in a horse-drawn cart across the beach to see a shipwreck, dining on
“so good” sea turtle hash, going out in her Daddy’s fishing boat, the
“Blanche,” named for her; and eating “the most delicious sweet potato
pie,” made by her mother—these are some of the things Blanche Howard
Joliff, 94 years old, recalls from her childhood at Ocracoke.
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is the daughter of Elizabeth Ballance Howard and Stacy Howard, both
native Ocracokers. Born in 1919, she was delivered at home by
Ocracoke’s renowned midwife, Charlotte “Miss Lot” O’Neal. She
grew up at Ocracoke, living in her parents’ house on Howard Street
until the early '50s, when she met a young man who was looking into
building a highway on the island.
Upon their marriage,
she moved to the mainland, coming back about once a month to see her
family. After her husband’s death in 1994, Blanche moved back for good,
and she lives once more in the home on Howard Street where she grew up.
father, Stacy Howard, was an island fisherman. He came from an old
island family, here since the early 1700s. His father, P.C. Howard, had
a home on what is now known as Howard Street, across from his father’s
home. He raised Stacy and the rest of his family in the Southern
Methodist Church, located on Howard Street. In the early 1900s, Stacy
had a house built near his father’s and grandfather’s homes.
mother, Elizabeth Ballance Howard, was the daughter of Aaron and Lois
Anne Williams Ballance, whose “old home place” was Down Point, nearer
to the lighthouse. The Ballances, according to Blanche, were originally
from Hatteras. Elizabeth was raised in the Northern Methodist Church,
located on the Back Road. She and Stacy married in the early 1900s.
father Stacy often talked about shipwrecks on the islands. He told
about a time in 1899, when he was about 5 years old, when the ship, the
“Pioneer,” coming into the inlet with cargo, wrecked on the beach here.
Clothes, shoes, fruits and vegetables were everywhere, and people would
find one shoe, then search for its match.
“Cabbage was strung
about everywhere,” according to Blanche’s father’s story. Stacy’s
father, P.C., came home with a big cheese. Blanche recalls hearing
about another occasion when a ship came ashore near Nags Head, and top
hats were all over the beaches. Someone auctioned them off, and island
boys bought them and wore them.
Blanche explains that after
the Civil War, things got tough at Ocracoke. The railroad came to North
Carolina and took away the business from the schooners, which had
previously delivered cargo and provided jobs for Ocracoke men. Jobs
were scarce. Like many Ocracokers, Blanche’s father often went
north to work on dredges in Pennsylvania and Delaware. When the rivers
froze, he and the others would come home. Back at Ocracoke for the
winter, Stacy took out hunting parties in his boat, especially before
Looking back over the years, Blanche describes
what life was like back then for her and her three sisters -- Leila,
Etta, and Lois as they were growing up.
“Papa had a big garden
out back, and Momma kept chickens. Everybody did back then. They
hatched them out at first, and later ordered them in the mail, and they
came in boxes. My mother took care of them, feeding them twice a day.
They ran around free, and sometimes they’d get into trouble--scratch up
There were all kinds--dominiques and red ones and buff ones, raised for the eggs and meat.
when we were young Etta and I would chase them around and get them
squawking. It was the best fun, but then we’d get in trouble.”
Blanche remembers the ponies that wandered around freely in the village.
"Sometimes folks would ride them to the store, tying them outside while they shopped."
for cows, she says there were four places where they were raised and
where milk was sold. Blanche’s family went out to a place on the Back
Road to buy their milk.
When Blanche was very young, her mother
made all their bread, but later, after Blanche was 8, Mr. Will Willis
had it brought in on the Mail Boat. Her mother continued making
rolls—hot and very fluffy—nearly every day. Her family ate fish, clams,
turtle, chicken, and vegetables. You couldn’t get fresh meat because
there was no refrigeration. Everyone had a vegetable garden, with
cabbage, string beans, collards, and sweet potatoes.
“My mother made the best sweet potato pie!”
She also made pineapple cakes, and Blanche’s sister Leila loved to make chocolate cakes.
of Blanche’s favorite foods was turtle. She recalls that before they
were listed as endangered species, fishermen used to catch sea turtles
in their nets and would bring them back to the fish house at the
Community Store. They would quarter them and give each quarter to a
family, which parboiled it.
had to cook it a good while, 'til it was tender, and then you cut the
meat off the bone. You cooked it with onion, potatoes, and a little bit
of salt pork. We called it turtle hash, and you had to have baked
cornbread with it. You never tasted anything so good!"
they did not grow came mostly from Mace Fulcher’s Community Store, but
there were other stores on the island too. Blanche remembers that Uncle
Ike had one at the old post office building, and Mr. Albert Styron had
one Down Point. Clarence Scarborough ran a store at what is now
the beauty parlor, and Walter O”Neal had a store and dock on the Creek.
