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Stories from
The Old Gray House

  1. Things we used to do on the islands

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

  3. What Islanders Did During Medical Emergencies

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

  5. garments of gray to garments of glory

  6. Fish and people

  7. Fifty years of clashing currents

  8. When Your Ship Sinks What Will Wash Ashore

  9. ghost of the Gray house


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

  12. the sweetest sound

  13. the legend of the devil's pocketbook

  14. collecting cockles

  15. living in a love basket for fifty five years

For More Stories Go To

RMS Stories:  Stories 46 - 60

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

Things we used to do on the islands published in: July of 1998


dewey parr


Jean Hooper still lives in Salvo. She has many memories of the things we used to do. Jean has been traveling from village to village as the Island Avon Lady for 43 years.

One of the questions often asked of us by visitors to the Old Gray House is, "What do people do here for entertainment?" I have been asked that question so many times in the last few years that I have developed a return question. "What do you do back home?" Their response boils down to the same thing. We eat, sleep, get up and go to work, take care of the kids or grandkids, maintain our homes, attend church, watch movies, go shopping, play with our computers and visit with our friends.

My response is, "Guess what? We do the same things you do only more." More in the sense that everything we do is amplified because of our source of permanent entertainment, the ocean and sound. The ocean prevents us from ever having a boring moment. It molds an attitude of friendliness and togetherness among those who live near it. This friendly attitude leads us to talk to one another and just enjoy being together. Ocean people celebrate one another's successes and weep over each others heartaches. Our world on the islands is so busy that it is hard to find time to keep up with all of the activities. Like anywhere else there are those who prefer to sit home and do nothing. The difference between here and city life is a matter of choice rather than a lack of opportunity to be involved. You have to remember in a resort area like this, if nothing else, we can be entertained by merely watching the antics of people who come here and ask, "What do you do here to keep from being bored?"

Jean Hooper and I were reminiscing about the things we did on the island during our early days for entertainment. Jean, who was born in Salvo and has lived there all her life, recalls vividly what we did as teenagers. She prefixed her remarks by saying she had fun and loved every minute of living in Salvo. The major difference I noticed in her description of her Hatteras Island childhood days from today was that there was not a generation gap. The adults joined in games with the kids and the kids entertained themselves. Jean's father was William Whidbee who was born in Buxton, and her mother was born in Salvo as Melvina Gray. Jean was one of five children, two brothers and two sisters. Her home place was on the west end of Salvo across from the Methodist church. You would have to know the size of Salvo back then to appreciate Jean's comments about how much fun they had and never knew a boring day. Young and old went to the beach and played games, built bonfires, and had wiener and marshmallow roasts. There was always some type of community activity on the beach or at the Roadanthe Schoolhouse. The school was located where the community building is now. Jean attended the Rodanthe School until the eleventh grade and then they consolidated the schools to Buxton. It was located on the Dark Ridge Road, now called Light Plant Road, where the state garage is now. That was the same school I attended.

Many of the home games we played back then have long been forgotten. Still, we have fond memories of the fun times we shared. Simple yet fun games such as Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Do you remember that one? You had to repeat Ha! five times without laughing. The one who could do it the longest was the winner. Jean said Nora Herbert was the Ha! Ha! queen of Rodanthe. She always could do it the longest. There were other parlor games we all played such as "Fingers" and "Clap In, Clap Out." Remember those boy and girl games? To refresh your memory, "Fingers" was the game where a blind folded girl sat in a chair in the center of the room and held up two fingers. Then two boys were chosen to stand behind her and hold on to her fingers. She was to choose one finger and take off the blindfold and see the boy of her choice. It was then her obligation to go outside and walk around the house with the boy and come back in to face the teasing. "Clap; In, Clap Out" was similar. Chairs were placed in a circle in the middle of the room with girls standing behind them. A boy was sent out of the room and a girl's chair was designated as the chosen chair. The boy was to come in when the clapping started. He walked around the room and then chose a chair to sit in. If he got the wrong chair he was shamed out of the room and the process was repeated until he got the right chair. Now I ask you, who could be bored with such exciting times as the island kids had. Of course when all else failed we had bob-jacks, pick-up-sticks and candy boiling. As we got older we could sneak off to the "bad" boy and girl places were they had loud music and dancing, such as Buxton's Bucket of Blood, Trent's (or Frisco's) Tandy's Place or Hatteras Village's Beacon.

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

Islanders are seen here square dancing at the Beacon
which was located in Hatteras village.

Like Jean Hooper, since my childhood days to the present I cannot ever remember having a day on the island that I was bored. Living in a beautiful area like this, where nature abounds, you find pleasure in the simple things. I recall an evening of family enjoyment that we shared while sitting on the screened porch. In the corner we spied a spider beginning to work diligently in building a web for her evening catch. We sat in amazement as we watched the spider spin that web. Not only was it an engineering feat, but it was absolutely beyond belief to see that spider swing from one corner to the other corner of the old porch. She attached and looped her web as skillful as the island fishermen tying their nets. Back and forth she swung creating a work of art that was a useful tool for catching her food. We watched the spider and shared the moments together in conversation not only about the usefulness and dangers of spiders but everyday things as well. Before we realized it the hours flew by and the evening was drawing to close. As we prepared to leave the porch to go to bed I took one last glance at the spider's completed web glistening in the moonlight. I remember how anxious I was the next morning to dash to the porch and see what the spider had caught in her web overnight.

