Recently eastern North Carolina’s National Public Radio station has been sponsoring a segment entitled “This I Believe.”  They regularly air a thoughtful essay written and read by one of NPR’s listeners.

One of the essays chosen was written by our own Gary Mitchell, lead singer for the “Molasses Creek” band.  It is called “I Believe in Pot-lucks” and I reproduce it here with Gary’s permission:


 “You might call them ‘covered dish suppers’, but we do them so often we have to use the most abbreviated term possible. A friend will say ‘pot-luck at Julie’s Friday’ and about 30 of us will show up around 6 o’clock with a dish in hand and a smile on our face. We kinda know what everybody’s gonna bring; Miss Kitty’s special lima beans, Sundae’s pineapple and cheese casserole (Sundae is a woman’s name, not the day of the week, although she did say she was conceived on a Sunday in a Dairy Queen parking lot). Linda and Julie will bake something terrific; if Donald’s in town he’ll have some kind of delicious thing he’s cooked in a dutch oven over coals out in the back yard. Merle is the ‘Julia Child’ of the crowd. We don¹t know WHAT we’re eating from her, just that it looks, smells and tastes great. Anne will have a tasty and healthy vegetable dish; David’s got a wonderful fruit pie (with a homemade crust), and the young folks not quite up to speed yet will bring drinks, chips, salsa and napkins. (Did I mention Karen’s green bean casserole, Marcy’s sausage rolls, or Phillip’s deviled eggs?).

There are always some surprises too; people to meet, like the new doctor or school teacher, or somebody’s out of town relatives here for a visit. Usually pot lucks just kinda happen, but sometimes there are special events like the ‘January Birthdays pot-luck’ or the ‘some-sort of solstice’ pot-luck. (I can’t keep those solstices straight).

My own family’s most special dinner of the year is our Thanksgiving pot-luck. We’ve been doing it since ‘before you was born’ as they say around here, and it absolutely forces us to clean our house (a little) at least once a year, whether it needs it or not (I’m not sure our guests fully realize that we’ve cleaned our house). We always try to have oysters on the grill at Thanksgiving, but this year we had a blow, and neither Stevie nor Roger Lee could get out to Hog Shoal in their boats. It was nearly a disaster, but Chuck and Liz saved the day and found a bushel over at Rose Bay.

Anyhow, we discovered early on that folks really just like to be together, and food gives them a good excuse. The food doesn’t have to be anything special, except that it comes from the hands and heart of somebody you know and love, and somehow it just tastes twice as good ’cause of that. …And then, of course, there’s the conversation: ‘When is the Pony Island Restaurant closing for the winter?’; ‘Tell us about Capt. Rob or Al’s latest sailing adventure’: maybe we¹ll hear a tale of Uncle Homer or Grandpa Lawton…’Its all good’. You know, you CAN develop a technique for laughing with a mouthful of mashed potatoes and gravy; it just takes practice and real commitment. I believe I’ll take a ‘pot-luck dinner’ over a 5 star restaurant anytime (especially if I¹m paying).”


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:

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.


The first annual “Ocracoke Festival of Story and Song,” held on Saturday, June 10, was a big success!  Many outstanding musicians were featured including Ocracoke’s own performers, Martin Garrish and Jon WynnBill and Libby HicksRoy Parsons and  Molasses Creek.  Many of their songs are recorded on the popular Ocrafolk album.

Ocracoke friends, Noah Paley and Bob Zentz were also on hand along with a number of other wonderful musicians from off-island.

Festival-goers were also treated to the delightful stories of master story-teller Donald Davis.
Donald Davis
I was even featured for a few minutes when I shared reminiscences of the very first ferry ride across Hatteras Inlet in 1950, as well as a humorous story of my Uncle Homer and a visitor to the island 45 years ago.  Look for this story in a future newsletter.

Music and stories are both long-time and venerable traditions on Ocracoke.  It is reassuring to see them honored and perpetuated.

Two other long-time Ocracoke traditions are quilting and sewing.  As in many rural communities, island women were known for their beautiful and functional needlecraft.  In addition to intricate and colorful quilts, they created much of the clothing for the family as well as dolls and other toys, including balls.

My father remembers playing a game called “cat” that was much like our modern-day baseball although island children had never seen a real bat and runners were “out” if they were struck by a thrown ball.  His mother would wrap wool yarn into a ball and cover it with leather cut from an old pair of shoes.  Store-bought balls were unheard of.

Grandmamma would sew these balls for her children to play cat or “Annie Over the House,” another childhood game where one child would throw the ball over the house and another child on the other side would catch it and then run around the house to tag his or her playmate.  I can even remember playing this game myself as a young boy on the island.

Aunt Tressie, whom I remember well from my childhood,  was also an accomplished seamstress.  She lived only a hundred feet from where I now sit and the Village Craftsmen is situated where her garden once grew.  I can remember her tending her tomatoes and other vegetables wearing a home-made bonnet to protect her from the hot summer sun.  She enjoyed sewing so much she even made bonnets for sale.

Jude was kind enough to model one of Aunt Tressie’s slat bonnets, although she was a little self-conscious about it.

Jude with Aunt Tressie’s Sunbonnet
Quilts, of course, were a necessity and over the years island women would gather in parlors to create masterpieces.

Tressie Howard Quilting, 1955  (Photo from “Special Collections: Photographic Archives University of Louisville”)

Aunt Tressie

Although island ladies were very creative and produced any number of colorful traditional designs, Ocracoke quilts are best known for the distinctive “cracker” pattern.

“Cracker” Patterned Quilted Pillow

One of the two inside stripes is always red, either solid or a print.  The corner triangles are always the same fabric, often pale pink, blue or yellow.  Adjacent squares are turned at an angle to lend excitement to the overall quilt pattern.

For many years it was thought that this was an original Ocracoke pattern, but it was discovered to be from colonial times.  During the documentation of quilts in North Carolina in the 1970’s the cracker pattern was found only on Ocracoke Island. It was popular with the ladies here during the thirties and forties.  There are a number of cracker quilts in family collections on the island.

A starter kit for the cracker quilt is available at the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum for $2.50.

In 1978, soon after moving to Ocracoke, Therese Rittue Brown, otherwise known as “Butsie,”  got together with Myrtle Dolittle and Selma Spencer to start a local quilting club.  Quilting, of course,  had always been a popular activity for island women and these ladies helped perpetuate the craft.

Butsie Brown with one of her quilts


It was only natural that Butsie would be involved.  She had been sewing and quilting for years and in 1975 she had captured the grand prize for quilting at the Montgomery County (Maryland) Fair. Her creations are now gracing homes as far away as Alaska, Switzerland and Germany.  Anyone who has ever seen one of Butsie’s quilts is impressed with her sense of color and design, her tiny stitches and her attention to detail.

Myrtle moved off-island and Selma died several years ago, but their friends and neighbors continue to produce beautiful quilts.

Butsie worked for several years at the Village Craftsmen and made smaller quilted wall hangings for sale in the shop after she “retired.”  Although she no longer sells her work, Butsie continues to sew for family and friends.

One of Butsie’s smaller quilts

Butsie’s flag quilt
Butsie Flag

Be sure to stop by the OPS museum to see examples of island quilts.  Purchase a raffle ticket or two and you may find yourself the proud owner of an original hand-made Ocracoke quilt.

Until next time, all of the staff at Village Craftsmen send you our wishes for a wonderful summer and we hope to see you soon on the island.