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A life on the farm

By Susan Shinn

Salisbury Post

MOORESVILLE — It’s a treat to visit Hoke Karriker on his farm — if you can keep up with him.

If he’s not on one of his tractors, he’s harvesting eggs, or checking on the goats, or feeding his passel of barn cats or giving some TLC to a baby calf.

Hoke, 85, has lived on this farm since he came home from the war in 1946. He and his wife raised four children. Dorothy died three years ago from Parkinson’s disease, but Hoke still farms and raises a garden and and square dances and goes to church and does pretty much whatever he wants to.

Photographs are everywhere in his small, neat home. With 11 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and one on the way, there are plenty of pictures to be made.

He points to two likenesses in particular — his father, Shellie Brown Karriker, and his great-great-grandfather, John Wiley Karriker, a white beard stretching down his chest.

Corriher Grange — just down the road from the house — remains an important part of Hoke’s life. He’s been a member for more than 50 years, has served as master several times, and was Granger of the Year in 1976. He can always be found at the grange’s monthly events. He likes ice cream so much that one of his daughters had a bowl made with his name on it.

Hoke has taken the time to write down the important events of his life — his growing up years, marriage and starting a family, wartime, career and retirement.

His oldest son, Johnny Mack Brown Karriker, compiled this information with photographs into a booklet which he gave to his father at Christmastime.

“I put some information on a tape one time,” Hoke says. “The family said, you need to write some of that stuff down.”

Johnny lives in Statesville, and son Ferman lives in Charlotte.

He has coffee every morning with his next-door neighbor, daughter Katrina Brown. Then she goes to work and her dad heads to the barn.

A calf was born a few weeks ago out in the pasture. It was a hard delivery — Hoke had to use chains and soap and water to pull out the calf.

The vet said the mother probably wouldn’t have anything to do with her baby — and that’s what happened.

So once a day, Hoke walks out to the barn, settles down on a bale of hay in the corner, and bottle feeds the still-wobbly little black calf. Katrina and husband Tony take other shifts.

Hoke has a herd of about 15 Brangus beef cattle — they’re a cross between Angus and Brahmans.

Katrina and her sister, Vinnie Duncan, who lives in Apex, own the herd of about a dozen goats. Six kids were born in the last week, two sets of twins among them.

A bell jingles on a female’s collar as Hoke passes through the barnyard, making sure they’re all OK.

Two Great Pyrenees lounge about with the goats. They’re big, white dogs who look more like polar bears than canines, used to protect the herd.

“That’s the young’uns doin’s,” Hoke says of the animals, also owned by the girls.

Buck is five months old and weighs 80 pounds. Hoke estimates he’ll eventually grow to 200 pounds. Dolly is nine months old and weighs 100 pounds — but she won’t get quite as big as Buck.

Hoke is used to big animals. He farmed with Percheron horses for many years.

Hoke ambles easily about the barnyard. He’s got a sore knee these days and a pinched nerve in his back, but doesn’t complain about it.

Vinnie and her husband, Philip, come most every weekend to work on the farm.

Hoke’s sons-in-law are building a new barn for the goats. The roof is going on now.

Stopping in at the hen house, Hoke gathers 16 eggs from 18 chickens.

“They all want to lay in the same nest,” Hoke says, filling his egg carton from one spot.

“They ain’t laying as much today cause I didn’t feed them this morning,” he says.

He keeps a small refrigerator full of eggs on his back porch. He sells to friends and family.

He fills a couple of pans with dry cat food and the cats come running from all directions.

They’re white and gray and brown and any combination thereof, but just barn cats.

“There’s no sense naming a cat,” Hoke says.

Nary a mouse in sight, though.

Hoke built his barn when he moved to the farm. He’s had to replace the roof a couple of times — once during Hugo when a giant oak fell on it, and once during a heavy snow.

“It was too steep to start with,” he says.

Hoke walks by sheds and points out old farm equipment — plows, a cultivator, a corn shredder, a corn binder. Maybe one day he’ll put them all in one building.

His tractors are hooked up to different pieces of equipment — it’s easier than just having one tractor and switching everything around, he says.

He had to get a new stop switch recently for his John Deere 2010. It cost him $82. He was glad to pay it.

“It was worth it not to have to choke it down,” he says.

The tractor doesn’t have a grille. He has to clean it out frequently when baling hay.

“It’s been kinda bummed up,” he says.

Away from the farm, Hoke’s been square dancing for 32 years. Every Tuesday night finds him dancing with the Cardinal Squares in Salisbury. He’s a charter member of the Spinning Moors in Mooresville, where he dances on the second and fourth Saturday.

The grange has square dances twice a year — at New Year’s and Valentine’s.

“It’s good exercise,” Hoke says. “Two hours of square dancing is the same as walking eight hours. It’s all good church people.”

Hoke stopped dancing for six months after his wife died. Then he was ready to go back. Three years ago, he met Pat Hughes, who was also single.

“She didn’t have a partner,” he says. “I’ve been dancing with her ever since.”

He’s proud of his children and grandchildren, all of whom have college educations.

“I got all my education from experience,” Hoke says.

Hoke worked at a missile factory in Charlotte until it closed and then at the Post Office until he retired.

Before that, he farmed and worked at Cannon Mills.

Johnny wrote down his father’s war experiences.

Hoke doesn’t mind talking about it — and has given a program for the grange before.

“Some people can’t talk about it, some can,” he says.

Hoke feels lucky he was never wounded. He came home to the farm on Feb. 6, 1946 — a Sunday.

“I rode with some boys from Fort Bragg,” he says. He took a taxi home from Kannapolis.

His wife and two sons were having Sunday dinner at his parents’ house.

“It broke up the lunch right then,” Hoke says, grinning.

It won’t be long before he plants his garden.

“You have to have a garden,” he says.

He’ll plant sugar peas to start, followed by corn, green beans, butter beans, tomatoes and green peppers.

“I won’t plant onions,” he says. “It’s cheaper for me to buy onions than to try to raise them. The same with potatoes. I eat maybe one potato a week.”

Hoke is a good cook. He cooked some when the children were little.

“After my wife got sick, I really had to cook then,” he says.

He slices a couple of pieces of pound cake he baked the day before. It’s delicious.

He likes to cook up a big stir fry with squash, green peppers, carrots, turnips, cabbage and a can of chicken.

“I do a big frying pan full and have enough for several days,” he says.

It’s especially good with a slice of pound cake for dessert.

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Contact Susan Shinn at 704-797-4289 or sshinn@salisburypost.com.

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