young couple getting married should have with each other.

Why, at this time in my life is this story from the sea so meaningful? Because my Mary and I will be celebrating 55 years of marriage come June 6, 1908. We have been living together all these years in a Venus Flower Basket of Love. Life has not always been easy for us as with most couples. We have had our ups and downs but we have stuck it out together. Now as we approach our final years together we not only depend on each other more but also find our love grows stronger with each fleeting moment.

It is not easy in today’s world for young couples getting married to survive. These are stressful times that take its toll on marriages. Anyone contemplating marriage definitely needs to be reminded of the seriousness of the marriage vows, especially the portion that goes, “till death do we part”. Marriage is not a bed of roses, as some seem to think. It has its many moments of joy. Many forget that with the roses come thorns that can pierce you. There are thorns of financial problems, sickness, and more that can wreck relationships, if you allow it to do so. The joy of marriage is being there for each other during the hard times and working things out together. Mary and I have found the sad moments or unexpected things that pop up seem to bind us together even closer.

I think the worst mistake made by many young couples is their refusal to accept each other as they are. Marriage is not something to be entered into lightly. You need to be happy with each other from the beginning and not take the attitude thathe or she will change after marriage. As one lady said, the vow I took said for better or worse and I found out he was worse that I took him for. Another young man said, after I married her I started calling her Angel, because she was always up in the air and harping on something.

Most successful marriages are based on recognizing that each one has different talents and traits that they can bring to the relationship. It is a merging of talents or abilities into single goals and hopes and aspirations that make for true happiness. I feel sorry for young couples who spend their time trying to change each other. Rather than spend their time putting each other down they need to be building each other up and praising each other for the abilities they have. It is much more fun to walk through life together accepting each other for what you are. And it is definitely more fun if you are doing it together on the beach of Hatteras Island as we have done over the years

Dewey and Mary Parr Have Been Walking Together Hand In Hand On The Hatteras Beach For Fifty-Five Years

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The ghost of kings point published in: october of 2007

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


Dewey Parr

Brigand's Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Buxton Woods
Larger Image Larger Image

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

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

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confronting the monsters of aging published in: July of 2007


Dewey Parr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monsters of Aging Update One Year Later Saptember 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memorial Day Memories


Dewey Parr

The stolen Swing Where the swing was before it was stolen









Saying Goodbye To And Old Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The stolen Swing Where the swing was before it was stolen

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

Swing Update

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the secret of sunrise published in: June of 1998


Dewey Parr








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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dewey Parr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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sand and antlions published in: december of 2006


Dewey Parr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dewey Parr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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my favorite island dog published in: october of 2001


Dewey Parr

Dewey Parr and
his sister Lucie,
with Queenie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have a favorite pet you remember?

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

Seaside Stress

There Is stress at the seashore, but islanders resist it


Dewey Parr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two very personal stories


Dewey Parr

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

Make The Case for Saving
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dewey Parr

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devil's Castle

The Devil's Castle is also known as Stinkhorn fungus

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

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

The Gathering of Christmas Past


Dewey Parr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gathering of Christmas Past

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

Hatteras and Ocracoke


Dewey Parr

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

Home Of The Worlds Greatest Lovers
Dewey parr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Telly and Jennifer

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Telly and Jennifer

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

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


Dewey Parr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is  Responsible For Caring For Abandoned Cemeteries?

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

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

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

Ray Schaaf In Beach Buggy

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


Dewey Parr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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

Larger Image

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.

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