Monthly Archives: November 2013

Release :(part 4)

My grandfather, Russell Hamm, knew how to build things.

Over the years of the Hamm stewardship of the farm, Russell improved the structures or added them to suit the needs of running the family business. His passing was in 1980 when I was a kindergartener, so I only have a short window of observation with which I can make my own assessment of him. From seeing the countless tools, parts and containers in the garage alone, I figured he could do anything.  It was only when I was older that I started to understand who my grandfather was, as limited as that may be. He was a pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and was part of the occupation forces in Okinawa after the surrender of Japan. His B-29 and crew could very well have been in line to drop another atomic bomb somewhere had history turned out differently. He taught himself how to play the organ and seemed to thrive on doing things his way, as his own boss.

He built an indoor bathroom and the infrastructure to pump water from the cistern. A detached garage, with room or three cars despite their only having one, was another notable project. I can recall the kitchen remodel done in the late 1970’s which included the addition of the dining room off of the east side of the house. Before he died, one of the last things I remember him doing was rebuilding the wrap around front porch, a job done so well it still looked relatively new more than three decades later.Image

In my mind, however, the crowning achievement was the seven-bent tobacco barn he built on top of the hill behind the house. From my perspective, it had always stood there, stately, guarding over the farm like a proud watchdog. On every visit, there it stood, to the north, up the hill, looking down into the small valley where the house stood safe from harm. My dad would have a different story. He watched it being built. In 1960, he would come home from school and see flatbed trucks of lumber, one after another, hauling their loads up the hill to the worksite. His father would inspect the pieces of wood for quality. I seem to remember being told that for every piece he accepted, he sent several back. More than one truck went on its way carrying the rejected supply with it. Image

The barn was raised quickly after the supplies enabled the framing to be done. It has been said that great architects design structures that appear as though they are part of the natural environment around it. It’s as if once there, they have always been there or meant to be there. This barn gives me that impression, that it was always meant to be there, overlooking the house on one side and the pond on another. Inside on a post near the south end can be seen the carving by my grandfather’s hand, “1960 HAMM”

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Over the years I have seen many a barn in bad shape. Some were leaning, others collapsed, still some wound up as empty spaces where its structure once stood. Not this one. Russell’s barn is still as solid and stately in 2013 as it was more than fifty years ago. Along the way it has seen its share of hardships such as doors blown off their hinges by storms or hardware rusting through. Every one of them were repairable. The only difference is that nowadays, long timber, upwards of 20 feet simply cannot be found. Some of the doors used for air curing of tobacco are now in two sections where one used to suffice. Image

Nowadays the barn stands empty, separated from its once faithful partner. The tobacco may be gone but the barn awaits either its return, or a new teammate with which it will propel the economic stability of a different farming family. Image

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Release :(part 3)

Being a working farm for so many decades, there were always remnants of things lying about that sparked interest and wonder in the mind of a young boy.

Tobacco was the cash crop, but for a time cattle were kept in the back fields and there was always someone mowing and rolling hay. I can recall an old flatbed wagon sitting at the edge of one field, its old tired sunken into the dirt. It was covered with dozens of wooden spears used to hang tobacco in the curing barn. An old rusty mowing attachment sat abandoned in one corner, its blades sticking up like the teeth of some strange monster were all that was left after an epic Godzilla battle. Random tools and equipment parts could be found on the garage work bench and even in the barns. I can remember finding boxes of spark plugs and thermostat pieces in the old Chevy pickup glove box and using them to construct bases for my Star Wars action figures.

Nothing was more intriguing to me than the old dinner bell that stood at the edge of an old concrete slab between the garage and the house. The aged iron bell stood atop a six-foot piece of white painted cedar timber, and as far as I knew was always in that spot. I remember it from my very first visit to the farm back when I must have been barely 3 years old. I remember coming back to the US after living in Greece, when I was about four, that the bell was gone for a time. My grandfather likely had moved it due to a remodeling project he had undertaken. After a while, that bell was back as if it had always been there. I remember being mesmerized by that bell, the shape of it, the fact that you could ring it only if you were tall enough to grab its single arm. Then to remember that at one time it was gone, only to reappear? That made it all the more mysterious.

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As I got older, I was told to stay far away from it since a family of wasps had taken up residence in the underside. Sure enough, their paper nests were visible from the ground and they were working furiously on hatching their young. Of course, as a teenager, that meant I had to ring the daylights out of that thing and run away as fast as I could.

In more recent years, the wasps long gone, the bell had acquired a patina of lychen that married it to its surroundings, most notably the large silver maples whose branches dipped down to almost touching the top of the yoke. It cemented that bell as a permanent fixture at the farmhouse. It belonged there.

Throughout the years, the bell never looked better than at Christmastime when Gran would decorate the entire post with large blue lights and garland. It would welcome us in as we arrived for holiday visits. It knew us. That bell stood as faithful as ever, watching over us and proudly wearing its decorations.

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At the time of the auction, the bell sat on the back of a flatbed trailer, removed from its post, relieved of its duty, appearing lifeless and somewhat sad. It was waiting on a bid, for a new owner to take it and create a new home, to introduce it to a new family, possibly to inspire the imagination of another young child. I will always think of it happening that way. Maybe it’s been cleaned of its lychen, posted atop a new piece of cedar and is now watching over a different family. I almost bid on it myself, but to have won that bid would have meant uprooting a stately old tree in favor of using its dead wood as an art piece. I simply could not have imagined that bell anywhere else. So I’ll remember it for what it was and let its new fate remain a mystery.