Travis Williams ran a store near what is now the Harborside, and James
and Charlie Williams had one across from Della Gaskill’s house.
then there were two or three fish houses. There was no refrigeration in
those early days, but big blocks of ice, used for keeping food
cold, could be bought at the fish houses. When Ocracoke got electricity
in 1938, the Ice Plant opened down on the docks, but it didn’t last
long, just a few years at most, as Blanche recalls.
people back then heated with fireplaces, and Blanche remembers a visit
to her father’s first cousin’s house when, at age 8 or 9, she "froze on
one side and burnt up on the other." Blanche’s family had a coal stove
and chromium stove which burned wood in the early years, pellets later
on. Her mother ironed clothes with a flat iron, which was heated on the
While growing up, Blanche played hopscotch with
neighboring children, and they played in make-believe houses and
kitchens, using broken dishes and making pretend desserts with red
sand. She recalls pretending a piece of cedar was chicken. They also
filled the tops of coffee cans with mud, let them dry, and put them
together to make pretend layer cakes. They played with dolls which they
usually got for Christmas, often bought from Mace Fulcher but sometimes
ordered from Montgomery Ward, Sears & Roebuck, Charles Williams,
and later J.C. Penney.
In Blanche’s early years almost all
transportation was by water. She remembers that "when I was young there
were only two or three vehicles on the island. There were two freight
boats, which went to Little Washington or Morehead. There were
two mail boats, and one went one day, one the next. The first one came
out of Beaufort, and after that from Atlantic."
had a horse and cart, and he’d give the girls rides. "Once, when I was
about 5, I went out across the beach with my uncle and aunt to see
where the ship, the 'Victoria S,' had fetched up on a shoal. The ship
was still in the water, loaded with lumber, but it could not get off
the shoal.” Blanche thinks that they eventually dynamited it to get rid
Meanwhile, however, Blanche says that that shipwreck led to the first road wreck on Ocracoke. She explained how it happened.
owner of the lumber had it unloaded and stacked on the beach. He wanted
to get the lumber shipped to the mainland. Two of the island men got
the idea that they would each buy a flatbed truck and haul the lumber
from the beach to the docks where it could be shipped.
there wasn’t a road the whole way, so they got permission to cut
through the oak and myrtle in front of Blanche’s house and make one. It
wasn’t very wide, and there was deep sand. In order to get through the
sand they had to gun their engines and try to plow through it fast. One
day the two trucks met head-on at the sandy stretch, and this was the
first wreck on the island."
No one, fortunately, was hurt.
more cars were brought to the island, people would drive down the lane
in front of her house, now Howard Street. There was a big oak there,
she recalls, and sometimes the cars would run into the tree. Because it
was still sandy, on more than one occasion, she remembers people
knocking on the door and wanting to borrow a shovel to dig out their
As a teen-ager, Blanche would sometimes
go to Little Washington on the freight boat. She was friends with
Captain David William’s daughter, Virginia, and they would go together.
Virginia had a friend who lived there, and she would meet them at the
dock. Then they would spend the night at her house.
War II, there was a naval base at Ocracoke, and "lots of men were
stationed here doing work so that the boats could get in and out of the
" The men brought their wives, and people rented them
rooms. I wasn’t really afraid during the war, but it was sad—they found
so many bodies, and the torpedoes sounded awful, so loud…The sky would
turn a deep pink—it was that close—and then we heard them afterwards.
We had black-out curtains so that the lights wouldn’t be seen on the
Many of Blanche’s cousins and friends went off to
fight in World War II. Thurston Gaskill’s youngest brother, Jim Baum
Gaskill, was on a freighter that was torpedoed within sight of
Ocracoke. Most of the men died, including Jim Baum, recalls Blanche.
she was 22 years old, Blanche took a job working at the Post Office.
One day an interesting man came in to get his mail. Guthrie
Joliff had come to Ocracoke with an engineer and a planner to look into
building a new road--Highway 12—down the island. He continued
going to the Post Office, and before long he and Blanche were seeing a
lot of each other.
They got married and moved to Hertford
County, and later to Belvidere. They tried to come back once a month,
so that Blanche could see her family. In 1994 Guthrie died suddenly of
a heart attack. Blanche made plans to move back to her family home, but
she "had to wait two years after a hurricane shook it up and it had to
Looking back, Blanche remembers that "Ocracoke was a good place to live."
didn’t have to worry about their children then. There’s been a lot of
changes, but it’s nice to recall it. Childhood was a happy time."