At 73, Mickey Baker has experienced 14 hurricanes and several serious storms along with their accompanying power outages. She has never left Ocracoke for any storm or hurricane. But the power outage was different.
Mickey Baker reminds you of the legendary Unsinkable Molly Brown—the Margaret Brown who survived the Titanic sinking. Like Margaret, Mickey is feisty, indomitable, funny, and politically active. She is also unshakably positive, and that kept her buoyed during last week’s power outage on Ocracoke Island.
In 34 years of living on the island, Mickey has experienced 14 hurricanes and several serious storms along with their accompanying power outages. She has never left the island for any storm or hurricane. “But this was different,” she says. “One can see a storm coming and prepare for it. This was a complete cutoff in an instant. No warning. It was pull together, get ice, get gas in cars so we could charge devices and sit in air conditioning if we needed to.”
Then, as if the Fates had planned it, gale force winds from the north arrived the day after the power cables were cut, and the summer’s nicest week of weather set in. “We actually had to find the cotton blankets and long-sleeve tees,” says Mickey, who turns 74 this month.
There were other blessings, too. People from banks, credit card companies, and other creditors called to offer extended terms, if needed. Neighbors in other parts of the Outer Banks donated essentials such as food, batteries, school supplies, small generators, fans, and more.
Stranded, with no assurance generators wouldn’t break down, Mickey and others found life on the island was tenuous at times. She explains, “We were hesitant to touch the TV, do laundry, use a hair dryer, or brew coffee. We kept lights off in front of the shops and houses, and God forbid we run the air conditioning.”
On the other hand, says Mickey, “There was such immense peace. The island was empty. There were no golf carts everywhere. We could actually drive at 20 mph and get home in two minutes. It’s indescribable to be here with only your neighbors. No strangers.”
“Strangers,” of course, are the lifeblood of the Outer Banks, where nearly every business revolves around tourists. Mickey’s shop, Mermaid’s Folly, is no exception. Along with her partner, carmie prete, she has owned and operated the lively clothing store for 12 years, after 22 years of running another. Carmie is also Mickey’s beloved life-partner of 48 years.
Asked how her shop has fared compared to others, Mickey quickly responds, “No one fared better than another here except the gas station and the food store. We all shut our doors and didn’t open them until today [Saturday]. We were all on the same page: conservation of energy.”
As the week moved along, says Mickey, “We tried to keep up with the silly national news, and going through what we were experiencing made it all sillier. So we huddled around the car radio to see if Mueller was getting anywhere, realizing that what was going on in D.C. was bigger than our local crisis.”
Like Margaret Brown, Mickey is a political activist. Brown was one of the first women in the United States to run for political office. A staunch suffragette and feminist, she ran for the Senate eight years before women even had the right to vote.
While Brown was most concerned about labor rights and women’s rights, Mickey is focused on equal rights—and on immigration and environmental issues. In response to the election of Donald Trump, she joined the Outer Banks chapter of Stronger NC, a statewide activist group. She follows Rev. William Barber, makes phone calls, signs petitions, campaigns, demonstrates. “And if I have to,” she says, “I’ll rally a crowd to its feet over a passionate issue, such as offshore drilling.”
What keeps Mickey going? “I am fueled by love—love of my Love, love of my island, love of my family, my dearest friends. And I’m fueled by the ocean, animals, and the spirit world, whose souls never really leave us.”
It’s quiet on Ocracoke today, though vacationers are starting to pull in and get settled. “Now,” says Mickey, “we will join the rest of the world and dream of the days when we will harness the oceans and winds and use solar power. This is a big day. Looks like I may get to iron a tee shirt.”