A July 2018 fire in Unadilla gutted what many remember as Hamrick Furniture and Appliance. As a young man Mr. Harry Hamrick joined his father in the family business on Front Street. Mr. Harry owned and ran it for 68 years. In the early days they sold groceries plus all sorts of other items.
I knew that a good place to reminisce about Mr. Harry would be with the Coffee Club. That’s a small group of men who gather for hot coffee and lively conversation five mornings a week. Mr. Charles Speight, the most energetic 96-year-old I know, worked for Mr. Harry in 1937. Mr. Charles was only 15 at the time. Mr. Harry was less than ten years ahead of him.
A 12-hour Saturday shift from noon to midnight earned Mr. Charles 75 cents. His mother, Ruth, called the store a little after 12 that first night of work to see if he was on his way home. “I was about to leave,” said Mr. Charles. “I was putting ice on the mullet and croakers. The last thing we did before locking up was to put plenty of ice on the fish.”
James Ray Irwin mentioned home delivery of groceries. “Those were the days when you left your list at the store,” he said. “They would get your order ready and deliver it later.” It was an early version of a shopping option that is again being offered today. Maybe King Solomon was right when he said, “There is no new thing under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
Bobby Lemon is a youngster compared to most of the Coffee Club regulars, but he’s spent all 62 years of his life in Unadilla. When someone mentioned that Mr. Harry sold Zenith televisions and Hotpoint appliances, Bobby added, “He sold paint too. There was a big sign that read, ‘Sherwin Williams Covers the World.’”
Mr. Charles said, “A lot of the televisions that Harry sold had to be ordered, so Harry would provide the customer a loaner. One fellow ordered a new TV that took about six months to come in. By the time the new television arrived Harry had forgotten about the loaner. That fellow traded it in.” That’s typical of the charming kind of stories Mr. Harry loved to share.
He studied journalism at the University of Georgia. For many years he was the editor of The Unadilla Observer, a weekly paper that was at one time sponsored by the Unadilla Lions Club. Many of us fondly remember “Whatcha Callit,” the column he penned for over sixty years. Each week he fed his loyal band of readers small delicious bites of entertainment.
My parents subscribed to The Unadilla Observer, so I was introduced to Mr. Harry’s column as a child. He had a remarkable gift for finding glimmering little jewels among the common stones of life.
Bobby Lemon said, “I don’t know why I remember this, but Mr. Harry once mentioned a hammer that had been in Abner Hansard’s store since 1947.” Mr. Harry noticed things that seemed insignificant by most standards. They were important only because they brought pleasure to his readers.
Rodney Brannen was kind enough to look up Mr. Harry’s obituary in the funeral home records. He told me that he had been mentioned in “Whatcha Callit” one time. He and Jimmy Sellers were visiting with Max Conner and Judge Harold Hill at Max’s service station. Flies were unusually bad for some unknown reason, so Rodney and Jimmy started swatting them. Rodney was surprised to find their individual fly counts heralded in Mr. Harry’s next column.
I saw Harold Bridges on the Vienna-Pitts I-75 overpass back in the 1970’s. He was positioned on his knees as he faced north. His arms were resting on top of the concrete side rail. The next week Mr. Harry told how many vehicles Harold had counted going in each direction. Without Mr. Harry I would still be wondering what Harold was doing.
Mr. Charles said, “Harry loved his church and his Sunday School class.” He pointed to him in a group picture that hangs on the wall. Then he quoted one of Mr. Harry’s favorite sayings, “Don’t overwork the Lord with small stuff. Don’t ask Him what time it is when you’re wearing a watch.”
Mr. Harry took good care of the small stuff. He added flavor to the bland tidbits of everyday life by lightly sprinkling them with subtle humor. There may be a journalistic name for his unique style of writing, but I have no idea whatcha callit. I’ll just call it a blessing.
William Harry Hamrick – November 24, 1912 – January 6, 2001