For a number of years tiny Ocracoke Island was home to two congregations of the Methodist Church.

During the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century the division between Ocracoke’s “Northern” and “Southern” Methodist churches grew. At least some families became fiercely loyal to their brand of Methodism and refused to have anything to do with the “other” church. On the other hand, a number of islanders frequented both churches, especially if one of the preachers would be off the island on a Sunday morning. Intermarriage between the two church families helped heal some of the wounds. It was not unusual for children to attend both Sunday Schools (which were held at different times) and mutual goodwill was seldom entirely lacking.

Several of the less-devout Ocracokers, those who seldom or never stepped across a church threshold, remarked that strains from both choirs could often be heard wafting through the village on a Sabbath morn. Many a laugh was had recounting the Sunday that the Southern church was singing “Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown?” while, simultaneously, the Northern Church had launched into “No, Not One.”

In 1936 Rev. H. Howard Shaw, pastor of the “Northern” Church reported that it had been “a difficult year.” Rev. Shaw, who was remembered by islanders as a very stern and frank man, was appointed to his Ocracoke charge on October 19, 1935. According to his penned notes in the church’s official record book, his charge was threatened by “opposition to the church administration,” and the community was plagued by “denominational prejudice and indifference.”

It was during Rev. Shaw’s tenure at the “Northern Church” that the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, sent Rev. Tew to Ocracoke. Mr. Tew was fresh out of the seminary at Duke University, and one of his first gestures was to call on Rev. Shaw. As Fannie Pearl tells it, “they got along well, and Mr. Tew invited Mr. and Mrs. Shaw to have lunch with him and his wife the next week. This news soon reached the ladies of the Southern Church, and they got to work at once. On the day before the preachers were to dine together, Mrs. Tew was pleasantly surprised to have a church member deliver a new set of china to her door. No, siree, that Northern preacher wasn’t going to find the Southern parsonage furnished with old chipped dishes.”

Apparently most alarming to Mr. Shaw was “the advent into the community of four beer saloons and two dance halls**” which the preacher said “has proved a serious menace to the church.”

He goes on to lament that “there being no law to protect us, children of tender age have been permitted to frequent these iniquitous dives. We have tried to combat this evil but have met with little success. However, we are hopeful that public sentiment may be aroused and these places of sin may be driven out of the community.”

Only a few years later a petition was circulated to outlaw the sale of alcoholic beverages on Ocracoke Island. Although it was widely assumed that this petition resulted in a county law prohibiting the sale of beer, wine, and spirituous liquors in Ocracoke township, after more than forty years of self-imposed temperance it was discovered that no such law was on the books.

Rev. Shaw also chronicled his tenure at Ocracoke by noting that twenty-five people were added to the rolls during a revival meeting in 1935 at which time he acted as evangelist. By 1936 the average Sunday School attendance was 92, and 9 more members were welcomed into the church.

In spite of a scarcity of money and hampered finances due to poor fishing and many members being on government relief, the congregation was able to purchase new hymnals, and to make $200.00 worth of improvements to the church and the parsonage. Mr. Shaw noted that “all benevolences and conference claims are paid in full or overpaid [including $26.00 overpaid on the pastor’s salary].”

Credit for the “splendid record,” Rev. Shaw says, “goes to a few faithful souls, who have not bowed the knee to Baal and who have cooperated fully with the pastor in carrying out the program of the church.”

Methodists in the early part of the twentieth century helped popularize rival meetings, and Ocracoke was no exception. Residents remember one traveling evangelist who ventured to the island by sailboat and preached fire and brimstone sermons exhorting the citizenry to repentance as a precondition of their attainment of celestial reward. After several days and nights of enthusiastic preaching the Reverend set out in his sail skiff bound for Hatteras Island. Within sight of the village he ran aground in Pamlico Sound on Howard’s Reef.

“How do you like that,” one irreverent islander remarked. “He’s been telling us how to get to heaven, and he can’t even get to Hatteras.”

