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JERE BRITTAIN: High honor of the lower case

One of my closest friends from Clemson days was Joseph R. Haun (1922-2013).

Joe published his memoir a couple of years before his death. It is titled Unbelievable and available through Amazon and other book sellers. The title is a double entendre, referencing both Joe’s life story, which spanned most of the 20th century, and his well- known disdain for organized religion as an avowed atheist.

Joe developed a method of estimating yield of crops such as wheat and corn based on environmental factors combined with daily measurement of unfolding leaflets. These leaf measurements eventually were named the “haun” unit, a rare instance of a scientist having his name “raised to the pedestal of the lower case.”

In addition to his brilliant mind, Joe taught himself building trades and designed and built two houses. He was especially skilled at dry-stacked stone masonry and taught me the art when we began building our retirement home 25 years ago. We purchased a load of stones in Crab Orchard, Tennessee, to get the weathered, natural look we wanted. Over a period of 10 years I applied these to the concrete block walls of our basement and chimneys, working in two hour sessions during the warm weather months. This required around 25, 000 stones. With no two stones alike, the process is quite meditative, somewhat like assembling a jigsaw puzzle.

A major part of the art is getting the mortar just right. Joe’s recipe was two and a half parts quarry sand to one part Portland cement, moistened and mixed by hand to a consistency of brown sugar. This is placed by hand behind and between the stones, revealing as little mortar as possible. Corners are carefully constructed to a plumb line and the reveal kept constant with a hand carved wooden gauge. Door and window openings are spanned by angle iron lintels. Joints of each horizontal run should alternate with the previous run.

Joe and Helen introduced us to a group of their Black Mountain friends and couples took turns hosting a dinner or picnic. A favorite picnic destination was Craggy Gardens during rhododendron season.

Early in his career Joe worked for the USDA Division of Plant Introduction. He had just mailed a package of cannabis seeds to a cooperating farmer in Iowa for field trials in hemp fiber production. He received a phone call from his boss. “Joe, get on the first available flight to Iowa and retrieve those seeds.” Word had just reached Washington about the recreational use of the weed.

Regarding his rejection of religion, Joe said to Joanne during his final days, “What if I’m wrong?” Journeying on …