Ocracoke's history & its people

Elizabeth Parsons: my visit with an island legend

Editor’s note: Lifelong Ocracoke resident Elizabeth Parsons died Saturday morning. Lou Ann Homan granted us permission to reprint her article about originally published in KPC News Aug. 11, 2007

By Lou Ann Homan

My bike swiftly moves past the lighthouse and on down the road toward the Sound side of Ocracoke Island. I turn right at the faded and frayed sign announcing Pamlico Gifts, the home of Roy and Elizabeth Parsons. Flowers are abundant although they are a bit droopy in this heat of summer as I park my bike near the back fender of their old station wagon. They don’t actually go anywhere in the car, but it is a great storage shed!

I peek into the shop to let Elizabeth know that I am here to visit Roy. She is moving about in their small gift shop filled from floor to ceiling with tourist souvenirs. I spot an old quilt in a basket on the floor that I wonder about as most of the gifts are of trinket variety. She tells me to go on into the house.

Elizabeth Parsons

Elizabeth Parsons

I open the back screen door and am greeted by Roy’s woodcarving activities. Roy makes boats. He can usually be found sitting out on this porch building or painting his folk model pieces with the heat of summer surrounding his long sleeved cotton cowboy shirt and long pants. Roy can spin a yarn so long that it is hard to tell what is truth and what is story! I own one of his boats and know his stories, as well. Today the porch is quiet and the boats remain unfinished.

I go on inside past the shelf holding cat food and am greeted by the banging of the washer on this early morning. I step into the living room and find Roy with his nurse. She is taking his blood pressure. I notice the hum of the window air conditioner and the TV is on with captions. I greet them both and wait for her to finish so that I can take my place by him on the worn couch. While I am waiting I look around at the walls absolutely covered with photographs. No piece of wall is empty. They are photos of Roy’s life as a vaudeville performer and singer. He traveled the New Jersey circuit 50 years ago. Roy is 85. Roy is a favorite performer on the island. Folks come from all over to listen to him play the guitar, while simultaneously playing the harmonica which is held by a strap around his neck. When not playing he is yodeling. He also tells stories of growing up here on the island. That is, up until a month ago.

Roy sits calmly on the couch waiting for the visiting nurse to finish. He teases her and grins his boyish grin as she takes her leave and I take my place next to him. He is wearing one of his cowboy shirts, blue trimmed in dark piping with a stain on the front. The oxygen flows freely through the inserted tube. I take his hand and he exclaims that I am hot…I exclaim that he is cold. His skin is as fine and thin as paper.

He tells me stories. He tells me about getting his first guitar at age 16. He ordered it from a catalogue, then took a boat and hitched a ride to Virginia to pick it up. He didn’t want it delivered on the mail boat, the only means of transportation to the island in those days. He learned to play by listening to the radio and the other musicians on the island. I told him I have a new guitar and am not very good at it!  He tells me I will be, just keep practicing.

Roy glances around the room at all the faded photographs, I look at the crocheted lap blanket that is draped across his thin knees. Elizabeth joins us and sinks down in a chair by her artist table. Elizabeth is a folk art painter of island scenes. I own one of her pictures as well! She talks about the heat and how business has been slow these past few days. She worries about how they will make it through the winter.

I want to stay all day, but work beckons. We miss you at the Opry, I tell him. He nods in agreement. He has played his music for almost 70 years. The tube slips out and I put it back in place. I bid them both farewell. When I get to the door I turn back and see two sweet old folks sitting quietly together making their way through life.

 

Lou Ann Homan facebook PS

Lou Ann Homan from her Facebook page

LOU ANN HOMAN-SAYLOR lives in Angola, Indiana. She is a storyteller, teacher, writer, actress and has been a longtime summer visitor to Ocracoke.

 

1 reply »

  1. We are so sorry to hear that Miss Elizabeth, as we always called ,her has passed away. We always stopped in to see her whenever we came down to “Off The Beaten Path” in Ocracoke.We met her and Roy back in the Eighties and we really enjoyed our visit’s with them.Our condolences to all her family.Jerry,Judi,and Missy Kelley.