Happy Holidays to all of our friends!

Ocracoke Lighthouse in a Winter Snow, 2002
Ocracoke Lighthouse Snow

As the depth of winter envelopes us we often come together with family and friends to pass through this season of long nights with meaningful rituals.

On Ocracoke, as elsewhere, many folks decorate their homes with lights and greens.

Ocracoke Christmas Decorations
Sue O'Niel's House

The Ocracoke Preservation Society hosted its annual Tree Lighting & Wassail Party on Friday, December 13.  The term “wassail” comes from the Old Norse language meaning “to be well or healthy.”  Today it refers to a traditional English toast to someone’s health, as well as to a hot drink made with cider, spices, and sugar.  Wassail is traditionally served in a large punch bowl during the Christmas season.  Although “wassail” can refer to riotous drinking and revelry, Ocracoke Preservation Society (OPS) normally hosts a rather mild gathering.

On Saturday, December 14, OPS also sponsored the second annual Historic District House Tour.  Eight homes were represented and over two hundred residents and visitors walked, biked, or drove through the village for an opportunity to view some of Ocracoke’s historic structures.

Later that evening, Jimmy & Linda Jackson and Jamie Jackson opened up their garage for another community Christmas party & pot luck dinner. Several hundred residents were there to share food, drink, stories, music and dance.

Tables filled with food line the garage

Paula visits with David as he readies his fiddle
David and Paula

A friend makes a special guest appearance

Several of us also gathered on December 22 for our second annual solstice pot luck dinner.

As we now know, of course, the earth is actually nearer the sun in January than it is in June — by three million miles.

The seasons of our year, therefore, are caused not  by the proximity of the earth to the sun, but by the 23.5º tilt of the earth’s axis. The angle of the earth’s rays to the surface of the earth varies based on how far the surface is tilted toward or away from the sun. 

At 8:14 pm EST, December 22, 2002, the northern hemisphere of the earth was tilted furthest away from the perpendicular angle.  This is the winter solstice — the first day of winter, when the sun appears lowest in the sky and night time hours are maximum.  The tilt also causes the seasons to be reversed in the southern hemisphere.

We continued last year’s tradition of crowning Ocracoke’s Monarch of the Winter Solstice.  Last year we followed a medieval tradition and baked a bean in a holiday cake.  Pat Tweedie, mother of Molasses Creek’s fiddler Dave, found the bean in her dessert and was crowned Queen in 2001.  This year we drew lots and Blanche Howard Jolliff was honored with a throne, a staff, a royal robe and a star-studded crown.

Blanche, Queen of the Solstice, 2002
Solstice Queen

In other news, the Ocracoke Assembly of God church held their annual Christmas program on Sunday, December 22.  The Methodist church hosted a live nativity on the church lawn this holiday, and conducted a traditional Christmas eve candlelight service.  Christmas caroling, again this year, was a joint venture of the Methodist and Assembly churches.  Caroling was on December 20.

Of course, the days will now be gradually lengthening, the sun will be rising higher and higher into the sky each day, and within a few months we will be looking for the first robins and the early signs of new growth.

All of us at Village Craftsmen join me in wishing you and yours the happiest of wintertime holidays and the very best in the coming new year.

Hoping to see you again soon,

Philip, Dallie, Jude, Amy, Mary and Leon


Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Village Craftsmen!

Last month I reported that one of the most common questions summer visitors ask us is, “What do you folks do here all winter?” I related that we often sit around after a family dinner or potluck, and retell some of the amusing comments and questions that we’ve heard over the years.

Quite a bit more goes on here, as well.  But mostly it involves local people just getting together to enjoy each other’s company.  As you might imagine, this time of year there’s not much commercial “entertainment” put on for the tourist trade.

However, it may be that someone has come into a couple of bushels of fresh oysters.  If we’re all lucky, they will invite friends over to sit around the dining room table (covered with newspapers, of course) to share jokes and stories while we shuck the slightly steamed delicacies, dip them in butter, and wash them down with cold beer.

On one warm November weekend Charles Temple organized a beach party to celebrate the “end of the season.”  Several dozen Ocracokers (young, old, and children) gathered to laugh, play frisbee, throw a baseball, and eat hot dogs & hamburgers.  As they say, “a good time was had by all.”

November Beach Party
Beach Party

Just before sunset we were all treated to the sight of a sun dog in the southwestern sky.

Autumn Sun Dog
Sun Dog

We built a fire not too far from the surf, and, after the sun went down and the air cooled, we sat in a circle roasting marshmallows and visiting long into the night.

