Winter is a time for walking on the beach.  Sometimes it is cold and windy, but the island is quiet this season of the year, so a stroll along the water’s edge is almost always an opportunity for solitude and reflection.

Winter Beach
Ocracoke Beach

Earlier this month, as I climbed across the dunes I was treated to a pod of dolphins not many yards off-shore.  Close to two dozen of these intriguing mammals were swimming leisurely south along the beach.

As I watched the dolphins move methodically away from my vantage point thousands of black cormorants flew overhead, intent on warmer weather to the south. One after another flock (some with scores of birds moving in fluid formation, others numbering only a dozen or fewer) passed by.  Many were flapping their wings just inches above the water while an equal number flew 50, 60 or more feet above my head.

I was reminded of the diversity of life on this fascinating planet.  I was equally aware of my reasons for choosing to live here, on Ocracoke Island.  My rich family history plays an important role, to be sure, as does the rewarding sense of community that we enjoy.  But the closeness to nature and her constant reminders of a simplified life almost always encourage a tranquil sense of awe and appreciation.

As I followed the cormorants another thought entered my head as well, and a broad smile came over my face. I was remembering reading about an incident that occurred on Ocracoke beach in February, 1887.  I knew about this humorous encounter because Ellen Marie Cloud had compiled numerous abstracts from miscellaneous newspapers that were published in Beaufort, NC between 1876 & 1893.  Following is this account as recorded in “The Weekly Record” Beaufort, NC, Thursday, February 10, 1887:

“Messers Dan Williams and Ben Neal while patrolling the beach at Ocracoke during a stormy night last week were compelled to lie down to escape injury from a tremendous flock of geese making their way down the Banks.  In the meantime Mr. Williams, while lying flat on his back, caught four of the geese alive.  This story seems almost incredible, but it is nevertheless true.”

If you’ve ever seen such a huge flock of birds you would be a believer, as I now am!

This is also the time of year for whale sightings on Ocracoke.  Many of you may not be aware that whaling was an activity engaged in by some of our early Outer Banks settlers.  In fact, “Try Yard Creek” (one of the remnants of seven old inlets on Ocracoke) was named for the facility located nearby for the “trying” or rendering of whale oil from blubber.

Whales today are rare, of course, especially close to shore, but most local reports of these majestic creatures occur in late November or early December. In all the time I have walked this beach, especially in the off-season, I always keep my eyes open for whales.  I was rewarded only once, however, two years ago.

Just days after Thanksgiving, 1998, I was sitting on a dune enjoying a cool but pleasant early afternoon  quiet time.  Suddenly, just beyond the breakers, a massive black form broke the surface of the water. Immediately I stood up for a better look as the creature disappeared from view.  It was moving southward parallel with the shoreline so I walked along, in that direction.  In short order I caught another glimpse of the whale’s enormous back as it gently rolled along, apparently feeding in the nearby waters.

This leviathan was in no hurry.  I could easily keep up with its pace as it surfaced several more times just off-shore.  Of course, I was hoping to see it breech or blow, but it never even treated me to a view of its head or flukes.  Eventually it simply disappeared, presumably headed back to the open sea. Nevertheless I felt blessed to be visited by such a massive, yet graceful, creature.  Ocracoke is often full of surprises….almost always pleasant ones!

Of course, the island is quiet this time of year.  But the winter darkness is softened by numerous holiday decorations.

Vince & Sue O’Neal’s House
Sue O'Niel's House

In addition the school as well as the Methodist & Assembly of God churches sponsor Christmas programs for the community.  We have also come to look forward to the  wassail party that is hosted by the Ocracoke Preservation Society.  An open house at the museum is combined with  hot cider, homemade cookies, chamber music and the lighting of the community Christmas tree.  It is rumored that Santa might even show up!

We are also all looking forward to the annual community pot luck and party at “Jimmy’s Garage.”  Jimmy and Linda and Jamie move all the cars and engine parts out of the way, clean everything up spic & span,  and bring in picnic tables from all over the village.  Everyone brings a covered dish to share and after supper the music and dancing begins.  Everyone is sure to have a rousing good time again this December 14.

All of us at Village Craftsmen wish you sincere holiday greetings!  May the rest of 2000 be filled with joyful celebrations, delicious food, close friends, loving family and time for rest and relaxation.

Philip, Lawton, Dallie, Jude, Travis, Amy & Julie


Well hey! Leon here–

For those of you who don’t know me (can’t imagine that!) I’m the very handsome black & white cat that lives at Village Craftsmen.

