Miss Blanche Talks to Us

This article first appeared in the weekly paper The Ocracoker in June 2010. Deana and Caroline were 12 and 11 at the time they wrote it.

By Deana Seitz and Caroline Temple

Blanche Howard Jolliff lives in her family home on Howard Street. She loves gardening and visiting with people who stop by. She’s a treasure trove of island history and local lore. She was recently visited by two Ocracoke sixth-graders, Deana and Caroline, who interviewed her for the Ocracoker.

We asked Miss Blanche if she had any cool stories that would tell us about what things were like when she was our age. And this is what she told us: 

“One time when I was about five years old, a ship ran ashore called the Victoria S. It had real nice lumber about this wide,” (she held her fingers three inches apart) “and it was really long, about twelve feet long. And they couldn’t salvage the ship. But the people bought the lumber because they needed it for building houses in those days, because, you know, they had to be really strong houses. And so my grandparents took me to see the ship, and it was full of lumber!”

Next we asked her when she was a little girl, what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said, “I didn’t have any particular job in mind. I had interests, but I didn’t really know.” Then she asked us what we would like to be when we get big and when we told her, she gave us some encouraging comments.

We asked her about what she did end up doing for a job. “I was a postal worker for fifteen years.” When we asked if it was fun, she laughed and said, “Oh yes, it was interesting.” We asked if she ever delivered mail to herself. Her answer was no, because there has never been home mail deliveries on Ocracoke. She also told us that there was no bank here in those days, so the post office had to do bank jobs, too, with money orders from the mainland.

We asked her if she had any siblings. ‘Yes,” she told us. “Three sisters. And there were lots of children in the neighborhood and we’d all get together to play games, and we would play at school at recess. And some of the children had ponies that they could ride, and one boy even had a goat and a goat cart!”

“Did he carry things in it?” we asked.

“Yes,” she replied with a smile. “Goats were real good pets, too.”

Miss Blanche told us she enjoyed playing Farmer in the Dell and Hopscotch. The older boys played Meehonkey, which, she explained, is like Hide and Seek, but the boys would run really far away to hide, and the other boys couldn’t find them until dusk, when it was time to go home.

“We played all day long,” she said. “And I just hated it when it was time to go home.”

She went on to tell us another of her favorite things to play as a kid: house.

“When anybody’s mother had broken dishes, we couldn’t wait to get them, because we had a pretend kitchen, and threw all these mudpies and salads and things that we would make on these plates. We would use little bunches of cedar as chicken, and those long things with berries we would mash with sand from the beach. We liked it because it would bubble up like bread.”

We asked her what cereals she had to eat when she was a kid. She said they ate corn flakes, rice krispies, all-bran and oatmeal. 

She also told us about the county nurses: 

“When I was your age, the county nurses would come down and you would go get your shots, and the shot would make you immune your whole life, and you would only have to get that shot once in your life.”

We asked about her beautiful old house. “How old is it?” we said. “Oh, it will be 103 this year,” she replied. When we asked about her garden she said, “My oldest sister planted flowers when I was a little girl. When I grew up, I loved gardening. There was an especially lovely plant called gallardias. And there was a man here who loved them named Joe Bell and since gallardias was a name that was too hard to remember, we nicknamed the flowers “Joebells.” They grow in the dry sand, in many pretty colors, but there’s only a few left here anymore.”

We had lots of fun talking to Miss Blanche and we hope that by reading this article, you’ll be as inspired by her as we were!



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