Riley and the Beach Fire
Now and then I am fortunate enough to host a potluck for our local musicians.  Sitting around the living room after dinner I relax while listening  to familiar tunes played on guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandolin.

Ocrafolk Opry Performers at an Informal Jam Session:
Music Jam

Fiddler Dave and Miss Kitty Liven up my Living Room:
Music Jam

There is not much that is more rewarding than listening to friends strike up a tune for the pure pleasure of making music.

Many of us will be performing on Friday, November 29, for a local concert to benefit this upcoming year’s “Ocrafolk Festival of Story and Song.”  Look for more information about this delightful festival that is held each year during the first weekend in June.

Of course, the benefit concert is the day after Thanksgiving, and many of us will have just gathered at Gary and Kitty’s house for our annual Turkey Day get together.  Dozens of people fill the Mitchells’ home each year with casseroles, oysters, salads, homemade bread, cakes and pies — and the traditional turkey, stuffing, and gravy, of course.  After dinner,  we are usually treated to photography exhibits, music, or even storytelling.  What a feast!

Recently I learned of an interesting after-dinner parlor game for a large group of friends.  With a few slips of paper and a yen for fun you too can play Werewolf.  Just last week nineteen islanders got together for a potluck dinner and several hours of this newly discovered game.  It was loud and exciting, and once in a while the “villagers” were  actually successful in routing the lycanthrophic intruders from their midst.  One of the winter joys of living on Ocracoke is the sense of community and the ease of getting a large group of folks together for an evening of good fun.

Last month I promised a report on the first ever Howard Family Reunion.  Following is the article that appeared in our local newspaper, the “Ocracoke Observer:”

Howard Family Reunion

“Amateur genealogists are well known for seeking out the most noble and honorable members of their clans, although not a few actually revel in exposing the outrageous and colorful black sheep of the family.  The Howard family is little different from other families, boasting a wide assortment of the goodly and a few of the ignoble.

William Howard (1700-1795), the progenitor of at least three major branches of this prominent Ocracoke family, can count among his descendents successful musicians, writers, health-care professionals, judges, and four-star generals.  Nevertheless, William Howard himself, though possibly a rather well-to-do planter by 1759 when he purchased Ocracoke Island for 105 Pounds Sterling, may have been the very same William Howard who served as quartermaster to the infamous pirate Blackbeard in 1718.  Or perhaps he was the grandson of the villainous buccaneer.  We may never know.

In October, 2002, when the first Howard family reunion was held on the island, no fewer than 125 people descended on Ocracoke, from as far distant as New York, Arizona, and California.  Julie Howard of Ocracoke prepared an extensive, wall-mounted family tree that documented the hundreds of descendants of William.  Family members spent much time in front of the display identifying their branch of the tree, and penciling in the names of those not already included.

Family Members Trace Their Roots

Various members of the Howard clan placed books, photographs, and other memorabilia on view, while others shared information on their genealogical line.  Earl O’Neal from the island presented an exhaustive account of his research on the Howards of Ocracoke. Members of the family will be looking forward to the publication of his book sometime in the next year or two.

Martin and Jule Garrish, both descendants of William Howard, and accomplished island musicians, provided entertainment on Saturday evening.  Between sets, Philip Howard shared several stories about Ocracoke natives that illustrated their often not-so-straight-laced, and impish character.  Nearly everyone laughed heartily and seemed delighted to know that the family included a number of folks who were a little earthy, and who didn’t take themselves too seriously.

A highlight of the evening was a traditional Ocracoke square dance, complete with calls to “swing your partner,” “wring your dishrag,” “dance the star,” and “fall in line for the march.”

Howard Family Joins in a Traditional Ocracoke Squaredance

This reunion would not have happened without the dedication and enthusiasm of Teresa Howard Harrell and her extended family from Tarboro, NC.  Teresa spent more than two years planning the event. She invested much energy and not a little bit of cash getting the word out, planning the food and decorations, and making sure everything ran as smoothly as possible.

Descendants of Homer & Aliph Howard Share a Meal

During the weekend many family connections were identified or renewed.  Though little DNA may actually be shared by far-flung members from these various Howard branches, a meaningful bond was established among a wide assortment of people joined together by their relationship to their common ancestor, William Howard of Ocracoke.  We can only conjecture that William would be delighted to know that his descendants have been so prolific, and that they are justly proud of their heritage.”