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Incidentally, in the weeks before the auction I was rummaging through the garage when I found an old pitchfork. It was covered in rust and cobwebs. It was a forgotten piece, one that I remember vividly from the numerous times in that garage, but one that had been ignored. It sat in its corner for decades, collecting the chemical reactions of its demise. I took it home, scrubbed off the rust, and wiped it with gun oil. The wooden handle turned out to be solid oak and the oil really brought out the hidden grain. The thing looks so good, I almost would rather hang it on the wall instead of use it as a tool. It belongs in the outdoors, in my garage. I have given it a new life. It will help me do yardwork and who knows? Maybe it will inspire more stories of where it’s been and what it’s seen since the hands that built it let it go more than half a century ago.

It seems silly and romantic of me to write affectionate words toward inanimate objects, but these are the product of my imagination. To release these words is to let go of the past, and to move on in a new direction, remembering what brought me here, who I am inside, and how the future should be just as inspiring to me now as it was when I was small.

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Release :(part 2)

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The farm had things with an element of mystery and danger that made it all the more special.

In the back porch was an old cistern with a non-functioning manual water pump over the opening. For many years, it held the water supply for the house. I recall a story from my father about how their dog fell through the old cover and nearly drowned. I’m sure that at one time the manual pump was how water was drawn up for household use, but at some point my grandfather built a new bathroom under which he installed an electric pump and storage tank. I will never forget the sound of the pump whirring from underneath the floor pulling water into the small storage tank before being pumped out to faucets. The sound was an eerie distant hum that always inspired thoughts of being on the Death Star for some reason. All my Star Wars action figures helped that one.

Before city water was connected to the property in the late 90’s, a tanker truck would periodically replenish the water. I can recall a time, however, and I’m certain my father would as well, when rainwater from the gutters was collected to keep the house’s water supply optimal.  As far as the cistern goes, I remember imagining it was a deep underground chasm waiting to devour any poor wanderer who strayed too close to the edge. It might be twenty feet deep and ten across, but as far as I cared, it was a bottomless shaft emptying into the center of the earth. 

Once the city water line came through, no more water was drawn from the cistern and the pump under the bathroom has remained silent. As far as I know, there may still be water in the bottom of that cistern. 

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Release :(part 1)

In the family room was a large Hammond organ purchased by my grandfather in 1977. It was the flagship model from that era and dominated the room. We couldn’t resist it. It had a separate Leslie cabinet that we never hooked up, but it was still there. For those unfamiliar, a Leslie was a rotating speaker that gave Hammond organs their trademark vibrato. Although we took piano lessons, we had no idea what all the switches and buttons were for, other than what sounded cool when we tried it. It had a touch tempo feature where you could tap in the tempo and the drum machine would come to life.

Gran always told me she wanted me to have it and during the last few years of her life, she told me on more than one occasion that I could go ahead and take it. The trouble was, it must have weighed a good 300 lbs. and due to its shape likely needed a forklift to maneuver. Well, the only place I could put it in my house would be the basement and there’s no way that thing was going to fit through our basement door. So I let it sit.

We played it one least time the night before the auction. It was in rough shape. Some of the speaker cones were dry rotted and and 35 plus years of dust and dirt accumulation on the contacts made it sound less than stellar. But it played. Image

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Release :(intro)

My grandmother passed away on March 6, 2013

On October 19, her entire estate was sold at auction.

Grief changes a person and we all experience it somehow. I won’t pretend this is the same as losing a spouse, or God forbid, a child. It isn’t the same as losing a parent, but my world will not be the same anymore.

My siblings and I grew up with the excitement of going down to the farm for our escape from the real world. We’d travel in a car for the better part of three hours to get there, spend a weekend doing the things kids love best about their grandma’s house: Playing with different toys or creating our own toys out of whatever we could find, getting to eat homemade cookies, visiting with our Gran… many things similar to what other kids got to experience.

We had an added bonus though. We had a farm. We had a lot of outdoor space to explore, barns, a pond, hills, a creek nearby, and enough space to play baseball out by the garage. Once year my brother, Jared, and I made a bowling alley in the garage. There was no electricity out there so we ran an extension cord from the house all the way out. Well before that, when I was a tender seven years old, we pretended to be electricians and ran around the house fixing things that resembled high voltage power stations in our heads.

In the next few posts, I’ll describe some of the more memorable aspects of the farm, my grandmother and how I was shaped by the whole experience. I am now closing in on 40 within a couple of years, and this is the first time I have ever faced the prospect of not having the farm. It’s bittersweet, but has an uplifting ending. I hope you will find these posts as interesting as I do, and that you will have some reflective time of your own in reading my experiences.

Why do you Christians always throw the Bible in my face?

The Matt Walsh Blog

Seriously, it hurts. Stop it, will ya? Yesterday I walked by a church and the pastor barreled out of the door, ran into the street, screamed “BIBLE!” and chucked it right at my head.

Well, that didn’t LITERALLY happen. But he did say, “good afternoon, God bless,” which is basically the same thing.

In any case, Christians are always shoving their religion in people’s faces. Everything they say, every position they hold, every thought they express — it’s all RELIGION. Even if they don’t explicitly say, “I think this because of my religion,” we all know the score. If it comes from RELIGION, as a secularist, I must hate it. If it’s been heavily influenced or transformed by RELIGION or RELIGIOUS people, I must hate it. That’s why I’m not a big fan of art, architecture, democracy, science, medicine, philosophy, astronomy, the university system, the abolition of slavery, America, Natural…

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