In 1937 three national Methodist organizations, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church united to form the new Methodist Church. The union of the churches was welcomed by many Ocracokers. After all, the original source of local conflict had mostly been forgotten. For too long, many agreed, the two island congregations had been unnecessary rivals. Throughout 1938 the newly formed Methodist Church continued to meet in the two separate Ocracoke church buildings, the former Methodist Episcopal Church served by the Reverend W.M. Mann and the former Methodist Episcopal Church, South served by the Reverend W.A. Crow.

In 1939, however, the Reverend E.C. Cowan (formerly affiliated with the Methodist Protestant tradition) was assigned to the newly united church. For almost two years he conducted Sunday services, alternating weekly between the two buildings. He lived in the parsonage on present day Howard Street, near the former Southern Methodist Church. Following Mr. Cowan, Reverend William Brady arrived on Ocracoke where he supervised the demolition of the two existing buildings. Church leaders had decided not to re-use the stained glass windows from the two churches. They agreed to send them across the sound to the Methodist Church in Salter Path for installation in their building.

By 1943 both churches had been dismantled and a new building was constructed using much of the material and furniture salvaged from the older structures. On July 4, 1943, under the leadership of the Reverend William R. Dixon, the new church was dedicated.

Ocracoke United Methodist Church, 1943

church

According to the Dedication Program Mr. H. J. Williams and Mr. Amasa Fulcher directed the building project, assisted by the pastors. “With very few exceptions,” the program notes, “almost every man in the congregation and many of the women have put in actual working hours on the building construction.” Several men are singled out for their special efforts and “constant, persistent, and peculiarly industrious” dedication to the building program. They are Homer Howard, Amasa Fulcher, James Garrish, H.J. Williams, Lt. (jg) J.P. Woodruff, T.W. Howard, Leonard Bryant, W.S.C.S, Charlie Scarborough, and the Officers and Enlisted Men of the U.S.C.G. and Navy.

The new church’s eighth pastor was an avid fisherman. Reverend Hale spent many a relaxing afternoon wading along the shoreline, casting his line into the sound in hopes of catching enough fish for his dinner. His passionate interest in fishing did not go unnoticed by the local men, who frequently gathered in Jesse Garrish’s “Community Store” to swap stories. Oscar Burrus stepped into the general store one day and commented that Reverend Hale spent so much time standing in the water that he thought the islanders should chip in and buy him a gallon of copper paint. “Boys, if we painted the preacher’s feet maybe we could keep the ship worms from getting to him,” Oscar suggested.

One of Ocracoke Island’s more colorful characters was Frank Treat Fulcher. Frank Treat, who was born in 1878 to an island seafaring family, shipped out as a seaman, 3rd class, on the schooner “Emiline” when he was but ten years old. He endured hurricanes and shipwrecks, learned to “cuss a blue streak,” and described himself as “a salty old seaman” at the age of twelve.

In the next few years Frank Treat experienced more storms and shipwrecks, as well as a near-mutiny. By the time he was 18 years old he had circumnavigated the globe as quartermaster of the steamer, “Neptune.” It was said that he ruled his crew with “fist, marlin spikes, and boot toes.”

After leaving the sea, Frank Treat changed his ways and became a Methodist preacher. During the Depression he supplemented his income by serving as a part-time policeman in Norfolk, Virginia. One day his bishop encountered him on the streets. Noting his billy stick and crisp, new uniform, the bishop wondered aloud about Mr. Fulcher’s new career. “Well,” Frank Treat replied, “I figured if I couldn’t preach Heaven into people, I’d try beating the Hell out of ‘em.”

In the early 1950’s, soon after the first car ferry was established at Hatteras Inlet, Frank Treat drove his brand new automobile to the Ocracoke United Methodist Church, where he had been asked to preach the Sunday sermon. In the middle of his homily some local boys climbed into his car and started blowing the horn. Mr. Fulcher stopped his sermon and asked one of the men in the congregation to “please go outside and make those boys cease their annoying behavior.”

Not many minutes later, the bleating of the horn resumed. Frank Treat paused again and directed someone in the audience to give the boys one last warning. When the horn began blaring again after a short pause, Frank Treat decided to take matters into his own hands. With a flourish, he threw off his black preacher’s robe and rolled up the sleeves of his white dress shirt. “I’ll teach those s-o-b’s a lesson,” he whispered under his breath as he marched down the aisle.

