By Kay Slaughter
Turning the pages of an Ocracoke cottage catalog is, for me, perusing a vacation scrapbook. In the 1960s to 70s, I camped with my family at the National Park Service Campground. But after the kids grew up, I returned with friends, and later with family and grand kids, spending the better part of three decades trying out cottages like Goldilocks testing beds.
During my camping days, I fantasized about the cottage with the wrap-around porch across from the Coast Guard Station, especially after a violent midnight thunderstorm collapsed our soggy tent. Once my son grew up and became a father with two toddlers–my grandsons–I turned to the original black-and-white Ocracoke brochure (no catalog; no internet then) and identified the fantasy cottage as Windmill Point. I booked it.
At the mouth of Silver Lake, both the porch and the outside shower provided unique vantage points on the comings and goings of the ferries, fishermen and tourist boats. Fishing or crabbing off the dock–or just sitting–were viable options; the screened porch provided a safe playground for the grandsons.
Because Windmill Point was not always available, I stayed at other houses: a commodious cottage on the road by Styron’s Store, a cottage across from Island Inn (now for sale), Net House near the lighthouse, another house off Mark’s path. As my grandsons grew, they joined me at several other houses on south end of the island: “Secret Garden,” “Gift from the Sea” (now owner occupied year-round).
In the 1990s, I was active in Charlottesville and Virginia politics. While at Ocracoke, I crazily decided to run for Congress in a special election. After I spectacularly lost in a political tsunami, I retreated to the island and the favorite cottage with a friend only to be hit by a tropical storm. After a night of torrential rain, loss of electricity and official advice to evacuate, we fled via the Cedar Island ferry. That overnight was the shortest long trip I ever made.
By the end of the decade, when I retired from local office, I resolved to spend a month decompressing in Ocracoke–dividing my time between Windmill Point, a cottage on British Cemetery Road, and Crews Inn, my initial stay at the B&B.
For the first time, I had enough time to experience both solitude and community– long mornings writing in the yard of Ocracoke Coffee, beach walks in late afternoon, sunsets at Sunset beach near Windmill Point, bicycle rides to Jackson Dunes and Oyster Creek, Molasses Creek concerts at Deepwater Theater and dancing at the Community Center.
Sixteen years later, I’ve stayed in Ocracoke in almost every season. I saw out the last century with my grandsons and the following summer vacationed with four teenage grandchildren. I’ve spent several fall weekends on the island, including one where we visited Portsmouth Island bug free! I’ve shared Thanksgivings with family, friends and strangers. I’ve practiced yoga with Amy, received Reiki massage from Ann, browsed the exhibits at the Ocracoke Preservation Society museum, enjoyed crab beignets, pizza, oyster po’ boys, soft shelled crabs and local fish in season, strolled along Springer’s Point to visit Sam Jones’ horse’s grave, birded along the Sand Road (Southpoint Road), gazed up at stars and down at phosphorescence sparks from my feet on the darkened beach.
And still, each time as I leave on the Hatteras Ferry I look back with nostalgia and love for all my island homes.
Kay Slaughter retired after 24 years with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charlottesville, Va., and served as former mayor of that city. Ocracoke has been a favorite vacation spot for her family since the mid-1960s.