Small talk brings the Rose brothers to life

Published: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 04:55 PM.

While making face-to-face small talk — a pastime that seems lost in an information age of texts, emails and tweets — with one of the folks with whom I work at Cherry Point, the subject of summer came up. Specifically, we made small talk of summers in Eastern North Carolina Down East on Harkers Island from where my coworker hails.

The lazy — or so they seemed — summers of our youth hold special memories for most of us. So our small talk centered on special summer memories half a century ago, memories still vivid because of their importance. Growing up on Harkers Island and the Rose Bros. Boat Works became our small talk du jour.

I’m from “off,” as anyone is not from Harkers Island, although the friendliness of the island’s residents means there are few strangers, “save for possibly a Yankee from ‘off’ like you,” my coworker quips with a twinkle in his eye.

And being a Yankee from “off,” growing up near big city Cleveland, Ohio, my childhood memories are landlocked and void of salt air, ocean breezes and the lexicon, sights and sound of boat building. So my coworker’s treasure chest of childhood memories, so different from those of my own, holds great interest for me.

A 1985 column about Harkers Island by staff writer Charles Hillinger from, of all places, the Los Angeles Times, quotes then 80-year-old Harkers Islander Lloyd Willis who described Harkers Island boats, including those built at the Rose Bros. Boat Works: “You can spot a Harkers Island boat easy,” said Willis, “by the design, by the flare bows, by the style of craftsmanship.”

In 1985, Willis had been a boat maker for 66 years, ever since he was 14. “Haven’t quit yet,” Hillinger quoted Willis as saying nearly 30 years ago.

I imagine Lloyd Willis must still be building boats. But he does so now for an even mightier purpose: for the trip across the endless sea to the Great Beyond.

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