A visit with the Hammons
ACROSS THE YEW PINES
These shared memories have been put together with the purpose of creating an opportunity for a person who is so inclined, to spend some time in the company of the Hammons Family. It seeks to present them in their own words, telling their own story, directly to the listener, as would be the case if it were still possible to knock on their front door and be invited in.
Through the still photographs, the moving films, the live recordings of the fiddle, banjo, and songs, and the live recordings of some of the many reminiscences and stories that they told, we are welcomed into their home and have again the chance to ask our questions about a way of life that is now passed but still remembered.
The particular generation of the Hammons Family that is portrayed in these shared memories represents something unique. It is a meeting with people whose near ancestors were a living part of the early settlers’ life on the Frontier, and who continued this way of living on into the twentieth century, in a form that preserved many of the attitudes and approaches of this way of life. It would be completely inappropriate therefore to try to interpret what they have handed to us, or analyse what they show. The danger of doing this is to impose an understanding that is a function of modern thinking and this will eventually become, in itself, outdated. The stories that we hold on to in life define who we are by where we have come from, and in order not to confuse the message that is being shared in this way, it is important to stand respectfully to one side, and make an inward decision to truly listen and accept what we are seeing and hearing.
It is hoped that these shared memories will simply ‘’allow’’ the unfolding of this way of life, in its own words, without the interference of any but the most minimal of editing. Thus the past can flow into the present in an unadulterated form. The hallmarks of surviving in the wilderness in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have been carried by the Hammons, who have not seen the need to let this go, and so they are the ones best able to tell us about it, if we have the patience and the inclination to listen to them.
The stories link together to provide a depth of insight into the characters of the different members of the Hammons family. Reading, listening, and reflecting on the stories also brings us to understand the ways in which they related to the other individuals amongst whom they lived. To our twentieth century understanding, it is not always easy to grasp the nuances that dictate their behaviours and attitudes, but here, in the layers of detail, there is a window into the codes of behaviour that existed and governed daily existence.
The impact of story is very profound. They define who and what we are, where we come from, where we are going and what is happening to us on the way. They connect us to each other, to our own community, and to the world. They teach, nurture, challenge, encourage, give direction and sustenance, draw us in and enfold us in something bigger than ourselves, and show us how to be in relation to that. There is a great truth in stories of people simply living out their lives in the world. By allowing these stories to be heard, the listener becomes drawn in to become part of that story also.
The delicate truth of another time and another culture can so easily be obscured by misinterpretation. The Hammons came from a background of hunter gatherers, who had learned that to survive in the wilderness meant imitating the culture of the North American Indian or die. This particular culture had been around for a very long time. The Hammons were not part of the Victorian Industrial Revolution in the sense that they did not hail from ‘back East.’ There was no travelling back and to, between cultures, maintaining supportive links and identifications. They chose, through the generations, to be born, and to die, in the relative isolation of the mountains. Thus they did not become part of the economic development of the West, which was built from the huge wave of connection with the culture of the East. We do not have to approve or disapprove of this, agree or disagree with it. This particular presentation is of themselves, in their own words, in their own way, in their own time, and all we have to do is to very simply, really listen to it.
Dwight Diller, who is himself a native of this area, and for whom the Hammons were neighbours and friends, is in an ideal position to help us to draw close to a ‘’visit with the Hammons’’ with his own recordings and memories of spending time in the house that they eventually came to inhabit together as their lives drew to a close. In this presentation, we are invited in, welcomed in to sit down, as though we ourselves can be present, as though we ourselves are asking the questions, and it is to us that the Hammons speak, sing and play music, sharing what is most important to them and why.