A hand-made wooden cross rests on the altar in the sanctuary of Ocracoke’s united church building. The cross was constructed by Homer Howard, and painted gold by his wife, Aliph. The cross was made out of salvage from the ship on which island native, James Baughm Gaskill, served and lost his life. Jim Baughm’s ship, the “Caribsea,” was torpedoed and sunk offshore by a German U-boat on March 11, 1942, little more than a year before the new church was dedicated. Shortly after the sinking, Christopher Farrow, James Baughm’s cousin, found his framed license cast up on the ocean beach. Later, the ship’s nameplate and other debris washed up at his family’s dock, at the old Pamlico Inn. The cross stands today as a memorial to James Baughm Gaskill, 3rd mate in the USS Maritime service.

Altar Cross on the Ocracoke United Methodist Church:

cross

The bible on the altar, printed in 1633, was given by Dr. and Mrs. T.V. Bennett in memory of their infant son, Fletcher Murdock Bennett. The baptismal font and prayer desk were handmade by members of the congregation: the font by Mike Riddick and the prayer desk by Lawton Howard.

In 1968 the Methodist Church joined with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to form the United Methodist Church. Technically, the Ocracoke church thus became the tongue-twister “Ocracoke United United Methodist Church.”


**Two of the “beer saloons” were Leslie Garrish’s store (now the Suter-Begiebung cottage) and Albert Styron’s store. The two dance halls were located at Captain Bill Gaskill’s “Pamlico Inn” and Stanley Wahab’s “Spanish Casino.” Although some older islanders do not remember that the dance halls sold alcoholic beverages, others remember that they did sell beer and wine. It could be that alcohol was sold there surreptitiously. Sometimes hard liquor was sold “under the counter” at the Spanish Casino, but not after Stanley’s mother, Martha Ann, found out about it!

 

Special thanks to Blanche Howard Jolliff; Joyce Reynolds; Earl O’Neal, Jr.; Blanche Styron; Alton Scarborough; and Alton Ballance for sharing their research and recollections. Photos courtesy of Earl O’Neal Jr. & Alton Ballance.

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The first record of a church on Ocracoke Island is in 1828 when the Ocracoke-Portsmouth Circuit of the Methodist Episcopal Church was established.  In October, 1769, Joseph Pillmore had been sent from England to parts of Virginia and North Carolina by John Wesley. As one of the first regular itinerant Methodist preachers to visit North America he established societies in Currituck, and either he or one of his followers seems to have preached as far south as Ocracoke.  At any rate, the Methodists had made inroads on the Outer Banks, and a combination school/church was soon erected on Ocracoke Island, across the street from the present Ocracoke School shop building/WOVV radio station. The Reverend J. Atkinson served as pastor.

Only 16 years later, in 1844, a schism in the national body, the Methodist Episcopal Church, erupted over the issue of slavery. At their General Conference, pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions clashed. Pro-slavery forces eventually drafted a Plan of Separation that left the church with two ecclesiastical structures, The Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The latter body met in Louisville, Kentucky in May 1845 to organize their new church. The first General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South was held in Petersburg, Virginia, in 1846. The Ocracoke charge, like virtually all other southern Methodist congregations, then came under the care of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

From the beginning of the Civil War, in 1861, when Confederate forces opened fire on a Union garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, Ocracoke residents had conflicted loyalties. As a result of years of profitable schooner traffic along the Eastern seaboard, many Ocracoke natives had established economic and personal ties with residents in northern port cities. Nevertheless, the Outer Banks were in a strategic location and Confederate officers were intent on keeping inlets open to ensure uninterrupted lines of supply to their forces on the mainland. The village of Ocracoke, with its maritime culture, was not as dependent on slave labor as many southern plantations were. As a result, several men from Ocracoke served in the Union army even though most supported and fought for the Confederacy. However, like most Outer Bankers, Ocracoke natives seemed to be more independent than partisan.

On May 20, 1861 North Carolina seceded from the Union. On the same day, volunteers from the mainland began construction of an earthen fort on nearby Beacon Island. In late August of 1861, Union bombardments of Confederate forts Hatteras and Clark along the Outer Banks resulted in Federal control of the area. On September 16, 1861, a Federal detachment vandalized and burned Fort Ocracoke, which had never been fully supplied and which had been abandoned by the few remaining Confederate forces that had not been moved to Fort Hatteras.

