April 26, 2010
Don Wood Thanksgiving Stories
years Ocracoke has been home to many a colorful character. Don Wood (1936-1998)
was one of the more interesting. Don sold a marina in New Jersey and moved to
the island sometime in the early to mid 1970s. Although he never had a “regular
job” again, Don often remarked that he had to work harder than he ever had, mostly
on self-discipline, just to be able to live self sufficiently without a “9-5”
arriving on the island Don built a modest home at Oyster Creek that he never
quite got around to completing. And that did not concern him at all. His
half-finished living room and workshop melded together seamlessly. Don’s table
saw, sanders, hand tools, welders, and other equipment competed for space with
tables, chairs, and floor lamps.
Don kept his homemade house boat tied up to his dock, and in the yard he parked
an old school bus (loaded with hoses, wire, compressors, and assorted other
Don often took his houseboat out into the sound for days at a time to get away
from crowds, there to live au-naturel, feasting on fish, clams, and crabs he
caught. Don’s houseboat, cobbled together with whatever materials were at hand,
and anchored near Howard’s Reef, was a peculiar sight that often attracted
vacationing boaters. Don quickly tired of these maritime sight seers, and developed
a strategy of hurling empty oyster shells their way in order to keep them at
Don found it
more convenient to let visitors stay on his houseboat, rather than in his
house, so he purchased a small port-a-potty. He soon regretted that decision, as he
frequently found himself struggling from the boat to the Park Service restrooms
to empty the potty. In short order he tossed out the port-a-potty and brought
back a five gallon plastic bucket. His guests, he realized, would be forced to
empty that themselves!
challenging or adventurous fascinated Don. Unwilling to lead a boring
life, he sought out activities that stimulated his active mind and kept
his agile body busy. Many Ocracokers remember looking up into the sky
and seeing Don fly by in his ultralight airplane.
Don Wood over Pamlico Sound in his Ultralight:
(Click on photo to view a larger image.)
loved music, especially old-time "homemade" music. Whenever island
musicians gathered just for the fun of jamming together it was not
unusual to see Don, a broad grin on his face, adding rhythm and bass
with his "gut bucket," a galvanized wash tub, mop handle, and sturdy
he traveled in his bus to Mora, New Mexico, an unincorporated village near
Taos, where he also owned property, and where his girlfriend lived. Mora suited
Don in much the same way that Ocracoke in the off-season did. Both were quiet,
isolated, and perfect for someone who was fiercely independent.
Don was also intelligent and talented...and particularly unpretentious. I
seldom saw him in anything but well-worn tan coveralls or cut-off shorts. He
was often bare footed, and the grime on his hands betrayed endless hours
tinkering with outboard motors, transmissions, bicycles, and the like.
In spite of
his occasional need for solitude, Don was exceptionally friendly and out-going.
He was especially fond of old-time native islanders, and often invited Fowler
O'Neal, my father Lawton Howard, and others to his house for homemade clam
chowder and biscuits.
Lawton Howard, Don Wood, & Fowler O'Neal:
(Click on photo to view a larger image.)
Don wasn’t a
fastidious cook, nor did he have the most sanitized kitchen or work area. If
he’d just finished hauling bricks for some outdoor project his biscuits turned
out light red. If he’d recently been working on his outboard motor or bus
engine his biscuits were a shade of gray.
Don loved to
share stories, and he enjoyed hearing about island escapades and antics. Don
laughed easily and heartily whenever he heard a good tale, and he almost always
had one of his own to tell.
unconventional people, and told me more than once that Fowler (with his
nautical tattoos, colorful language, and independent spirit), was the true
"hippy," unlike a tie-dye-wearing, college educated, pseudo-rebel.
Whenever Don purchased a new item (bicycle, outboard motor, or wheelbarrow,
e.g.) he immediately painted it (with a brush) a nondescript, muddy brown. That
way, he explained, he wouldn't have to worry about anyone being tempted to
steal it. Don's ex-wife once described Don as "creative with ugly
In the mid
1990s Don’s daughter, Stephanie, had the opportunity to house sit for Brigitta,
a neighbor who was planning to be off the island for several weeks. The house
was ideally arranged so that Stephanie could have the entire downstairs to
herself. At the top of the stairs Brigitta hung a heavy curtain, both to
conserve heat, and as a reminder about how the space was divided.
living at his own house on Oyster Creek.
Near the end
of November Don and Stephanie were both invited to a traditional Thanksgiving
dinner with friends in the village. The
dinner was planned for mid afternoon, so Don took advantage of the morning to
do some fishing. When he arrived at Stephanie’s, perched on his homemade double
bike (two old beach cruisers welded together, side by side, with horizontal
bars and a large basket in between), he reeked of fish.
insisted that her father clean up before going to dinner. While Stephanie was
getting ready, Don explored the house and discovered Brigitta’s large whirlpool
bathtub upstairs just off the master bedroom. It was exactly what he needed.
Once he had
settled down to enjoy the warm water and the powerful jets, Don noticed dozens
of bottles of lotions, beauty creams, gels, and perfumes, as well as scented
soaps and aromatic bubble bath oils.
emerged from the tub an hour later, and walked down the stairs, Stephanie was
amazed. Don looked like a million dollars…and he smelled like a French
bordello! He had experimented with every scent and lotion.
As Don and
Stephanie pedaled through the village a fragrant breeze of feminine aromas
wafted behind them, turning heads as they passed.
It was a
Thanksgiving to remember.
Thanksgiving was the occasion for another of Don’s favorite stories. It was
with great delight that he told me about the time he was invited to two
Thanksgiving dinners. Stephanie was not living on the island at the time, and,
of course Don had dressed in his usual fashion (no one really expected anything
different)...old tan coveralls and work boots. Late in the afternoon, after his
second dinner, he was walking down Lighthouse Road, pushing his badly painted
bicycle. With his long unkempt hair and shaggy gray beard he stood out, even on
A well-to-do tourist couple had just left the dining room at the Island Inn
where they had enjoyed a traditional turkey dinner with all the fixings. They
had brought their leftovers with them, and were slowly driving down Lighthouse
Road in their black Lincoln Continental when they spied Don.
The car stopped next to Don, and the window went down. The woman, impeccably
dressed, with well-coiffed hair and fancy jewelry, handed the bag of leftovers
out to Don. "Please take this, and have a Happy Thanksgiving," she
said with a note of compassion in her voice.
"Thank you," Don replied, as he slipped his third Thanksgiving dinner
into his bike basket, and ambled back home.
(Look for more Don Wood stories in a future Ocracoke Newsletter!)