Ocracoke's history & its people

Islander Eleanor Garrish: from Dust Bowl to Ocracoke Part 3

Islander Eleanor Garrish: from Dust Bowl to Ocracoke Part 3

July2015
Compiled by Pat Garber

Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series.

Home from her adventures in Central and South America, Eleanor found a job at the Mayo Foundation in Roch­ester, Minnesota where, she said,

We all worked hard there. I stayed there for nearly a year, but decided that I was not ready to give my all to the Mayo Foundation…there were few single fellows there!

Wanting more excitement, Eleanor decided to go to Ha­waii, a choice which changed her life and eventually led her to Ocracoke. She got a ride to San Francisco with a friend and spent five weeks there working at a women’s apparel shop while wait­ing for a flight.

When I did get a flight, I recall that it was half cargo: I shared a seat with a big old box. I arrived the day before Christmas 1946. A friend from my Panama days met me at the airport and I stayed with her at her small place near Waikiki Beach… She invited me to accom­pany a group of gals from Queens Hospital, where she worked, to go to the beach one Sunday afternoon to meet a group of Navy fellows they had met at a ship’s party. In this group was a fellow from Oc­racoke (I’d never heard of the place), Chief Petty Officer Willard J. Garrish.

Eleanor and “Jake” Garrish, whose ship had collided with an­other ship on its way to China and stopped in Hawaii for repairs, got along quite well.

On our first date, in early Febru­ary, we went to a dance at the Navy Chief Petty Officers Club, and it didn’t take long before we learned that we both loved to dance.

Two weeks later his ship left, but they kept in touch by mail. Eleanor found a civil service job, and, when Jake’s ship stopped at Pearl Harbor on its way to San Di­ego, they went to the beach and a movie.

That fall Eleanor took an ocean liner back to California, where Jake was stationed, and got a sec­retarial job at the Navy Supply De­pot on the San Diego waterfront. Jake (she called him “Boats” or “Heap Big Chief” or “Ole Salt”) and she saw each other often, but Eleanor recalls that just before Christmas, 1947, he took off by train to travel all the way back to a place called Ocracoke to see his parents and family, leaving me to spend a rather lonely Christmas. I felt a bit put out!

Upon his return, Jake asked El­eanor to marry him. So they took a Greyhound Bus to Yuma, Arizona, where they were married February 1, 1948. Jake’s ship deployed once again to China and Elea­nor changed jobs to the Naval Air Station, which involved commuting by ferry across San Diego Bay.

The next big event was the arrival of our son, Jim, born two days before Christmas of 1949. Jake’s ship was away from San Diego and I had to take the ferry by myself to the hospital clinic shortly before giving birth.

Having served at sea for many years, Jake received orders to his first shore duty at Annapo­lis, Maryland. He applied for a driver’s license and they bought their first car, a Chevrolet, put all their worldly belongings into the back seat, including a baby crib, and headed across country, to Atlantic, NC.

We were planning to take the mail boat to Ocracoke, but it was not available. So we got in a small open boat. It was cool and damp, raining lightly, and spray was hit­ting us right and left. So someone at the dock saw to it that a tar­paulin was thrown over us. That helped, but I wondered, “What was I getting into?”

After three long and uncom­fortable hours they arrived at the harbor and then walked down the road.

We were met by barefoot fel­lows, and we trudged through deep sand to the Charlie Garrish place. (On British Cemetery Road) It was evening when we got there, getting dark, and it was good to be on sol­id ground. I met Jake’s family, and there was a lot of hoopla upon our arrival.

They returned to Atlantic after a few days and continued on to Annapolis, where they bought a house. When it was time for Jake to return to sea, Eleanor at first stayed at home with Jim. She ex­plains, however, that I’d always been a working gal and when Jim was old enough (five) I returned to work as a school secretary.

Jake retired in 1966 after 24 years in the Navy and went to work for the Maryland State For­estry Service. Jim entered the Navy after college and spent 27 years around the world.

After retiring, Eleanor and Jake moved to Ocracoke in 1976, moving into a house they had built earlier near Jake’s parent’s home. (They had bought the one-acre lot in 1950 for $150.) Jake thoroughly enjoyed outdoor life on Ocracoke, whether fish­ing, clamming, gardening or hunting. Eleanor was active in the Methodist Church, volunteered at the museum and enjoyed quilting.

At first, after moving to the island, I felt like some­thing of an outsider, but that didn’t last. The longer I spent on Ocracoke, the more at home I felt.

Jake died in 1998 and Eleanor continues to live on Ocracoke at age 98.

Looking back, Eleanor muses that Jake and I spent many inter­esting, adventurous years together, challenging at times. Love, respect for each other, and perseverance