Although Ocracoke village (which had neither entrenchments nor guns) was not the target of Federal bombardment, the war caused so much uncertainty that the Reverend R.A. Raven also chose to abandon his Ocracoke charge just a few months after his arrival. This left the island without a pastor for nearly a decade. Since Mr. Raven absconded with a young lady from the Portsmouth church, whom he later married, we may justly wonder if the advancing Federal troops were just an excuse for the young cleric.

Eight years later, in 1869, four years after Lee’s Surrender at Appomattox, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South resumed its care of the Ocracoke charge when it sent the Reverend George E. Wyche to Ocracoke Island. Very likely the congregation had continued to meet under the guidance of lay leaders, although it was said that on his arrival, Mr. Wyche found the charge “demoralized to a great extent.” Local tradition suggests that the “scattered fragments of a once happy church” welcomed their new preacher warmly. Whether the original church building was still standing, had been replaced, or had been abandoned is not known. Perhaps the local congregation had built a new church prior to Mr. Raven’s departure, or maybe a new building was begun after Mr. Wyche’s arrival.

Ocracoke Methodist Church, South, c. 1880

church

The Methodist Episcopal Church, South continued to meet for almost seventy years, with a succession of four dozen preachers, in three different buildings, the last of which, at least, was situated on Howard Street where Dicey Wells’ home sits today.

Ocracoke Methodist Church, South, c. 1930

church

On August 21, 1899, a fierce storm ravaged Ocracoke Island. Contemporary reports suggest that the wind velocity exceeded 100 miles per hour. Huge waves broke over the island and the tide rose up to five feet over much of the village. Thirty-three homes were severely damaged and a number of boats were sunk or dashed to pieces against the shore. As a consequence, the handsome Southern Methodist Church, with its arched, stained glass windows and decorative woodwork, sustained considerable damage. The church was soon rebuilt.

One of the last of the “Southern” preachers was the young and handsome, but naïve, Mr. W. A. Tew. Shortly before arriving at his Ocracoke charge he married an attractive young woman. He called on Homer Howard, one of the pillars of the Ocracoke church, for marital advice. Homer returned home with a wide grin on his face. “Aliph,” he told his wife, “Mr. Tew wanted to know ‘what to do!'”

Meanwhile, the Methodist Episcopal Church had sent a representative to Ocracoke in 1883. He conducted religious instruction in a schoolhouse that was located near the old Howard Cemetery (on present-day British Cemetery Road). As a result, a new congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church was reestablished on the island. Many of the congregants came from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, which had become divided. A church was constructed near “Big Ike” O’Neal’s home (on the present-day “Back Road”). Dedicated by the Rev. W.F. Parker, and named Wesley Chapel, it was built from lumber salvaged from a ship wrecked on a nearby reef. The Reverend John Carson was installed as the first pastor in February, 1885.

Wesley Chapel, c. 1930

chapel

The Atlantic Mission (later a part of the Blue Ridge Atlantic Conference) was organized on Ocracoke at Wesley Chapel.

Wesley Chapel was washed from its foundation in the 1899 hurricane, but was soon rebuilt. In 1908 an annex was added to accommodate the growing congregation. Other improvements were made a few years later.

Ocracokers have always been known for their quick wit and penchant for short pithy comments. Their observations are often irreverent, sometimes border on the melodramatic, and are frequently hyperbolic. No person, group, or institution, including the church and its representatives, is immune.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century Mr. Winslow Sanderson Bragg was a recognized pillar of the Northern Church. As is often the case, not everyone was overjoyed with Bragg’s leadership style. During an emotion-filled revival at Wesley Chapel one evening the evangelist thundered, “Let’s get together and throw the devil out of this church!” Without a moment’s hesitation one of the congregation stood up and fired back, “Let’s throw Sanderson Bragg out the winder first.”