I learned from that evening's experience to appreciate the value of spiders in eliminating pesky insects. They were similar to the members of my seafaring family. The spider was doing the same things that islanders did day in and out. They tied nets and set them out to catch fish. They hauled in their catch. They ate the fish and took what they didn't use to the local fish house to be sold for others to eat. Like the old spider, when their nets were damaged, they repaired them and reset them for the next catch. This process continued throughout the generations day after day, and year after year.

Even today when I come across a spider's web in my garden I do not destroy it. I have learned that different spiders have different designs in their webs. An interesting way to study spider webs is to sneak up on them and spray them lightly with black paint. Be careful not to kill the spider or get bitten. Slowly bring a sheet of white construction paper in contact with the web to capture your spider web picture. You can achieve different effects by altering the color paint and construction paper. If you know the species of the spider you can then compare its web with other spiders to see if there is any significant difference. I can assure you that spending an evening, as a family watching a spider spin a web will provide you with more than scientific information about spiders. It might be the beginning of a family bonding that will last a lifetime.

Dewey Parr is seen here looking at a spider along the Old Gray House Garden Path. This particular spider is known to the Islanders as the Dooms Day Spider.

Note:  If you are not familiar with the Island Legend of The Writing Spider or the Dooms Day Spider click here.

Another interesting thing we did on the island was to visit the trash dumps. The dump was a good place to meet and talk with people. As the island's population began to grow so did our trash dumps. Later on it got so that the people who come here for the summer frequented the dump as much as the locals. In fact some still do. If you needed a board you went to the dump before you went to the building supply place. To many of the islanders it was a source of entertainment as well as a way to acquire possessions they would normally never have. You have to appreciate the fact that for years collecting things that washed up on the beach was a way of life for the islanders. They did not have access to all of the supplies they had on the mainland. It was said by the members of my family that in times past many of the merchant marines who wanted to help the people on the islands would wait to throw items from their ships when they passed by the islands in hopes that they would wash up on the beaches. It was only natural that as our islands began to grow that the trash dumps became more appealing. It was a simple matter to switch from the beach to the dump. The Buxton Naval Base and the Coast Guard stations threw away a lot of things the islanders found useful.

My Uncle Kendrick Gray, (The Ghost of the Gray House), made it a habit of going to what he called Sears and Roebuck (The dump) everyday. It was amazing what he found there. Lumber, nails, paint, furniture, tools and etc. You name it, it was there. As Ken got older he was not able to lug stuff home so he would spot it (hide it in the bushes) and have me go back with him to haul it home. When he died and it took three huge flat-bed trucks to return to the dump all the lumber he had stuffed under the Old Gray House. As I look around the old house today, I still see many items that came from the Hatteras Island branch of "Sears" and the beach. In fact the row of shrubs in front of the Old Gray House came from the dump.

In the thirties most people did what their forefathers did before them. They dumped their trash on their own property. They dug deep holes and buried their trash in it and tossed a little sand on top. We didn't have much that wasn't biodegradable. Plastics didn't exist and about the only thing that didn't rot away was glass and iron. There are buried treasures of antique bottles still to be found all over the islands. As the population began to increase there were areas where people began to concentrate on dumping their trash. I remember one such location at the end of Rocky Rollison Road. It is still there today. You can approach it by boat from the Muddy Marsh Ditch. Another one I distinctly recall was the one on the beach area in the vicinity of the Park Service Headquarters. To me it was a spooky place to go. The turkey vultures were lined up in the trees watching everybody that approached the dump. You don't see any of them on the islands today, but when you have seen one you never forget it. They are big and ugly scavengers that remind you of the devil's death angels.

Times have definitely changed today from yesterday when it comes to trash removal. One summer when we were living in the Old Gray House, Mary and I could hardly wait to show our friends from Ohio who came to visit us just how modern our island had become. When Thursday trash day came we all waited early in the morning on the front porch until we heard the trash truck coming down Light Plant Road. Then we dashed out to the roadside and lined up by our new county trash can to watch the big claw come reaching out from the new trash truck to pick up our trash can and empty it and set it back down. We cheered and applauded the driver. He stopped in amazement, laughed and went on his way. I told our friends, "See what did I tell you. We are progressive on this island." We still laugh about it when we get together.

There is no doubt about it. Those who come to the islands never find time to be bored. There is always something new and different to do. Little simple things you never thought about or never had time to do at home. Ray and Clara, from New Jersey, who now reside on the island in Kinnakeet Shores shared with me the simple joy they used to get coming to the island and staying in the same cottage, year after year, at Lighthouse View Motel. Their evenings were occupied with a beach walk to the lighthouse and back, a game of cards and listening to the frogs sing.

I hope these few things we have shared with you might help in responding to someone who asks you, "What do you people do here?" You can tell them we play parlor games, go to the dump, watch spiders spin webs, caterpillars cross the road, and talk to and help one another. If you have interesting things you have done on the islands drop by and visit with me at the Old Gray House. Would love to sit under the Old Oak Tree and chat with you.

Crossing the Equator Aboard the USS Cape Isabel

Crossing the Equator Aboard the USS Cape Isabel

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

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 Ocracoke 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

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

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


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

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

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.


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


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


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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."

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

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


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.

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

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


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


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


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.

Sonny Parr and his dog Queenie

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.

Palmer L. Gray (1926-1945)

Palmer Gray died in a battle in Germany on March 9, 1945.

It was a sad day for the Gray family when the news came that Palmer who was only 19 had lost his life. On the same day Palmer died Adolf Hitler issued his Nero Decree which called for the destruction of all of Germany’s infrastructure to prevent the allies from using them. When will our world leaders come to realize there are no winners in war? There is only death and destruction on both sides for innocent individuals like Palmer.

Palmer Gray

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


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


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


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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