By Lou Ann Homan-Saylor
It is Wednesday afternoon, and time for me to get ready for work. My uniform isn’t ironed or starched, but it is clean. I pull my belt tight, change my shoes, and put my hair into a pony tail. With my bag full of bottled water, paper towels, and a key tucked into the bottom, I hop on my bike.
The journey is just five minutes by bike. I park at the bike rack, make sure my shirt tails are tucked in and walk the boardwalk. There are folks already there watching me … parting the walkway as if I am Moses…and waiting for me to unlock the door. I do so, and with a smile and a wave of my hand, I welcome them in through the doorway.
Even though I have taken this journey many times, I stand in complete awe and wonder before I set my bag down, and pick up my counter. I turn around, and the folks have made a circle and wait for my stories.
“Welcome to the Ocracoke Lighthouse,” I begin. “This Lighthouse was built in 1823…” and I am off regaling stories of lighthouse keepers, storms, construction information, and so many other tales. If folks stay around long enough, I share the story of Augustin-Jean Fresnel (1788-1827). Fresnel was born in France and designed the compound lenses which produce parallel beams of light. He invented the Fresnel lens in 1822 which is still used in many lighthouses around the world, including this one on Ocracoke. I share this information with much gusto as I wonder out loud how many lives his lenses have saved over the years.
Even though you can’t climb the Ocracoke Lighthouse, you can walk around the base of it on the inside, listen to stories, play music or even sing. Early on in the summer I had a lovely group of young girls who decided to sing “Let it Go” from the movie, “Frozen.” Their sweet voices echoed up and down the tower to an appreciating audience of tourists.
Most folks come in with the same amazement that I do saying, “Wow,” or “I have never been in here,” or “Thank you for being here.” Occasionally I will get a few folks who come to the door, realize that they cannot climb the stairs, and turn away. I always go after them, “Please come in anyway.” Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t.
On this day, the Lighthouse is full of folks … stories come and go and so do they. The tourists come from all over the United States and other countries as well. Oftentimes they notice I don’t have much (or any) accent so they will ask me where I am from.
They often laugh when I tell them I am from Indiana. Most have heard of it!
This afternoon there is a lull. So I walk out into the sunshine to actually cool off a bit.
The humidity is quite high in the lighthouse, and I often tell stories with one hand gesturing wildly, while wiping my brow with the other (that is why I carry the paper towels!) A large family approaches so I go inside with them and begin my stories.
One of the tourists in the group is a musician. So we all sing “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. It is magical and no one speaks when we are finished as we wait for the last few notes to bounce off the walls.
Just as they are ready to leave, the grandmother turns to me and asks the familiar question. I tell her than I am from Indiana. They all laugh and ask me where.
“Well,” I say, “it is just a small town. You probably don’t know of it. Angola.” Again they smile and gather closer to me. They are from Fort Wayne. They know of the town, the circle, Trine University, the new Brokaw Movie House. They know the library, although they don’t know my old purple house.
I tell them to come look me up at the Johnny Appleseed Festival this fall. After a time they leave and I call after them, “Good bye, Hoosiers.”
My time is up. I gather my things, make my notes in the log book, take one last loving look around my lighthouse and turn the key in the lock. Walking down the boardwalk, I turn around to look with a smile. You just never know who you are going to meet in the Ocracoke Lighthouse.
Editor’s Note: This a reprint from KPC News, Kendallville, IN, published July 18. Permission has been granted from the author.
Lou Ann Homan-Saylor lives in Angola, Indiana, and spends her summers on Ocracoke. In Indiana, she writes a weekly column for KPC Media Group. You can find her gardening or writing late into the night under the light of her frayed scarlet lamp.