In the late 1890’s Thaddeus W. Scarborough, Jr., who was stationed off-island in the U.S. Coast Guard, married Mary Wright Jackson, from Ernul, North Carolina. Mary, who was known as “Polly,” soon moved to the island with her new husband and attended the Northern Methodist Church. Polly had been reared in the Christian Church. In 1908, when her daughter, Elizabeth, was seven years old, Polly asked the preacher to baptize Elizabeth by immersion, according to the custom in the Christian Church.

Ocracokers had never participated in a baptism by immersion, but the preacher agreed. Church members and other island residents eagerly anticipated the ceremony. On the appointed Sunday they gathered near the U.S. Coast Guard Station at “The Ditch” (the entrance to Silver Lake Harbor), which at that time boasted an attractive sandy beach. Elizabeth’s baptism by immersion was such a novel and dramatic event for this isolated community that islanders talked about it for many years.

At about the same time, Miss Polly confided in her pastor and his wife that she had impishly divided the young eligible men of the community into three “classes” of desirability. The pastor’s wife let this news slip one day, and soon the entire island was abuzz with the ratings. For years, Clemmie Williams would laugh about how he was put into the “Third Class” while his brother, Dallas, was considered “First Class.”

Wesley Chapel’s sixth pastor, Rev. W. E. West, was known to take a drink now and again. According to Elizabeth Howard, as recounted in Alton Ballance’s book, Ocracokers, “This preacher had a very good delivery. He’d get in the pulpit and be a little under the influence of intoxicating beverages. One woman said that she would much rather hear him preach drunk than hear some sober.”

An open air revival meeting was being held on Hatteras Island and Mr. Leolen Jackson, who had been off-island studying to be a preacher, was home visiting. Mr. West asked Mr. Jackson to take him to the meeting in his skiff. Jackson agreed on the condition that the preacher promise to refrain from strong drink, which he did.

Mr. West preached with enthusiasm and charisma during the revival, bringing many to the Lord. On the last night of the revival preacher West invited his friend, Mr. Jackson, to offer the final prayer. “May all the strong drink be poured into the River Jordan,” he prayed. With that cue, preacher West announced, “We will now stand and sing ‘Shall We Gather at the River.'”

Another of the early pastors of the reestablished Methodist Episcopal Church was Reverend W. H. Luther who hailed originally from New Jersey. When he left the Ocracoke charge Mr. Luther and his wife had two teenage sons. After graduating from high school up north, one of the boys became a police officer in Philadelphia.

Some years later, Ocracoke native Norman Garrish, as so many other islanders, moved to Philadelphia seeking work on dredges and tugboats on the Delaware River. Mr. Garrish approached officer Luther on busy Market Street, unaware of who he was, and asked for directions to the offices of the US Army Corps of Engineers. Recognizing Mr. Garrish from the days he had lived in the Ocracoke parsonage, officer Luther decided to have a little fun and replied, “I don’t think you’re looking for the Army Engineers. I think you must be looking for Mr. Piland’s store*.”

For fifty-four years (from 1883 to 1937) Ocracoke was served by two branches of the Methodist Church. Although the issue of slavery had been the catalyst that originally divided the two national bodies, it seems that the islanders’ differences were of another sort.

Ocracoke islanders in the 20th century rarely talked about the source of local church conflict, so much is speculation, but tradition indicates that the major reason for the division centered around the choir. According to Fannie Pearl Fulcher, who heard the story from her grandmother, “a young singing master” came to the island who “wanted to teach the choir to sing by note.” This was in the early 1880’s. Other islanders remember hearing that church leaders also wanted to replace the older hymn books (which included only the words to songs, not notes) with newer hymnals that included notes. Some members were attracted to singing classes and musical notes while others were not.

According to Fannie Pearl “one Sunday morning a member of the choir locked the church door” after the pro-notes group had assembled. She goes on to say that “those locked out decided to leave the church and organize one of their own. They sent a delegation to Marshallberg, [NC] where there was a Northern Methodist School, to persuade the headmaster, W.Q. A. Graham to come to the island and establish a church.”

Most Ocracokers agree that the two churches’ common local names reflect their geographical locations on the island much more than the larger theological and social issues of the national bodies. Economics also appears to have been a factor in the division, as some of the more well-to-do families could afford lessons to learn the new musical notes, while others could not.

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Summertime greetings from Ocracoke Island!

