Spring is definitely on its way as evidenced by the many daffodils blooming throughout the village. Another sign of warmer weather is the new growth on island fig trees. Below is a close-up of a budding fig and newly sprouting leaf.
New life indeed is bursting forth all over. Before long the fig trees will be thick with fruit and leaves. Nearly every older home on the island has at least one fig tree in the yard. We have two by the Village Craftsmen. By mid summer the figs will be ripening, but the best crop comes later, usually in August. It is then that figs bubble in pots around the village before being “put up” for later use in delicious Ocracoke Island fig cakes and other delicacies.
Look for recipes and more information in upcoming newsletters.
Over the years visitors have come to Ocracoke for the superb fishing, the undeveloped beach, the natural beauty of the island and for the cultural heritage of the village and its people.
Ocracoke is rich in tradition, history and a unique way of life. Although the island has changed quite a bit, especially in the last thirty years, the special quality of her people survives. This may not always be the case, however. Telephones, television (and now the internet) have joined ferries and roads in an unorganized conspiracy to blend island life with the outside world.
If you have been visiting the island for a number of years you may have the privilege of knowing many of the local residents. If you are fairly new to Ocracoke you may find it difficult to meet its people. With the increase in tourism local folks find it harder every year to greet visitors with the enthusiasm they once had.
In this newsletter I would like to introduce you to Ocracoke native, Muzel Bryant.
Muze, as she is generally known, celebrated her 96th birthday March 12. In this photo she is seen holding some spring flowers given to her at a birthday party in her honor.
Here she is shown with Jamie Gaskins and one of her birthday presents.
One of nine children of Jane and Leonard Bryant, Muze grew up on what is now “Lighthouse Road.” Until a few years ago she lived with her two sisters in the renovated US Life Saving Service boat house on lighthouse road. Mildred, also known as “Babe,” died recently, and Annie Laura is living in a nursing home in Swan Quarter. Their brother, Julius, island fisherman, poker player and musician, died several years ago. Their family home, which sat not far away, had been abandoned for years and long ago succumbed to rain, termites and gravity.
With the end of the War Between the States, all of the recently freed slaves living on the island left Ocracoke for the mainland. Muze’s grandmother, known affectionately to islanders as “Aunt Winnie,” had been living in slavery with a family in Blount’s Creek, NC. After emancipation, she came to Ocracoke with her husband, Hercules (or Harklis, or Harkus) Blount. No one seems to know why they chose to settle here but they acquired a sizable tract of land “down point” (the area on the lighthouse side of the village) and raised two daughters in the late 1800’s.
Because they were the only black family living on the island in a less enlightened time, they did not have many of the privileges afforded their white neighbors. Nevertheless, while color-blindness may not have been the rule, many white islanders learned to accept and appreciate Muze and her family for their unique contributions to island life.
Muze worked for years for Vera and Lawrence Ballance, as well as for other local families. Now Kenny Ballance, one of the island’s more colorful, younger residents is “looking after” Muzie, as he calls her, in appreciation for the many kindnesses she has shown him and his family since he was an infant.
The fondness islanders have for Muzel was evident in the number of friends who stopped by to wish her well on her 96th birthday. She accepted graciously the presents and hugs and told stories about her family and early life on the island. As usual she could remember nearly everyone’s birthday and smiled readily knowing we were all impressed with her easy recall.
If you happen to be riding your bicycle down the “Back Road” this summer and Muze is sitting on Kenny’s front porch, give her a big wave and call out a cheery “Good Day Muzel.” She may not know your name, but she will enjoy your greeting.
Exciting News Flash from Molasses Creek: Our very own local folk/bluegrass band, Molasses Creek (Gary Mitchell, Kitty Mitchell and David Tweedie), has been selected to appear on “A Prairie Home Companion” on April 15. They are among the winners of the show’s “Talent from Towns under 2000” contest. Mark your calendars and also be sure to look for their performance schedule when you visit the island. Their show is a treat not to be missed.
Spring Breaks have been bringing a number of visitors to Ocracoke these last couple of weeks. Not many restaurants are open yet and the beach is sometimes breezy and cool, but folks are enjoying the quiet moments exploring the village and the shore.
In our next newsletter look for the story of “Old Quork.” March 16 has been a day that island seamen have been wary of since this colorful character defied the elements on that date over 150 years ago.
Until next time, remember to relax and slow down at least a little. It will be good practice for planning your next vacation on the Outer Banks.
Our best to you all, from Philip and staff at Village Craftsmen