Monday, December 10, 2007

Talking in the Accent of Ocracoke

Thanksgiving break took me to Ocracoke Island, just off the coast of North Carolina, on the tip of the Outer Banks. The day before Thanksgiving found our group in shorts on that wide expanse of beach, thirteen miles of nothing but two lane blacktop with the beach on one side and the sound on the other. Whereas the steep beaches at Rodanthe and Avon, Waves and Salvo are beautiful but plagued by rip currents and those cold, foamy Atlantic waves that knock your knees right out from under you, the beaches of Ocracoke are gradual, their waves kissed by the Gulf Stream. The forty five minute ferry ride from Hatteras to Ocracoke is like watching decades march backwards. Although Ocracoke is more developed that it once was, its simple frame cottages with screened porches and crushed shell back lanes are prettier to me than the seven bedroom, four storied "beach houses" that line the shores of the rest of the Outer Banks, well, everywhere, that is, except for the strips of National Seashore. Yet Ocracoke itself has changed greatly from the island it once was. No longer is the Pony Island Inn the only place to stay in town, and although sadly the wonderful old Community Market next to the dock downtown has closed, there is still a place in the village where you can buy a bar of soap or a quart of milk to make oyster stew if you need it. Nevertheless, the native "O'Cockers" have, over the last 250 years, developed a unique brogue. There are far fewer of those who speak this brogue than there once was, but an outsider can quickly become familiar with it by visiting the Ocracoke Brogue Room in the Ocracoke Museum. A stay on Ocracoke is never complete until you roam the little local museum and pull up a metal folding chair to listen to the pre-corded lesson about how O'Cockers speak.

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