Emma Louise Rose Guthrie has lived her entire life on Harkers Island, since March 21, 1933. She never had an urge to go traipsing off to someplace like Timbuktu.
Like many Harkers Island children growing up, she learned important life skills from her parents – how to fish, shoot, cook, sew, make things...and waste nothing.
Colorful empty flour sacks became material for the sewing of girls’ dresses. Finer fabrics were an unnecessary frill.
Emma Guthrie was interviewed in 2016 for an oral history project, “The Saltwater South: Harkers Island, North Carolina,” sponsored by the University of Mississippi in Oxford.
Some kids called her “Emmer,” but she preferred “Em.”
“My daddy was Leslie Rose, and my momma was Christine Willis Rose. Daddy’s family came from Cape Lookout. Momma’s family of Willises...came from Shackleford.
“My daddy was a natural boatbuilder,” Em added. Indeed, the Rose brothers were known far and wide for their boatbuilding talents and techniques. All the plans were stored in their heads. They didn’t need drawings or printed plans to form the distinctive flare style of Harkers Island boats. If the boat looked pretty, she’d ride pretty, too.
Leslie and Christine Rose had 14 children. There were nine girls; “they had seven girls before we ever had a boy.” Em said she later figured out her momma was pretty smart, having enough girls first, so they’d be old enough to help her take care of the baby boys.
“Out of the 14, I was the one who loved the water the most,” Em said. She was daddy’s girl in the fishing boat.
Em had domestic talents, too. She was the family’s baker. “We had our light rolls every morning, and they’d come to school with us.”
“Mine must have been good because there was a boy in my class who stole mine just about every day. I said, ‘Henry, you’re starving me to death. So I told momma, ‘just put an extra biscuit in there for Henry, because I got to have some lunch.’”
“Aunt Janie could make the best (light rolls). We used to take them for dinner and put collards between those biscuits. You never ate nothing no better.”
“Harkers Island is special,” Em said. “We – everybody on this island – are a very close-knit family, and if anybody gets sick or if somebody dies, the island people just flock right there with them and help them anyway they can.” The ailing or grieving family “doesn’t have to cook for a month.”
Em said that when her husband, Garland Guthrie, died in 2011, “I invited the whole island to come here and eat; there was so much food. My grandsons set up tables all over the backyard.”
“I could never leave this island,” she said. “I’ve got to smell that salt air. I’ve got to have my feet in that saltwater.”
“I got sick on Portsmouth Island one time. My gallbladder busted and they had to call a helicopter to come pick me up to carry me to Norfolk, Va. I had to have surgery and all that,” Em said.
“I didn’t come to till four days later. The first thing I asked them was, ‘Did you wash that saltwater off of me?’”
“That nurse – I thought she would die laughing. She asked me if I knew where I was. ‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘I’m on Portsmouth Island.’”
“‘No, you got sick and they had to bring you here to the hospital,’ the nurse said.”
“Did you wash that saltwater off of me?” Em asked again.
Astutely, the nurse recognized her patient was serious, not delirious. She replied: Never, no never.