Summer is upon us and soon it will be Independence Day. If you will be on the island July 4 be sure to check the schedule of events. These include the annual sand castle contest, sky-diving demonstration, Blackbeard appearance, classic car show, lighthouse tours, old-time parade, and fireworks display.
In the midst of all the summer activities it is well to remember our island history and the unique contributions of many of our native O’cockers. Following is a short story I wrote based on one of my Aunt Leevella’s common Ocracoke sayings.
Leevella & Daughter, Martha Dean, 1961:
This photo was taken not far from Village Craftsmen. Note the small dune and sea oats behind the two women. The road is deep, soft sand. Behind them is Silver Lake Harbor.
“Too late,” Leevella admonished, “I’ve done promised Freener.” Martha Dean had hoped her mama would pick her a plump, juicy fig when she stepped outside to empty her wash basin. Ocracokers knew that fig trees fared best when someone lived nearby. That was because everyone emptied their dish water on the oyster shells at the base of the fig trees. It was not just the water. It had something to do with a little bit of soap and maybe a few food scraps.
But Martha Dean was too late in asking. Leevella had already finished this last of the clean-up chores and was looking forward to a moment’s rest in the parlor.
Martha Dean wouldn’t get her fig, at least not unless she was willing to walk outside and pick it herself. On this sweltering August evening the thirsty ‘skeeters were swarming so thick you could hear them humming like a new frigedaire when you put your ear up to the side of the white porcelain box. Grandmama Aliph, who lived just across the narrow sandy lane, was, like most of the older folks, in the habit of painting her screens with kerosene to help keep the bugs out of the house. But Leevella was content just to swat the few strays that managed to follow her into the sittin’ room.
After Leevella had lowered herself down into a nice soft chair Martha Dean inquired, “Tell me again who Freener was, mama. And what does a promise have to do with not getting me a fig?”
“Freener,” Leevella explained, was short for Epherena who was born on the island in 1867 and died here in 1948. She and her husband lived “up Trent.” Years ago, sometime in the late 1800’s, Alexander Garrish had fallen in love. When he asked his girlfriend for her hand in marriage she turned him down. She refused his offer so many times that he finally gave up and quit trying anymore. He even quit asking her out. But then one day she decided that it was time to get married and told him so. Unfortunately, by then Alex had fallen in love with Epherena Fulcher. (Her nickname, “Freena” was pronounced “Freener” by O’cockers). Thus, the origin of the saying. “Too late,” he told her, “I’ve done promised Freener.”
No one seems to know who Alexander’s first love was, but the saying, though no longer common, is remembered by most of the older residents.
Epherena is, to say the least, an odd name. It reminds me of many other unusual island names. From my childhood I was fascinated by our own family monikers: Aliph, Zilphia, Failing, Cordelia, Leevella, and many others.
I don’t know where most of these originated (some are Biblical, some just archaic), but I’ve cataloged over one-hundred Ocracoke names from the last two-hundred years that are unique, unusual, uncommon or otherwise noteworthy.
There are more than 80 small cemeteries scattered throughout the village, including several Howard family plots across the lane from Village Craftsmen. When you are next on the island look for some of these names on our tombstones:
Callas or Callis
Tilmon or Tilman
Be sure to stop by and say hello on your next visit to Ocracoke. We are adding new craft items regularly. Click on the “What’s New” link near the top left of the page to view some of our latest additions.
Until next time, have a great summer and we look forward to seeing you soon.
Philip and the entire staff of Village Craftsmen