Last year I had the great fortune of meeting the sweetest couple, Manson and Vera Meekins. On February 16, 2017 my daughter and I attended a community dinner at our church, St. John’s United Methodist in Avon, North Carolina.
The community celebrated Manson Meekins 101’st Birthday that evening. His wife, Vera, sang happy birthday with the rest of the community by his side. I watched Vera as she sang happy birthday to Manson. I was so overwhelmed with emotion watching her smile and sing to him. The love that was radiating out around them was so powerful. This was a special love, I had not witnessed anything quite like it in my lifetime. I decided to reach out to their family to see if I could meet with them both to document their love story and history of the island. Thankfully I was invited over by their daughter’s to their home in Avon, on February 18, 2017 Manson’s 101 Birthday.
Manson Meekins was born on February 18, 1916 in Avon, North Carolina. Vera Williams was born December 10, 1923. Born and raised on Hatteras Island the two grew up together. Manson followed his father’s footsteps and joined the Coast Guard in 1933 in Ocean City, New Jersey. He stayed there for four or five years. He would come home on leave once a year to visit Vera and his family.
His father was in the Coast Guard, stationed in charge of Little Kinnakeet Station and then Big Kinnakeet Station when built in 1938. After high school, Vera moved in with her aunt and uncle in Norfolk and worked at “Charles Store” in the office. Her father, Charles Williams had a relationship with the store, in that he would take orders for dresses and other items and come up to Norfolk to shop for people on the island. Vera worked there until her sister, Retta moved into the Berkley section in South Norfolk and was pregnant. Vera moved in with her and her husband John Quidley and got a job at a dry cleaners.
The couple’s first date was a double date with their friends in the backseat, they drove out on the beach and had a romantic evening. Vera said he was very gentleman like, as they both were waiting until marriage to be together. Manson said he would marry her if she could make a fig pudding. There was not to much time for romancing back then, as he was only home on leave a few times a year for short periods of time. Vera mentioned there used to be a dance hall in Avon, where the Volunteer Fire Department is now, called “You Come In.” They used to go on dates and dance the Jitterbug when he was home on leave.
Manson agreed to go to sea after leaving New Jersey shore station. In the process he was transferred to Washington, DC where he was a revolver instructor for the Secret Service and White House police. He had several years of target shooting with the Coast Guard riffle and pistol team. Therefore he was considered well qualified for the White House.
After ten months he was transferred on a ship to the American Seaman, training marine personnel. He went aboard the American Seaman in Maryland. Next he headed to St. Augustine, Florida where he was stationed training merchant seaman on a large vessel. The ship also had a large capacity for carrying water. They carried water to Key West, Florida. One of the trips as they were returning to get another load of water, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Immediately after they were ordered to paint the ship gray instead of white. Consequently, Naval Reserves took over training the seaman.
He was then ordered to be stationed in Tampa, Florida. There he trained rifle and pistol shooters up and down the Gulf of Mexico, teaching them how to use firearms. During this time he was taking the test for Officer’s Candidate School, for the Coast Guard in New London, and ultimately was selected. Before going to Officer’s Candidate School, he came home on leave and asked Vera’s parents for permission to marry her. Her fathers response was “Do you think you can handle her?” Vera was working at the dry cleaners when Manson proposed.
They took a train from Portsmouth, Virginia, to Tampa, Florida where they married on January 21, 1943. He was 27 years old and she was 19 years old. Manson had made prior arrangements for their wedding. When Vera told her mother they had to go to Florida to get married, her mother, knowing her love of travel, quipped to her sister Velma, “She just wants a trip to Florida.” She wore the best dress she had, it was black velvet with white birds. She showed me a keepsake she had made with the velvet fabric and a bird from her dress and the rings they exchanged on their wedding day. They stayed in Tampa a couple of days, then went to St Petersburg, Florida to find a place to live.
Soon after, Manson received orders to go to the Coast Guard Academy for Officer training. During which time Vera traveled home to Avon and other places. After a year or so their first child, son Leslie was born in 1944 in New London. After graduation he stayed a couple years at the academy, he remained rifle instructor for the cadets. Manson was then ordered to go to sea in the pacific. He caught the ship in San Francisco and Vera headed back to Avon.
Manson was on the ship for about ten months going in and out of the Philippines and taking troops to North China. When the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan (Hiroshima), they were at anchor in Sabu, an island in the Pacific. Ordered to take occupational troops back into Japan and pick up troops to bring back to the states, making three or four trips to Japan.
