Jenny Scarborough

Hospitality workers on Ocracoke rarely get two days off in a row over Labor Day weekend.

Thanks to Hermine, some of us had a mini-holiday from work. Not many people say it aloud, because it feels like tempting fate and inviting potential destruction, but after a busy season, mandatory evacuations of visitors from the island are not entirely unwelcome. 

It's an evacuation vacation, or an "evacuvacation," to use the term offered by Brooke Wells of Blue Heron Realty, whose offices were open and working hard communicating with guests and homeowners.

The evacuation was announced Thursday, and by Friday afternoon hotel rooms and most rental cottages were empty. The Variety Store posted a hand-written sign on the door that they would close an hour early, and I knew 95% of the people in the store. People were buying a few modest supplies. Lasagna ingredients, six packs of beer, loaves of bread, bananas, orange Fanta, cinnamon buns, tubes of cookie dough, and blocks of cheese slid across checkout scanners.

What I will remember about Hermine is sitting in an outdoor hot tub under the fat drops of rain, watching the wind froth the sound, and wondering how, precisely, those brown pelicans were still clinging to the pilings at the end of the neighbors dock. I never feel nervous until the birds leave.

My parents spent part of the storm baking. A fresh loaf was delivered to me after Hermine--is that even a name?-- spun onward. I asked Dad if there had been ducks in the yard. He sputtered and shook his head.

What makes a storm memorable? I asked a few residents if they had a favorite hurricane. 

"I never remember the names of hurricanes," confessed one woman who said she would talk on the condition of anonymity. "This one hurricane we partied all night at the Pub and had to swim home in the morning," she said. She recalls "that other hurricane" with the wild house party. Those were pre-kids. "During another storm my kids' plastic climber was floating out of the yard. We tied it to the tree with a garden hose." Her husband was at the end of their driveway as the current swept pass, directing debris away from their yard. Her favorite storm, whose name she also can't remember, was probably the time she and a friend evacuated with their kids and checked into a mainland hotel with an indoor pool. Kids played; moms chilled. It was a good storm.

Should I stay or should I go?

Hurricane Gloria is etched in Trudy Austin's memory. It took her family five days to make the return trip from Rocky Mount, NC, which under ordinary circumstances takes five hours. "I've never left since," said Trudy. 

Bartender Beatle Haddad's favorite storm was Alex, she said with no hesitation. "It was memorable. We were out of power for what? A week and a half? The Red Cross was here and we were eating hot dogs at the ferry docks. I had a key to the beer cooler at the Pelican. We were writing IOU's to Syd," she said. All of the employees who lived in trailers opted to squat at the restaurant during the storm, and helped themselves to cheesecake from the walk-in. The flooding reached the top of the bar stools.

After a bit of thought, prep cook Heather Johnson said that Hurricane Dennis was one of her favorites. "It was rowdy. I don't know if I want you to quote me on this," she said. Heather and her sister Rebecca were trudging down Middle Road in wading boots when Jesse Spencer passed them in a boat and threw up a wake. The continuing saga involved a cruise through town in the old gas truck, borrowing jugs of gasoline from someone's uncle's shed, and wading through the flooded gas station to "loot" candy bars and beer.

There is "something very calming about an evacuated island," said Heather.

Thai Moon Restaurant stayed open on Friday. Chef and owner Muan Dennis said evacuations were an opportunity to actually see the other people who live here again after the work-eat-sleep-work-cycle of the high season. The Larb was as delicious as ever.

Kyle Tillett was born in the brief respite between Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd. That's his mother's favorite hurricane.

Hurricane Hugo is Bob Chestnut's favorite storm. The Ride the Wind Surf Shop owner was living in coastal South Carolina at the time, where residents were without power for six days following Hugo. Bob and Jane's older son, Robert, is a Hugo baby. 

Humberto created epic swell, recalls Bob. He was blissed out, surfing alone, when he realized that he was surfing alone in hurricane swell, and decided to head on home. 

Zillie's Island Pantry had a full porch of locals on Friday afternoon. Disco music was playing, and there was a group sing-a-long to Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." 

Survive we did. Visitors will be welcomed back today. 


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