Leon the Cat
Philip took the month of November off.  He asked me to fill in for him writing the newsletter this month.   Glad to oblige!

The season has finally wound down and things are quieting on the island.  We who live here sure do enjoy the off season.  Don’t get me wrong….we’re glad to see you when ya’ll come, but when you’re here we don’t have time to see each other much.  This time of year local folks visit a lot catching up on all the gossip and such.  You know the saying here on the island: “We don’t care what you do.  We just want to know about it.”  This is the time of year we find out about it, whatever it is.

Halloween is a big holiday here.  Everyone dresses up some.  We cats hide out mostly and watch all this people foolishness.  They do work hard during the season, though, so I guess they’re entitled to a bit of craziness.  They do go on!

But back to me.  I suppose it’s a surprise to some of you folks to come in a shop and find cats lounging about.  They tell me that doesn’t happen in cities.  Wonder where the cats hang out in cities!

Let me tell you about cats on Ocracoke.  Life is good here on the island for some of us.  Some don’t have real homes though.  There are the “jail” cats ’cause they hang around the dumpsters at the jail. Some are “Variety Store” cats ’cause they hang out back of the store, and there are many more colonies all over the island.  A lot of folks feed the cats that don’t have homes.  Nice folks here on Ocracoke.

Then we have the “Ocracats” group.  They’re folks who love cats a whole lot (what’s not to love?).  They collect money to have the feral cats spayed and neutered.  So when you see the collection jars in the shops be generous!  No sense in havin’ more kitties than can be properly loved.

I sure do get my share of admiration.  I love to hear the visitors, their voices filled with awe, exclaim “Look at that beautiful cat!  He’s so big!”

Then always the questions: “How old is he?”  “How much does he weigh?”

Just think , if upon meeting you someone asked you those questions!

Everyone who comes in the shop wants to pet me.  Jude always says “By October ya’ll have petted me bald.”  (She’s just kiddin’.  Never can get too much love, I say.)

Thanksgiving isn’t far off.  I wish ya’ll joy and the closeness to friends and family that we enjoy on the island.  This place is about community, you know.  We all hope that when you visit you are able somehow to take this sense of community home with you and some of the peace that we enjoy.

Well, it’s a snack for me….then a nap.  Life is good.

By the way, I’m 9 years old and weigh 20 pounds.

I’ve been thinking about starting a fan club.  Whatta ya’ll think?



P.S.  Philip did want me to remind you that “Bon Appetite” will again be featuring more of our kitchen items in their classy magazine.  Actually we understand that our wild cherry kitchen utensils will be included in the December issue (it will be on newsstands in mid-November).  You can see these items (and get 10% off this month!) just by clicking the “November Specials” link at the top of the page.

Oh yeah, be sure to remember the Village Craftsmen when you are doing your holiday shopping this year.  Check out the rest of this great web site.  Philip has put hundreds of our top-quality crafts on-line.  And it’s easy to navigate!  Just click on any of the links in our “Catalog Table of Contents” on the left.


Last month I shared with you a short story about Julius Bryant and one of his floundering adventures in the mid-50’s.  Below is a more recent photo of Julius and a 21 pound flounder he caught several years ago. 

Julius Bryant & Flounder, photo courtesy of Ann Ehringhaus:
Julius and Flounder
This photo was taken by Ann Ehringhaus, and is included in her book Ocracoke Portrait.  When you have a chance to look at Ann’s book be sure to read the accompanying story.  It is a hilarious account of Kenny Ballance and Julius’ sister Babe taking the frozen flounder on a plane to New York City.

All of us at Village Craftsmen hope you had an enjoyable summer.  In spite of several rainy spells, especially in early August, the weather on the island has been generally warm but pleasant.  We are looking forward to a very nice Fall as it begins to cool off a little.

We were informed recently that “Bon Appetite” magazine will be publishing an article in their November issue that features two craft galleries in each of several regions of the U.S.   We were pleased to hear that their staff had discovered our web site and intend to use the Village Craftsmen as one of the two shops for the Southeast region.

We have sent them a Hatteras Peppermill for them to photograph.  Look for the article–and the picture.  It should be on the newsstands by mid-October.

Bon Appetite also requested some of our Wild Cherry and Stainless Steel Kitchen Utensils.  We understand these will be included in their December issue.

Many readers of this newsletter will remember when Jack Willis ran a small grocery store on his dock on Cockle Creek (now sometimes called Silver Lake).  O’Neal’s Dockside tackle shop operated in the building for a while and Rudy and Donald Austin continue to tie their boats to this dock for their excursion tours to Portsmouth Island.

