December 2, 2008

Remembering Lucy Allen Stowe of Hatteras village

Lucy Allen Stowe died on Nov. 21, 2008. Unfortunately, she died many miles away from her beloved island home.  A few lines in a newspaper do not seem sufficient to record the passing of a loved and well-respected person.  There should have been a good old Irish wake where those who knew her could have shared stories, laughter, and tears.

Lucy, at 83, was truly apart of “old Hatteras.”  The sixth child of Freeman Stowe and Lucy Allen Gaskill, she descended from the first families to settle on Ocracoke and Hatteras islands.  She could trace her family on the islands back to 1714.

How does one encapsulate a life in just a few words?  Lucy lived in and remembered a place that in many ways is no more, and yet she did not live in the past.  Her years belied her spirit.  Her body may have become weak, but not her mind and spirit. 

She was a true intellectual who loved good literature and poetry.  Her home was always filled with good books and magazines.  These and her fishing tackle were her extravagances.  When Miss Lilly was trying to get a community library started in the old schoolhouse, Lucy donated a ton of books. 

She was a member of a surf fishing team for years and then served as a judge for many of the tournaments.  She was the first woman in North Carolina to catch a blue marlin.  For a time after her retirement, she served as a beach fishing guide for a few select groups.

 Lucy was an environmentalist before the environment became a movement. She loved her beach and had no use for anyone who trashed it.  Or for “fish hogs,” as she called them.  She loved birds and cats.  This was not a contradiction.  While she had well-filled bird feeders hanging in her trees, she also usually had a yard full of cats she adopted when they showed up.  When she was no longer able to drive, two of her nieces, Carol McCracken and Ann Styron, made regular runs for months to Food Lion for the bags of food required.  If a bird was killed by a cat, Lucy was not upset by that.  She believed there is a balance in nature, and she was not in favor of the beach closings to protect the birds and turtles. 

Lucy was perhaps best known to off-islanders and sportsfishermen as the “weather” lady.  She was a pioneer for women in the National Weather Service. She joined right out of high school and during World War II was stationed at the airport in Charleston, S.C.  This would be the only time she lived off the island.  One of my favorite stories about her was related by her boss.  She told a four-star general to get out of her way and let her get her work done if he expected to fly that day.  Even at 19, Lucy was no shrinking violet.

She moved back home to her beloved island.  Most people do not know or remember that the Hatteras Weather Bureau was, for a time, located beside the Slash Creek in a building built by a wealthy New England businessman as a Girls’ Club for local girls.  She moved to the new weather bureau located on the back road in Buxton.  It was from here, for several years, she gave daily briefings on the radio and answered numerous calls from fishermen wanting the latest weather report.  For 37 years, Lucy tracked Atlantic hurricanes and nor’easters.  She told me the only time she ever felt “uneasy” was during Hurricane Isabel in 2003 when she realized it was ocean tide washing into her house.

Lucy never married.  She said she was too selfish.  This was not true, for she took care of her mother and only brother until their deaths.  She supported and helped, in one way or another, several nieces and nephews.  She loved her two remaining sisters, Cathleen Styron and Belinda Farrow. 

Lucy was both a realist and a romantic about her beloved island.  She knew it was inevitable that change had come and would continue, not always for the better, but it was home and a special place.  She loved the people and supported community activities in countless ways.

Personally, Lucy was no different from all of us.  She shared the same frailties and foibles.  She could be moody, obstinate, and hard to get along with. She was not above throwing what we called her “Stowe fits.”  This was just the Irish and Scottish heritage showing up.  She was quick to get “bent out of shape,” sometimes foolishly, but just as quick to get over it.  She had what she called a warped sense of humor. There were not many situations in which she couldn’t see something humorous – even death.

In many ways she could be called an introvert.  She told me once the loneliest she had ever been was in a crowd. Yet she loved gatherings, too.  When we had a Stowe family reunion, we never considered having it anywhere but at Lucy’s.  Every Christmas, the clan gathered, along with friends and neighbors, for breakfast that sometimes continued all day. 

Her body aged but never her mind.  She loved card and board games and could do the New York Times crossword faster than most people could read the clues.  A passion for basketball and football remained. She always looked forward to Super Bowl Sunday.  We didn’t discuss politics with her because whatever party or position you took, she played the devil’s advocate and disagreed with you.  Probably she registered as an Independent.  That would describe her in more ways than politically.  Most of all, she could be called dependable.  In a pinch, you called Lucy and she replied to “circle the wagons.”  It was a good feeling to know she was there and on your side.

Lucy did not often discuss her faith, but it was strong, and we can be grateful that she found comfort and strength in her belief.  During my last conversation with her before she had to leave her home, she told me, “Life doesn’t owe me anything.  I’ve lived the way I wanted to and done most of the things I wanted to do.  I’ve had a good life, with family who loved me.” 

Lucy died many miles from the place she loved so much.  But she left a big footprint here on Hatteras Island.

(Alona Farrow Carter, who lives in Elizabeth City and has written many historical articles about Hatteras Island, is Lucy Stowe’s niece.)

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