Cabin To Go

November 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

My father started going to Core Banks for the fishing–and the camaraderie of the other men on the trip, I suspect, since he had four daughters and a wife chatting him up every day at home.

But once he decided to build a shack on the banks, constructing that house became a fascination in itself. It was just the kind of project Dad liked, a mix of thinking and doing.

There were a number of problems to solve.  There is no bridge to Core Banks, so all materials would have to be transported by boat. There was no electricity and the weather conditions could be harsh and unpredictable–requiring a shack that could be assembled without power tools, one that could hold up in wind and rain. Adding to the complications, my father (and my mother) wanted to build the shack with as little investment as possible.

So the shack came to represent my dad’s creativity and ingenuity, some of it impressive to me and some of it pretty darned amusing.

First, he and Arlo Rogers (who was much more experienced in construction) measured the Willis boat.  We’d been taking the Willis’s wooden ferry from Davis to Core Banks, and that would be the transport for shack materials.  The two men pre-fabbed shack walls that would fit onto Mr. Willis’s boat.  They could use power tools at home to build the walls, then assemble them on the Banks.

The house itself was very simple. My dad insisted it be square, saying repeatedly, “because a square is the most efficient space.”  I have no idea if this is true.  He sided the house in free material–aluminum press plates from our local newspaper, the Goldsboro New Argus.  We were always known as “the newspaper house.” You could stand outside the house and read the paper, which people often did.

Our cabin had no electricity. We used an apartment-sized range with a propane tank for cooking, Coleman lanterns for light, a giant styrofoam cooler and a big block of ice for refrigeration.  Dad and Mr. Rogers dug a well and septic tank. We pumped water by hand at the kitchen sink, and we did have a toilet, which we flushed by pouring a bucket of water into the bowl.

I am not sure, but I think the National Park Service removed or burned the cabin when they had all the squatters move out. I was in college at the time and remember my father going over to remove some of our things–the little gas range and some other items.  I did find this article from 1977 talking about the plan to clean up the Banks.  Some of the cabins were preserved, I believe, and can be rented now–something I’m interested in doing as I gather information for this project.

In the Great American Tradition of Squatting

November 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

When my sisters and I were kids, our father built a cabin on the Outer Banks, the Cape Lookout National Seashore to be more specific. It was early in the 1970s. No, he didn’t own the land–and that was part of the charm for him. He was introducing his children to the great American tradition of squatting, he used to say.

Whenever I tell stories from this time in my life, my friends will say I should write about it.  A couple of years ago at a writers’ retreat in California, author Phyllis Theroux said, “This is your Little House on the Prairie.”  And I think it is.

But here’s the problem.  Though I rate this adventure as one of the most influential aspects of my upbringing, I struggle to remember the particulars.  My mother and sisters do, too.  Our father knew every detail. If only we’d listened more carefully to his stories. If only I’d videotaped it all or written it down.

But I didn’t. He died eleven years ago. Now I’m trying to fill in the details–the names of the other families who were our fellow squatters, the places we rode in our rusty old beach buggy, the adventures we had surviving storms, battling mosquitoes and learning to catch our own food.

As I research, I plan to store that information here. I hope that, perhaps, someone may happen across this and have a little something they can add.

And I’ll tell you something I wish someone had told me.  When your nutty parents tell their crazy old stories you’ve heard a million times–pay attention.  Write it down.

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