While in route back to the states from China, he was called by the commanding officer of their ship, asking if he was interested in going into Marine Inspection for the Coast Guard to inspect merchant ships. He was selected to go to Marine Inspection when he entered California waters. He then went to New York for ten days of training and stopped at home in Avon to visit Vera and his family.
In 1945 Manson was stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii. Six months later Vera and their son went to live with him. Their second child Kathy was born in 1949. For four years they stayed in Hawaii and did not come home to visit. While in Hawaii Vera took hula lessons and learned Chinese cooking. She loved learning and traveling. During our interview Vera was full of spunk and sang a Hawaiian song as she showed me the hula dance, she learned all those years ago.
After four years in Hawaii, Manson was stationed in New York for a few years, then transferred to Norfolk. While in Norfolk their third and last child, Kristy was born. Manson was finally stationed in Detroit, Michigan, where he retired from the Coast Guard in 1966. Manson had a total of 38 years of active duty when he finally retired. Traveling back to Virginia Beach in the Kempsville borough, Manson continued working in the Coast Guard in Portsmouth, Virginia until the early 70’s.
Shortly after their children were grown, Manson and Vera moved back home to Avon. They purchased a property in Kinnakeet Village on the creek, off of Pamlico Sound. It was there that Manson built the home they live in today. He decided to buy a bunch of commercial fishing nets and started commercial fishing, fulfilling his desire to fish and hunt. He grew up hunting and fishing on Hatteras Island and always claimed after retirement he would return home to hunt and fish. Manson fished up until two years ago at the age of 98, he still has a fishing license today. He expressed to me how discouraged he became with the new fishing regulations, which seem to change often and essentially took the fun out of fishing. Next to fishing he loved duck hunting. He still has two sink box blinds on the Kinnakeet Reef in Avon. Up until two years ago he was still duck hunting with his local buddy Harvey Scarborough.
During my time with them, we walked around their home. Manson showed me carvings of fish, turtles and decoys he hand carved. He also showed me carvings and souvenir’s he brought back from China and other places he was stationed. Records he had hand drawn to record memories of his fishing and hunting days on the island. They even pulled out some old photos from their life in the early 1900’s. Manson is a true Hatteras Island legend; huntsman, waterman, fisherman, carver, artist, a man of all trades.
Vera is a wonderful cook and homemaker and, as a faithful Methodist, very active in church wherever they lived. She volunteered at Thalia Lynn Baptist Church for three years, working with disabled children and ultimately worked for pay as a teacher’s aide at The Center for Effective Learning in Kempsville, Virginia Beach. She was also employed on a few occasions by the Virginia Beach City Treasure’s Office in the 70’s. She often drove her children to their activities, she was an excellent seamstress, loved crewel embroidery, canning, making jam and all kinds of creative activities. She was always industrious.
Manson and Vera are both in great health at age 101 and 93. They have seven grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. She enjoys crossword puzzles and he enjoys reading books and scripture. Vera makes eggs, bacon, toast and juice every morning for breakfast, while listening to old cassette tapes of Big Band music from the 40’s. They usually go out to eat locally for lunch. Diamond Shoals in Buxton, is one of their favorite lunch spots.
On a typical day they take an afternoon nap and get up around 4pm to go on their “daily spin.” Their daily spin involves a half hour to forty five minute drive from south or “southard” to north or “nothard”end of Avon. Manson drives the two of them around town, starting at the Hatteras Realty duck pond where they enjoy watching the ducks. Traveling south and back north through all the back streets, the village and back home. They started their daily spins a little over a year ago to get out of the house for a bit. Vera makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with cereal for dinner every evening.
Vera has always enjoyed socializing. They attend church every Sunday at the St Johns United Methodist church in Avon. Manson and Vera also still attend community dinners, local Anglers Club dinners and such.
Married for 74 years and still madly in love. I asked them both their secret to longevity in a relationship. They both responded with the word “LOVE.” Vera claims Manson is the only man she has ever loved. When I asked her what is their idea of romance today she grabbed him by his face and romantically kissed him. Vera expressed they kiss often. There hasn’t been one evening that they haven’t said good night to one another in all their years together.
Throughout the entire interview I could feel their love for one another. The way they smiled at one another, placed their hand on one another and the way they still looked at one another as if no one else was in the room. My soul was so touched during the few hours I spent with them.
This true Kinnakeet love story has changed my perspective on love and life completely. Seeing love thrive for so long and endure the test of time was inspirational and has restored my faith in marriage. This is love; real love, committed love, passionate love, true love, forever love. There is much to be learned from their life and love story. I am thankful for the time I spent with two precious souls and the local knowledge they shared with me. Please scroll up for a few frames of my afternoon with Mr. and Mrs. Meekins, a legendary local island couple.