By Ann Ehringhaus
A beautiful natural harbor greeted me and captured my heart a long time ago. There were approximately 550 people living on Ocracoke in 1971. Many were related by blood. They were drinking rainwater and eating mostly from sea and sandy gardens.
It was such a close-knit place but, of course, not everyone got along. I was only 22 and so naïve. I had just married and graduated from UNC Chapel Hill when I arrived at the Cedar Island ferry to come for a job interview.
I met a man named Elmo working on the ferry, and he was the beginning of Ocracoke history for me… 50 years ago in the summer of 1971!
Teaching at Ocracoke School showed me how connected Ocracoke people and families were. I learned about the islanders’ sense of humor and their deep love for this place. Ocracoke has shaped my adult life thanks to all the strong, creative, fun and wise friends and neighbors I have known here.
I’ve been an artist here, published several books and wrote my doctoral dissertation while living at Oscar’s House on Irvin Garrish Highway.
I’ve started several island businesses, and had opportunities to work on creative projects, be on organizing committees, and really participate in local government and the issues that were affecting the island through the years.
Whatever your fantasy or interest, I encourage you to do it, to seek the way to start something, or participate so you can SEE how people can really make a difference in our village life.
And then there were the beach cars!
I’ve had SO many old jeeps until finally Jimmy Jackson said to me, “Ann, don’t buy another beach car that costs less than $5,000,”and I listened to him.
Almost daily trips to swim in the ocean have offered great joy, and the ocean’s variety has shaped my understanding of how changeable things are, even big bodies of water — one day calm, and the next day fierce.
But mostly I’m thankful for living in this little place that is ruled by Big Nature.
I have learned my plans are simply that — plans. They may or may not actually happen, mostly due to weather. Living close to these powerful forces has taught me whatever I know about acceptance and that I am in charge of only a few small things.
I have surrendered to the infinite life I experience here and also on Portsmouth Island.
I loved traveling to Portsmouth with Junius Austin, and later his sons Rudy and Donald. In recent years I have worked for the Park Service at the two cabin camps on Portsmouth and this August 2021 will work at the Cape Lookout Lighthouse.
These precious days and nights with the barrier island beach and sky fill me up in inexplicable ways I can only express through art and writing.
Ocracoke is so deep in my heart and bones.
Today I am 72, and not so naïve anymore. No matter where I go, you, amazing island, are with me.
Living here as my primary home for 50 years has been my great fortune. In coming years, I don’t know where life will take me, but I feel we will see Hurricane Dorian as a turning point, just as World War II and tourism have been.
I was so lucky to know Ocracoke when community was its backbone, before tourism was a big factor, before we had any bars, and all ages danced together almost every Saturday night.
Life was truly simpler and less regulated. I have grown up on Ocracoke and for that I am forever thankful.
Ann Ehringhaus is a photographer and author of Ocracoke Portrait (1988) and Ten Thousand Breakfasts (2013), both about life on Ocracoke. For 33 years. she operated Oscar’s House Bed and Breakfast, the subject of her 2013 book.
Beautifully written about life out here on these sandbars we call home! We moved to Hatteras in 1986, having no idea what we were getting into. There is still a lot of community closeness, but not nearly as much as there was when we moved here. As with you and Ocracoke, there is no place we would rather live.
Thank you for sharing this with all of us. Great story of a life well lived.
Thank you Ann for sharing your story. There is a little piece of Ocracoke in my heart. We started going over to your beautiful island about 30 years ago every spring & fall fishing. We went with our family and have rented many of the rental houses for our stay. Over the years, we have seen the change in your Island. We still love Ocracoke, but we now stay in Buxton when we go. Still take the ferry from Cedar island and go thur Ocracoke. We have such GREAT memories with our family. My husband & I caught a 43 inche Red Drum that is mounted on our mantle so everytime I look up at that fish, I think about Ocracoke!!! My favorite place in the world!!!!
Thanks for sharing. I’d love to read your books.
Ann, what a beautiful reflection of your 50 years on Ocracoke. I can only imagine what it was like before it became a popular tourist destination. Our family spent a day there in June. It was a day well spent! I have ordered a copy of Ocracoke Portrait.
Thanks for this wonderful perspective, Ann. As someone who lived alongside the salt and brackish waters of the Chesapeake Bay, when it was still clean and there were a lot fewer people, I felt all of what you described and the mix of sadness and hope about the changes. ❤️💔
We love oakacoke was always fun to visit the general store and set on the porch and talk to Mr Gaskey as he whittle his bird. So peaceful and laid back to get away from the fast pace of the world.
My first visit to Ocracoke was in the summer of 1958 when I was a teenager. I remember how different things were then compared to now. Like most changes, some things are better now and some were better then. My wife and I have a house here and we will be returning for as long as we can. Ocracoke is in our blood, too. Thank you for sharing your story!
Thank you for this article. I hope to get back to Island one day and meet you in the off season. So many oppurtunities still abound rebuilding the old into new. Ill look forward to reading your books as well.
Ocracoke became my late husband’s and mine favorite and most precious place on earth to be.We had planned to make Ocracoke our home, but MS took my husband. I scattered his ashes in many of our places which touched our souls. I love that place so much…there is no other.
Thank you for sharing. I have visited the Outer Banks twice, so far, 1967 & 2020. Oh my the change. Ocracoke, I visited in 1993.
Ocracoke, the Outer Banks, the NC coastline calls to me. One day, I tell myself, One Day.
Thank you for sharing personal thoughts . It’s so beautiful and a gift from God to have had the privilege to enjoy your journey on Ocracoke Island!
Very much enjoyed this piece, just as I love your beautiful photos of the place awe call our hearts’ home
Love this Ann Ehringhaus!
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