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Nearly four years ago, I decided to write a little something different about Thanksgiving traditions, so I visited Carson Varnam’s Oyster Market in Varnamtown, where families were picking up oysters for their Thanksgiving Day oyster roasts.
Varnam and his wife, Marlene, told me roasting oysters was a popular tradition in Brunswick County, and, as we were talking, a couple from Ash pulled up to pick up their bushel of oysters for the big day.
“As long as I can get them from Carson, we’ll have oysters for Thanksgiving,” one of the customers told me.
A local woman whose family roots ran deep in Brunswick County said her family never had turkey on Thanksgiving—it was always a time for outdoor oyster roasts.
As for Varnam himself, he said he didn’t need to wait for Thanksgiving to eat oysters.
“Whenever I get hungry for them, I just eat them,” he said, chuckling.
Varnam had a charming personality and, I tried to capture that in a photo I took featuring him carrying a bucket of oysters with a big grin on his face. The picture was on the front cover of the Tidelines section that week.
It was one of my most enjoyable assignments.
Then, last week, I learned Varnam, the man from whom everybody in Varnamtown and beyond bought his or her oysters on Thanksgiving, had died after a bout with cancer.
He was loved throughout the county for his love of shellfishing and for his attitude, selflessness and gentleness. The crowd that turned out to honor his memory spoke volumes.
My in-laws attended the family’s visitation and told me it took them 30 minutes to get to the church door.
Brunswick County won’t be the same without Varnam, but his family, friends and church family will always have his memories to cherish.
His obituary describes him as a “faithful and dedicated member of Dixon Chapel United Methodist Church,” and I’m sure that fellowship would not be the same if not for his contributions.
“He had a true concern for the future of shellfishing in the coastal waters of Brunswick County and throughout the state of North Carolina,” according to his obituary.
He passed that concern on to his family and the people he came in contact with, and I hope they continue to follow in his footsteps—speaking up for commercial fishermen and the importance of water quality.
Varnam was a blessing to those who knew him, and I’m proud I got to spend some time with him and talk to the people who counted on him for their holiday traditions.
My heart goes out to his family, and I hope they know how much he meant to the people of Brunswick County.