For those of you who haven’t been to the island recently, this month we share with you news about some recent events and island happenings.

Just over a month ago my daughter, Amy, and “Molasses Creek’s” own, Fiddler Dave, were married on a beautiful, warm and sunny afternoon in the side yard of the Rondthaler House, an old island residence originally belonging to my grandfather’s sister and her husband, “Aunt Sabra and Uncle Dan.”  Over 200 people attended the ceremony which was performed by Ocracoke’s best known storyteller, Donald Davis.  After the wedding, guests gathered at Julie Howard’s house for a backyard feast and several hours of great music.  Ocracoke’s Martin Garrish played guitar, along with Gary Mitchell, Wes Lassiter, and Bill & Libby Hicks.  David even joined in, and played fiddle for his very own love song, “Howard Street,” which is on Molasses Creek’s latest Album, “The Best of Molasses Creek.”

Amy and David on Their Wedding Day:
Amy and David Wedding
Speaking of music and Ocracoke, the “Ocrafolk Festival, 2002” is scheduled for June 8 & 9.   Beginning at 10 a.m. on Friday, along Howard Street and the School Road, you will find music, storytelling, and demonstrations at three stages.  In addition, artisans, performers, and craftspeople from all over coastal Carolina will be displaying wares and giving performances and workshops.  On Friday evening, at 8:30, we will gather for a traditional Ocracoke square dance in the school gym.  On Sunday morning performers will host a hymn/gospel sing-along at the Live Oak Stage, followed by a fundraising auction at 1:00 p.m. in the gym.  Admission to all events is free.  We hope you can join us.  If not this year, perhaps you will want to plan next year’s vacation around the Ocrafolk Festival, 2003.

In other news, “Friends of Portsmouth Island” held their “every-other year” reunion this Spring.  Several hundred friends of the island were on hand strolling through the village, visiting with old friends, and  remembering life as it once was on Portsmouth.  A church service was held at 11 o’clock with a potluck dinner on the lawn at noon.  For a brief history of the island click on either of the two photos below.

Portsmouth Methodist Church:
Portsmouth Church

One highlight of the day was the opening of the U.S. Post Office.  Friends of Portsmouth Island, along with the National Park Service, have spruced up the building with a new coat of paint, period furnishings and other repairs.

Portsmouth Post Office:
Portsmouth Post Office
All day long, folks stood in line to mail postcards, letters, and notes from the small wooden structure.  This was the first time since 1959 that mail had been posted from Portsmouth Island.  Ocracoke’s postmaster, Ruth Jordan, and clerk, Melissa Fulcher, were on hand with other helpers to assist the steady stream of customers wanting to send mail on this historic day.  A special postmark was created with the words, “Portsmouth Island Homecoming, Portsmouth Island Station, April 6, 2002, Ocracoke, NC  27960.”  We mailed a number of envelopes from Portsmouth that day and have them for sale ($5.00 each) on our web site.  All proceeds will go to “Friends of Portsmouth.” You can click on the image below to order one for yourself.

Portsmouth Island Covers:
Letter

If you are traveling from Cedar Island this season you may notice renovations made to the ferry “Silver Lake.”  Although the vehicle deck has remained unchanged, the vessel looks much larger.  The entire superstructure has been rebuilt with a spacious passenger lounge (three times the size of the former lounge) with more tables and a commanding view across the bow.  The “Silver Lake,” which took almost three months and nearly two million dollars to renovate, even offers a handicap accessible elevator to the upper level.

Motor Vessel “Silver Lake:”
Silver Lake Ferry
The public was invited to tour the ferry several weeks ago.  The captain and crew welcomed us on board and encouraged us to wander throughout the vessel, including into the pilot house.

Silver Lake Pilot House:
Silver Lake Pilot House

And even into the engine room.

Silver Lake Engine Room:
Silver Lake Engine Room

The Silver Lake is 200 feet long on deck and is powered by twin 800 hp Caterpillar diesel engines.  She makes the run between Ocracoke and Cedar Island in about 2 1/2 hours.


Whichever route you take on your next journey to Ocracoke, be sure to stroll down Howard Street, and stop by the shop to say hello.

Until next time, all the best to you from the entire staff of Village Craftsmen.

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