Connecting People to Places

Fresh sea air, exercise, positive thoughts: the keys to island good health

North End April 2015

Daily walks aid wellness. North end of Ocracoke.

By TL Grace West
Imagine this: an acquaintance comes to your door and asks your help with an article she is writing for your local newspaper.

You invite her in and after a few minutes of chatting she explains she writes a column about health and wellness and wonders what you do on a daily or at least weekly basis that you feel contributes to your health and feeling well.

How would you answer?

I sampled 16 residents living on Ocracoke from 20 years to all their lives (so far). I talked with 10 people 65 years and older which comprise about 18 percent of the population.
Ann Erhinghaus, a  40-year resident who wears many hats (owner of Oscar’s Bed and Breakfast, massage therapist, photographer, minister) says swimming in the ocean every day possible contributes to her health and wellness.

Felicity Gage began walking on the beach each early morning when she moved here 20 years ago and continues to this day.

“Walking about an hour on the beach not only is great exercise, but clears my mind and sets the tone for the day,” she says.

My sister, Cathy Beck, looks forward to days off from waitressing at Howard’s Pub enjoying beach combing along the vast stretches of open solitary beach areas.

I spoke to two women in their 90s who said, “I do nothing in particular.”

Both women explained that their lives had been full of structured things to do, and now they do just what they want to.

Mackie Bell 2015

Mackie Bell.

Mackey Bell, who just celebrated her 90th birthday at Zillie’s Island Pantry, still works two evenings a week serving the hors d’oeuvres for their wine tastings.

Eleanor Garrish, more house-bound now and also in her 90s, enjoys the simple tasks of washing dishes after a meal her son has prepared.

Talking with these elders I recalled an old Zen saying: “Don’t just do something, sit there.”

Joyce Spencer, native resident of Ocracoke first replied, “I walk with the Lord every day and give Him the credit for my good health.”

Joyce just retired at age 80 from working at the Variety Store. You might catch a glimpse of her riding in her golf cart around the village.

Another native, Annie Lou Gaskins, also in her 80s, says it’s important to “keep a good thought in your mind.”

Joyce Spencer keeps active in her retirement by helping with events, such as slicing fig cakes at the Fig Cake Bake-Off in August. Photo by Robin Payne.

Joyce Spencer keeps active in her retirement by helping with events, such as slicing fig cakes at the Fig Cake Bake-Off in August. Photo by Robin Payne.

Annie Lou says her 13 “grands” and five children living on the island keep her busy. She just retired from helping her daughter at Thurston House Bed and Breakfast.

Several people said being with other people actively helps with their health.

Annie Lou along with Beverly Sullivan and a few other women get together for an exercise class a couple of times a week.

“Having a class makes me show up,” Beverly says.

Annie Lou said she has reached her goal of riding her three-wheel bike to the campground and back.

Bob Chestnut, co-owner of Ride the Wind Surf shop, loves surfing, but says attending classes at Angie’s Gym has made the biggest difference in his health.

Ruth Toth, retired owner of the former Café Atlantic Restaurant, began walking every morning with a friend 40 years ago, and continues to this day.

Doris Winslow Williams, 94, of Greenville, stays active fishing with her daughter, islander Ruth Toth. Miss Doris received her first citation for this 2-pound, 1-ounce pompano she caught in August. Photo courtesy of Tradewinds Tackle Shop.

Doris Winslow Williams, 94, of Greenville, stays active fishing with her daughter, islander Ruth Toth. Miss Doris received her first citation for this 2-pound, 1-ounce pompano she caught in August. Photo courtesy of Tradewinds Tackle Shop.

Grace Gaskill, almost 80 years old, is grateful for the Hyde County Transit bus that takes people to Food Lion in Avon and beyond to go shopping every Tuesday.

Other people pursue solitary ways of keeping up their health.

Both Amy Hilton and Henry Schliff have their own yoga practices along with teaching yoga at Angie’s Gym.

“Listening to my body, drinking lots of good water, and yoga, of course,” Amy says add to her daily healthfulness.

Schliff, now in his 70s, practices and teaches “gentle” yoga and reflects on his teacher’s advice that the physical movements of yoga as we age become less important than the breathing practices, prayer and meditation.

Carmie Prete,  co-owner of Mermaid’s Folly, keeps healthy with her at-home treadmill.

And what came to mind for Valerie Mason, who has lived on Ocracoke most of her life and owns and operates Albert Syron’s General Store, is taking her B vitamins and iron every day.

What you do to be healthy and feel well is up to you. Perhaps you will be inspired by some of these varied ideas.

Ocracoke is a village of unique individuals, but then aren’t we all no matter where we live?

South Point sunset January 2014. Photo by C. Leinbach

South Point sunset January 2014. Photo by C. Leinbach