Joe has been camp host here on the Kentucky/Virginia border at Breaks Interstate Park for two years.
Thin and wiry, he’s well suited for the work required of him in the role. Having spent thirty years working underground in the coal mines, they finally told him he was too old for it and he says he didn’t bother arguing. When the state park offered him the role, he said as long as there was some good work he could do he’d take it. Being productive is clearly important to Joe.
A devout follower of Christ, he plays banjo and sings in the family gospel bluegrass band. He’s not boastful about it, but The Jackson Family is actually much better than good, they make lovely heartfelt praise music in a very traditional fashion. He mentions the band almost in passing, as part of his bigger story.
Joe says from the moment his nine brothers and sisters could hold something, his mama and pappy put some kind of instrument in their hands. One brother plays mandolin, one upright bass, another guitar, he himself took to the banjo, and his sister can sing.
The family is so large and close they built their own church not far from here, he still drives 45min to attend Jackson Church. Before his father went on to glory, his folks renewed their vows at the church and he proudly tells of some 150 people who were in attendance.
Joe is an artist at heart, moreso than just musically. He is a legitimate craftsman. His medium is wood, which he hand carves and assembles into multi-toned detailed inlaid creatures. Possum, bear, raccoon, he says he carves what he likes. His wife shows us pictures of the lion and lamb pair he made her after his heart attack some years back and we can see Joe’s gifts are many.
Once, he tells, a woman was coming through the area documenting native Appalachian craftspeople and their folk art. She took pictures of Joe’s work and later called him to ask his permission to place them on permanent display in a Washington DC exhibit. Joe can’t remember exactly where, which is sad because we’d love to compete the circle and go see them when we’re there soon.
He is warm and kind, brimming with a sort of positivity and visible fulfillment that’s catching. Several times he reminds us to let him know if there’s anything at all we need.
Joe, and others like him, are the salt of this Earth. Meeting these people is a big part of why I enjoy spending time traveling.