Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hamming It Up





Walking into Johnston County Hams in Smithfield, NC, there’s a door just to the right behind the counter. I follow one of the workers through the door and down a hallway, past a big industrial-sized fan and into a room that would make any country ham lover feel like they’d died and gone to hog heaven.


Hanging from metal racks three high are country hams on top of country hams. This is one of the curing rooms at Johnston County Hams.


Rufus Brown is the current cure master for Johnston County Hams, a position his father held before him. Since 1967 the Browns have been responsible for some of the best tasting country hams in the country, getting nods from Esquire, Men’s Health and Southern Living magazines.


As someone born and raised in the South, I am all too familiar with the tastes and smells of country ham. For me, the smell brings back fond memories of Christmases past, waking up early and rushing to see what surprises lay buried beneath the tree. (I have to confess, there were a few times when I already knew what was under the tree because I had already snuck out in the middle of the night to see. What do you expect a kid to do when he on Christmas Eve?)


After unwrapping everything in sight with a bow on it, we would almost always sit down to a hearty breakfast cooked by my mom. It wasn’t an elaborate meal by any means; just eggs, bacon, homemade biscuits and country ham, enough to fill our bellies and put a smile on our faces. I think it was just my mom’s way of making us all sleepy so we’d crawl back in bed and give my parents a little more sleep time.


So it is without fail, whenever I get a whiff of country ham frying in a cast iron pan, I’m transported back to Christmas morning.


This past Christmas’ breakfast was just like the rest: eggs, bacon, homemade biscuits and country ham.


As the country ham sizzles in the pan, the bells are replaced by smells as I’m transformed into one of  Pavlov’s dogs. But I’m the only one. It’s good to know my dog has a thing for country ham as well. You could tell by the drool pooling on the floor.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Remembering Doc






I never intended on becoming a photographer. I wanted to be a businessman.


When I first set foot on the NC State campus, I was going to major in Business Management. After all, that’s where the money flows and I wanted to make money.


Then this thing called photography popped into my life about my second sophomore year. I was hooked and it showed. My grades started to go south. Big time. I was spending more time taking pictures and working in the darkroom than I was studying for my classes. But this was my new-found passion. And I wanted to make it my life.


Problem is, State didn’t offer a degree in photojournalism. And business management didn’t look like it was going to work for me. I needed to find a new way out.


As luck would have it, I found a program called multidisciplinary studies. It allows you to combine three areas of study and come away with a degree. Sign me up!


When I decided to change my major, I also had to find a new advisor. And I knew just the person. Dr. Frank Hammond. Or as we all called him, “Doc.”


Doc was the director of the marching band. As a member of the drumline for three years, I got to know Doc really well. He and I both shared a passion for photography and I knew he would be the perfect advisor. He was also the only advisor in my college career that knew my name and truly cared about my studies.


Whenever we got a new camera or lens at the Agromeck, I’d take it by Doc’s office and let him play with it for a little bit. When I needed a subject for an assignment on portraiture, Doc was there to be my model. When he decided to retire, he invited me to document his last trip with the music department’s British Brass Band. He had told me before we left that he was going to tell the band members he was retiring and wanted me there to document the trip. I graciously went along.


After I finally graduated, Doc and I kept in touch for a little while. But as time passed, we lost touch with each other. Then I saw the posting on facebook. Doc passed away a few days ago.


It’s ironic that I pulled this picture out of a box a few weeks ago. I never thought I’d be posting it on the web. Not like this.


Doc meant a lot to many people. He will be missed here on Earth, but Heaven just got a great band director. I can see him now, getting the band together for another performance, raising the baton and challenging the heavenly ensemble with his famous line, “Thrill Me Baby!”