Ocracoke's history & its people

Islander Eleanor Garrish: from Dust Bowl to Ocracoke Part 1

May 2015
Compiled by Pat Garber

Editor’s note: This is a three-part series, look for the next in­stallment in the June issue.

Part I: Growing up in Minnesota

Earlier this year, Eleanor Garrish, Ocracoke’s well-loved quilter and OPS volunteer, turned 98.

Nearly 40 of those years she spent at Ocracoke, which be­came very much her home.

Before that, however, she led quite a different life, growing up on a farm in Minnesota, set­ting out to see the world on her own, and falling in love with an Ocracoke sailor in far-away Hawaii.

Last year I assisted her in writing her story, and this is a much-condensed version.

It seems as though I wasn’t called upon to talk about my life until I retired and moved down here, to Ocracoke. I was asked to talk about my experi­ences by family and friends, and sometimes tourists would ask me.

Eleanor’s parents were of English and German descent. They owned a small farm where they raised cattle, hors­es, sheep, and chickens, along with the crops to feed them and vegetables.

I was born in Janu­ary of 1916 at home in Nobles County, Minnesota, during a snowstorm. My father went to the neighbors in a horse-drawn sled to telephone the doc­tor to come or give instructions for child­birth. My father came back home and I was born soon after. I don’t know if the doc­tor ever got there, or who delivered me.

Eleanor was the el­dest of five children, one boy and four girls. She and her younger sister walked to the one-room rural schoolhouse, a third of a mile away. They helped with all the farm work, storing their food in an ice house.

I was called upon to use horse-drawn equipment, such as a drag and a cultivator. I used a team of horses and went over the fields, up and down and back and forth, row after row, to slow down the weeds. There were cows to get in from the pasture and then milk ev­ery morning and evening, and I often assisted in doing that. We had a flock of chickens for an egg supply and for fried chicken to eat occasionally. We children took a turn collecting the eggs daily.

Eleanor remembers the Dust Bowl of the ‘30’s, when dust would blow all the way from Kansas into Minne­sota, and dust was ev­erywhere.

My father did a spe­cial kind of plowing to keep the dust down.

During junior and high school, Eleanor stayed with her moth­er’s parents, where she studied book­keeping, typing and shorthand.

I played basketball with the high school team and I was jump­ing center for a while, as I was considered tall.

She graduated from high school in 1932, at age 16, along with 31 other students.

As a graduation present, my Uncle Ray and Aunt Marge in­vited me to go with them to the World’s Fair in Chicago. We left from Sioux City, Iowa, and there was a car packed full of us.

She then attended one year of “Normal School,” which pre­pared her to be a teacher. Those were Depression days, but she says she didn’t really know it at the time.

At the age of 17, I got a job teaching in a one-room school­house with an enrollment of about 12 students, aged eight to 12. I got room and board for one year, one and a half miles from school, which I walked every day. My begin­ning salary was $45 a month. The school had a furnace that burned wood and coal and it was my responsibility to keep the school warm. I would bank up the fire at night before I left so it wouldn’t go out. One sixth-grader rode a horse to school and the others walked.

Eleanor later taught at an­other school for two years, be­fore the lure of change drew me away. I wanted to find out what life in the big city was like.