Our Stories; And the Story of Duck 

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Our Stories

It seems inconceivable to me that my grandfather and my daughter never met. He was just as much a constant presence in my life as I was growing up as she is now. All she will ever know of him will come from me. It is a weird feeling to be responsible for the definition of someone. Huge important sections of his life I know nothing about. Should I fill in the blanks? I have been thinking a lot about history lately because of the new book by Louise Erdrich, "The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse." (Henry Holt $26) It is a novel about history and the dubious way we retrieve and keep stories from our past.

In a convent in North Dakota around the turn of the century, a young nun, Sister Cecelia, born Agnes Dewitt, unnerves the rest of the convent by her devotion not to God but to Chopin. She plays day and night until she is politely asked to leave.

She wanders around freezing when she comes across the body of Father Damien who had been headed for the mission at the Little No Horse Obweja Indian reservation. His clothes are wool and without much thought, Agnes dons them and heads off towards the reservation as Father Damien.

She lives the rest of her life as Father Damien. One of the women on the reservation converts and ends up becoming a nun herself, Sister Leopolda. Sister Leopolda is strange and cruel; her devotion to Christ scares everyone to death. She is later investigated by the archdiocese as a possible saint. Only Father Damien knows she is more motivated by Satan than God. And the only way Father Damien can make this perfectly clear is to reveal himself and his own strange history at Little No Horse.

After several unfocused novels, Erdrich returns to form brilliantly. Everyone in an Erdrich novel suffers but with such a wild sense of humor and unique empathy that the reader would willingly live with them.

Many of her characters have nothing in this world except their history. And in the end I guess that is all anyone has. I would be horrified if my daughter never asked about my grandfather. So I plan on telling her his story, even if I get some of it wrong. History is what you make it. — Thom Jeter

And the Story of Duck

Access to Duck, N.C., has changed from a primitive sandy trail up the sound side of the Outer Banks to a paved road lined by shops and fancy new condos and houses.

The flavor of the place has changed, too. Gone are the days of hunting and fishing; they've given way to far more trendy sports of windsurfing and jetskiing. All of this and more is documented in "Duck: An Outer Banks Village," by Judith D. Mercier (John F. Blain, $18.95)

Mercier offers all the details a visitor could want as she tells the story of this speck of a settlement from its early days as home to European colonists, through its tenuous times in the 1930s when two hurricanes nearly swept it into the sea. The following years brought an increasing clash between the quaint village and the almighty coin as developers began to capitalize on its understated beauty by turning it into a summer destination and slowly diminishing its year-round population.

Though not a native herself, Mercier does a fine job of portraying old timers and their stories. Names like Stick, Scarborough, Caffey and Hargraves may be familiar to tourists but they are given voices here. Their memories and those of others, including the occasional come-here, help make Duck more than just a place to swim and shop for those who feel a deep connection to the Outer Banks. — Elizabeth Cogar


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