We hope this gives you a sense of life on Ocracoke in the wintertime.  It’s quiet and there’s not much going on “out there,” but there’s plenty to keep us busy with family and good friends.

Again, we wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving, and we will be back in touch next month.

Philip and the whole gang at Village Craftsmen (Dallie, Jude, Amy, Mary, and Leon)


Fall Greetings from Ocracoke Island!

Perhaps it is because Ocracoke is so isolated, accessible only by boat or small plane, that throughout the summer months one of the questions visitors most frequently ask is “What do you do here all winter?”  As the season winds down local folks have more time to relax; to get together with neighbors, family and friends; and to just visit.  A frequent topic of conversation in the off season is “funny and off-the-wall questions & comments from summer visitors.”

Of course, we all know that anyone (including us) in new surroundings is often rightly befuddled and confused.  Nevertheless, we can’t help but be amused sometimes.

For most of the 33 years I have been in business on Ocracoke I have repeated the same refrain:  “I wish I’d been preserving all of these comments, questions, and interactions over the years.  I could write a book.”  Unfortunately I have forgotten most of them.  But a few gems (and the responses, from various, and sometimes impish, business owners) stand out in my memory, and I herewith share some of them with you.

  • [Standing on the Community Store Dock] “Where do we get the ferry that goes to that island over there where the lighthouse is?”

Ocracoke Lighthouse:
Ocracoke Lighthouse

  • “Excuse me,” [as customer is walking out the front door] “which way should I go?”
    • “Where are you trying to get to?”
    • “It doesn’t matter.”
    “Well, then, I guess it doesn’t much matter which way you go.”
  • “Has that tree always been there?”
    • “Is that a local cemetery across the street?”

Schooner Windfall:

  • [To the first mate on the Schooner Windfall] “How many sunset trips do you make each day?”


    • [Answer]  “How many would you be willing to pay for?”


  • [Visitors to Ocracoke frequently mispronounce the name of the island.  “Okakoke,” “Oracoke,” & “Okachoke” are common.  One gentleman, trying to be sensitive, approached one of the clerks at the Variety Store.]


    • “How do you pronounce the name of this place,” he asked.


    • The response: “The Va-rye-eh-tee Store.”


  • The Village Craftsmen sells kaleidoscopes and teleidoscopes.  The latter have no moving parts (no shards of colored glass, no glitter suspended in oil, no turning wheels).  There is a clear glass ball in the end which captures light from different objects in the room, and internal mirrors which divide the images and  then project them into the eyepiece as kaleidoscopic patterns.  To get the full effect, it is necessary to look at various objects around the room and watch the patterns change.  Misunderstanding the way they work, customers will often hold a teleidoscope up to their eye and look straight ahead, turning it after the fashion of a traditional kaleidoscope.

I was walking through the shop one afternoon when I spied a customer missing the full impact of the teleidoscope.  “Just look at some different things,” I suggested, helpfully.

“Oh, OK,” she responded meekly, and then carefully placed the teleidoscope back on the shelf.

  • “Is there a real beach on this island?  You know, one with a boardwalk.”

Ocracoke Beach:
Ocracoke Beach

  • “We went to the lighthouse, but it wasn’t there.”


  • “I notice this is a one-way street.  Does it come out somewhere on that end?”  [Suggested answer: “No, there is a huge parking lot at the end filled with rusting vehicles from {insert name of least favorite state here}.”]

Howard Street:
Howard Street

  • [At the Ocracoke Post Office] “Can you tell me where I can buy stamps?”
  • “What time does the 4 o’clock ferry leave?”
  • “Oh, we didn’t take a ferry.  We drove.”

In a few days the Community Center will be the gathering place for the first ever “Howard Family of Ocracoke Reunion.”  Teresa Howard Harrell, of Tarboro, NC, and great-great-great-great-great granddaughter of William Howard of Ocracoke has organized the event.  Based on advance registrations, there will be upwards of 150 people attending from as far away as Wyoming and California.

A number of activities have been planned, including entertainment by local musicians Martin Garrish & Friends, a traditional Ocracoke square dance, storytelling, and a family picnic.  Julia Howard is preparing a wall-mount family tree with plenty of extra space for folks to pencil in details of their own branch of the family.  We are looking forward to expanding our understanding of the history of the Howards of Ocracoke, as well as meeting many of the descendants of Ocracokers who ventured to other parts of the country in years past.

I will include a full report of the reunion in a future newsletter.

Until next time, all the best to you from,

Philip and the gang at Village Craftsmen