We recently lost a truly good “rural man,” whose country upbringing centered him in the tradition of hard work, particularly in working with wood. His name: Joe Hammack.
He and his family were “one of a kind,” harkening back to simpler, “frill-less” times, and denoted by dedication to the basics of hard work and the Golden Rule.
But at Christmastime, some “frills” did appear!
I heard of Joe’s family when I first lived in Yanceyville around the mid 1970s. At Christmas time, someone said, “Let’s go see the Hammack’s lights!” And to me back then, this phrase sounded as “lovably rural” as when Barney Fife would say, “Andy, let’s go get a bottle of pop!”
Several trees in the Hammack’s yard were lit with colored lights. To this, was added a “faux tree,” consisting of an approximately 50-foot-tall pole with a string (connected strings) of lights beginning in a wide circle around the pole’s base, and ascending in an ever-narrowing spiral upwards, ending in a bright, star-shaped ornament at the top.
But the lit decoration which drew the most attention, also high up, was that of Santa, his sleigh, reindeer, and reins all light up, with Rudolph’s red nose blinking, just like Rudolph’ nose in the stop-motion animated Rankin/Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964).
In contrast to nowadays, when the over-the-top decorations of Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) are seeming to become more the norm. The Hammack’s Christmas decorations were still more than the usual back then, but in good taste.
I remember Joe often wearing plaid shirts like another woodworking man, TV’s Norm Abrams (although Joe’s accent was that of north-central North Carolina, not Massachusetts).
Joe had a carpentry business (becoming part time, after he later began teaching woodworking at Bartlett Yancey High School) which included household additions (both outside and in). Joe turned part of my little family’s attic into a half second floor. Of the beautiful pattern of the stair’s landing he sheepishly said, “I’m sort of proud of the work I did on that!” Anything more boastful than that would have been out of character. And in Joe’s crafting of that extra half story, he seemed to “discover” more room than what was already there.
Joe built his sister a very nice house close to his (I guess when family builds your house, they build it so you will not be far away).
Joe’s family raised tobacco and hunted deer. One time, my son Jeremy and I were standing in Joe’s yard discussing Native American projectile points (arrowheads) when Joe suddenly looked down at a space of red clay amidst the grass and said, “Here’s one!” Having raised tobacco, Joe learned to discern the presence of an arrowhead poking up from the red North Carolina clay.
On time, my late wife, Diane, daughter, Rachel, and I road to Wilmington with Joe and his wife, Susan to visit Susan’s parents. We headed down in Joe’s crafted RV before dawn. I still remember us sitting and frequently nodding off.
Looking back on my recollections of Joe, especially his working with wood and building that house for his sister, I remembered the Scripture which begins, “In my Father’s house are many mansions….”
With more people hopefully going to Heaven every year, there will probably be a need for good, handy souls, like Joe’s to aid in that Heavenly construction.