Jack’s Dock
Jack's Dock

More than forty years ago this dock was the scene of a funny encounter between my father’s youngest brother and an unnamed island visitor.  I hope you enjoy the following story I wrote several years ago:

“Uncle Homer, my father’s youngest brother, was known by all as a wild and crazy character.  Even as a youth, among his own kin, he had a reputation for unpredictability and foolishness.  The youngest of the fourteen children, he was spoiled and pampered by his aging father.  Unfortunately, at an early age he flirted with and was seduced by alcohol.

The island was legally dry when he was growing up so store-bought beer, wine and hard liquor could be difficult to come by even after Prohibition was repealed in 1933.  As his addiction progressed,  “Little Homer” as he came to be called, sought out unconventional, and often dangerous sources of alcohol.  After-shave lotion, cough syrup and vanilla extract were perennial favorites in those days.  At first, the booze only heightened his playful nature, providing hours of stories and good-natured tales for the old men who sat on the porch of the general store or on benches out on the docks, whittling small birds. These birds were carved out of cedar with wings cut from the appropriately curved wooden ice cream spoons provided with every small container of the now-available Mayola ice cream.  (Lemon was my favorite!)

On one occasion before tourism had become a major industry on the island Homer was standing on Jack’s dock .  Jack Willis ran a small grocery and general store that was supported by creosoted pilings out over the harbor.  The dock ran past the store and wrapped around beyond the back door,  providing copious space for embarking or disembarking from the fishing boats that tied up there, as well as room for cleaning fish, swapping stories or just hanging about to visit.  It was a warm summer day. Homer was leaning with his back against the store, his left leg bent at the knee, the sole of his left foot resting lightly against the building.  He was wearing a white tee-shirt, the tattoos on his muscular arms advertising his status as a seasoned mariner. His dungarees were rolled up to mid-calf so he wouldn’t step on them as he walked barefoot through the deep soft sand lanes that connected the homes and stores in the village.  Of course he wore his traditional white sailor’s cap. He had served in the navy and he often wore his distinctive hat.  Beside him stood his friend and companion, “Little Edward.”

Presently, a stranger wandered by.

At that time the mail boat made the trip from the mainland only once a day.  In addition to mail, ice, pepsi-colas, and a limited number of groceries, the “Aleta” carried a few passengers.  Mostly these were islanders or relatives who had moved away and were returning to visit family and friends.  Occasionally, however, a brave soul from the mainland found his way to this strange land that time had temporarily forgotten.

Everyone noticed a stranger.

As the newcomer approached Homer, his mischievous mind pondered the possibilities.  Without a word, he stood up straight when the stranger came alongside him.  Just as quietly, he turned with a fluidity of motion and stepped forward in the same direction as his new companion.  And then, as if it were not only socially acceptable, but also expected, he wrapped his left arm around his new friend’s waist and proceeded to accompany him on his journey down the dock.  It happened so suddenly and so nonchalantly, that this bewildered fellow was too startled to hesitate or resist. Joined in newfound, but congenial camaraderie by a curious but perversely likeable native he could not imagine what lay ahead.

Trustingly and naively, this gentleman from the land of courtesy and good manners was not prepared for Uncle Homer’s island humor.  He could hardly believe it when, at the very end of the pier, Homer held tight and they continued to walk, like two quintessential cartoon characters, directly out over the water until even Homer’s good humor could not sustain them and they plunged, side-by-side, feet first, into the harbor.”

No one can remember how the stranger reacted, except to note that he did not drown, and he was not injured!  In those days no one was concerned about lawsuits.  It was just one more excuse to enjoy a good laugh thanks to the unpredictable and impish nature of one of our own.  And, of course, it was one more story to pass down through the generations.

The next time you walk out onto Jack’s dock try to imagine what you would have thought if Uncle Homer had been your first introduction to Ocracoke!

Those of us who live on the island frequently hear folks tell us how much they wish they could move here.  (Frankly we’re glad not too many do–there just isn’t enough room on this tiny sand bar.)  But just in case you are thinking seriously about such a move we have decided to show you a little inside peek at island life.

Below is a recent photo of Travis relaxing in the Village Craftsmen employee lounge.

Travis in the employee lounge:

And a close-up of our modern, high-tech lounge chair.

Village Craftsmen employee lounge chair:

We present these photos just in case you might be feeling smug about your fancy office building in one of our great metropolises.  We want you to know that we enjoy nearly every luxury you have–and maybe a few more, besides.

Until next time, all of the staff at Village Craftsmen send you our wishes for a great fall and we hope to see you soon, or at least next season.