Few things are as relaxing as sitting in a rocking chair watching autumn leaves glide to earth. But at age 82, Cleburne County farmer Hobert Harris would rather be sawin’ than rockin’.
“It gives me a lot of pleasure to take an old, rough piece of wood and work with my hands and make something pretty out of it,” said Harris, sitting among red oak creations in his workshop. “What you can do with wood is limited only by your imagination.”
Harris lives in the New Hopewell community with his wife of 60 years, Annie Lou, 82. The former beef cattle farmer said he’s had sawdust in his blood since an agribusiness class at Cleburne County High School.
“My ag teacher was Mr. I.S. Johnson,” Harris said. “He taught us how to work with our hands. I loved woodworking and have been doing it ever since. I can build almost anything.”
Although Harris has acquired a collection of woodworking tools over the years, he still turns spindles and table legs on the lathe he bought as a teenager. A replica kerosene lamp he made in high school sits atop a bench in his shop — a reminder of Mr. Johnson and those early years of inspiration.
Harris’ specialities are oak porch swings and rocking chairs, but he’s also built rocking horses, cradles, tables, dressers, entertainment centers, daybeds, jewelry cases and novelty items. He even built an adjustable desk so a local child who used a wheelchair could stand and work.
Harris has sold more swings than he can count — and enough kerosene lamp holders to buy a new television — but many projects are personal treasures.
“He makes a lot of things for me,” Annie Lou said. “He made me a china cabinet. He just decided he would build one, and I really like it. I like the woodwork, and I like that he enjoys it. I think it’s one of the best things he can do because he loves it.”
One of Harris’ popular items brings together the artistry of husband and wife. On display in their home is an oak rack draped with Annie Lou’s colorful, hand-stitched quilts.
A perennial winner in the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Cotton Sewing and Quilting contests, Annie Lou creates her masterpieces with needle and thread instead of a saw and lathe.
“If I’m sitting down, I’m (sewing) something,” she said. “I quilt. I crochet. It’s just something I enjoy.”
The Harrises are active in the Cleburne County Farmers Federation. Hobert is the longest serving member of the board of directors and son, Mike, 58, is president. Their daughter Barbara works in the circuit clerk’s office in Heflin.
“My dad is one of the smartest people I know,” Mike said, reflecting on Harris’ ingenuity and craftsmanship. “He’s a hero in my eyes. He taught me how to do a lot of things over the years.”
Not the least of those lessons is hard work.
“To be good at woodworking (or anything else) you’ve got to have a desire to do something, and do it right,” the elder Harris said. “I like to build something that’s lasting, sturdy and will stay with you for a lifetime.”
That’s why Harris puts his name and phone number on every swing he builds. Although he’s occasionally sold his work along U.S. Hwy. 78 or at nearby markets, word-of-mouth advertising has won him customers from Huntsville to Macon, Ga., and Montgomery to Atlanta.
Despite the popularity of his wooden wonders, Harris remains humble. In a 2005 poem he wrote, “I thank God for all His blessings. I can’t recall them everyone. If I should live to be a hundred, I can’t repay for what He’s done.”
One thing’s for sure. If he does make it to 100, Lord willing, Hobert Harris will still be cuttin’, planin’ and sandin’ — and may even do a little rockin’.