Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Willie Hardee

April 22, 2012. My heart was stolen for the bazillionth time by a one, Willie Hardee. We've never actually met, Willie and I, so the relationship is very one-sided at this point. I only admired him from across a dance floor at a wedding. A wedding I wasn't invited to.

Now, before you go labeling me, wedding-crasher/husband-cheater, let me explain.

My friend, Nicole Roberts hired me last weekend as her, (don't laugh), umbrella holder. She's a photographer, and in her moment of despair she asked me if I would come with her to an outdoor wedding she was shooting since it was scheduled on the same day as a 70% chance of rain. Canon and rain don't mix. I said, yes.

My goal for the day was to be the best umbrella holder I could be. I didn't want Nicole's expensive camera dying a tragic death-by-drowning on my watch so I watched her like a hawk. I waited for a quick nod, (or not), and boom, I'd run like an imbecile to cover her and Canon. I'm a good friend.

I did other more important, less nerdy tasks during the day, but for the most part, my mission was to protect the camera and the bride from the rain. I was kind of secret service about the whole thing. Stealth mode was the goal. Nerd-city was probably the verdict. Either way, I did my thang. Canon lived. I rested easy in the knowledge of a job well done. Nicole said, thank you, and threw around the phrase, life-saver. It was a good day.

Okay, back to Willie Hardee. He's the groom's grandpa, and he likes to dance. When I happened upon him he was owning the dance floor, meaning he was the only one on it, save one small boy who was probably about 2-1/2 years old if my mommy age guesser serves me correct. The boy was fascinated with Willie. They danced together like dancing was their way to maintain life. They weren't intimidated by onlookers. They could care less if the dance floor was open for dancing or not. There was music. There was room on the floor. And there was dancing. Willie outlasted the small boy by far. The boy fell several times during their dance party, and every time Willie would bend down to help the little guy find his feet again. You could tell Willie enjoyed his dancing companion. I imagine the boy liked Willie just as well. He looked like he felt safe. Like he was staring wisdom in the face and couldn't, wouldn't let go. Like he could see the future in Willie's eyes and he felt encouraged and hopeful by it. Or was it the other way around? Either way it was magical and emotional. New life and older life. New beginnings, and a legacy secure. It was a wonderful contradiction to witness. Now, it could be that I cried because I was having an, "I miss my 3-month-old little boy" moment, or it could be that tears came because I got to see two worlds meet and crash, and dance and move, and push and pull life into and out of each other. It reminded me of Jesus and the people He calls the greatest in the Kingdom. Pure and childlike is the only way I can describe it. It was almost too much to take. Being just the umbrella holder, I whipped out my iPhone to keep this moment forever. At this point I felt very much like a weirdo-stalker, but I couldn't help myself.
iPhones aren't the best at taking dancing pictures.

Canon had my back. Thanks Canon.

This is Nicole, Canon and Willie.  See Nicole's face?  That's what happens when you talk to Willie.  He's hilarious.

After the wedding I got in touch with Willie's daughter, Ginger (mother of the groom), to sort of repent for falling head over heels for her dad. Well, actually, I knew I'd want to write about him and I thought it wrong not to ask first. And I'm so glad I did. I scored the most precious interview. It's recorded. I got to hear Willie tell me stories as I sat crouched like a cat on my bedroom floor glued to my iPad that couldn't move because it was charging. I got to hear Willie laugh, and cry, and sing(!), and speak honestly from his heart. And to make the interview even more special, I got to hear his daughter ask him the questions I wrote. One of the best parts is how the interview is punctuated with moments of quiet laughter between a father and his daughter. I could hear Mrs. Hardee in the background on occasion too. It was a gift.

This is Ginger, her husband, Bobby, and the beautiful bride and groom, Christina and Jonathan.

And this is the interview. 
(Really awesome photos, courtesy of alivelyphotography, and Nicole Roberts.)


How many children do you have? What's one word/sentence you'd use to describe each one?
I have 2. They're both precious. Ginger. She's phenomenal and sweet. Rick. He's precious too. I just love them both.

What did you do for a living?
I was a brick layer all my life.
(Fitting when you think about what brick layers do. They lay foundations and build up. That's Willie, I can tell.)

How did your career shape who you are?
It was good to me. I always had a job. I never drew a day's unemployment. God always kept me busy. And then I went into business for myself. I never advertised for work, it just came. I took pride in it. I'm in good health. I thank God. It kept me active. Always doing something. I worked hard. I didn't try to see what I could get by with. I always tried to do the best I could do. Some people did enough just to get by. I never did that. I wanted my boss's job. I want his job. That's how I worked. I don't know if that's the right attitude to have, but I had it, and thought of it anyway. I enjoyed my work and still do. Of course I don't do much work now. I'm gonna finish up tomorrow what I started today...and that was nothing. (Insert sweet Willie laugh.) I'm gonna finish up and start another one tomorrow. I'm gonna finish that job up tomorrow, and start another one the next day. (Now Willie and Ginger are both laughing...and so am I.)

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Horry County in South Carolina. 9 miles from Cherry Grove beach.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I don't know. I didn't never think much about it. I just took it one day at a time. And whatever come, well that's what come. I quit school when I was sixteen. I went two months in high school and didn't go back. I did construction work when I was 16, making $0.50/hr, and I thought that was cool. I started laying brick when I was 17.
I rode my bicycle down to the beach to the drive-in theatre. A bunch of us boys. When I was...I guess probably 14 or 15. It was a Sunday evening. Traffic was rough and bad, like it usually is on a Sunday. When I came in the next morning I had a surprise. My daddy come in there and got me out of bed. Had nothing but my shorts on, and he tore my fanny up because I rode my bicycle to the beach. He was trying to save me, take care of me, you know. He thought it was dangerous, and it was. I don't remember him giving me one since then. He always beat me with a broom straw. (Willie is laughing big time now.) And when he'd do it, it would bend. Now my mama, she'd tear me up. But you know, I don't remember talking bad to my daddy or my mama. I really don't. When they'd fuss and tell me to do something, I don't remember ever talking back. Really I don't, and I thank God for that.
One time I had a slingshot around the old wash pot there. She (his mama) had the fire going to heat the water to wash the clothes with, and I found a jar lid off of one of them jars you use to can stuff with. I had a slingshot and I put it in there and I shot her. It hit her on the face. Buddy, I got a tearin' up for that. And rightfully so. She took my slingshot and threw it in the fire and burned it up. I ain't never had another one since then. That was my last one. No more slingshots. I didn't know how to use one. I shot the wrong thing. Oh boy. I've been through some stuff now.
Oh yeah, I lived across the road from the schoolhouse. I lived back up in the fields some. I'd go up there on cold mornings and light the fire. I'd be able to crawl in the window at the schoolhouse and build a fire and then when the teachers got there I'd have a big fire going. That was cool. Yeah, I thought so.  (Can you hear the laughter?)

Where do you live now?
I live in Indian Land, South Carolina.

What's your favorite thing about where you live?
I love it out there. I live in the country on 8 acres in the woods. I have a big yard. I love it. I keep thanking God for it out there. Often I say, "Lord, I thank you for this place and I'm serious. I do." I'm thankful for it. It's a nice place. It's close to everything. Close to the mall. Close to Lowe's and Home Depot. Close to everything, really. Walmart. And I love Walmart. Yeah, I do. I don't get to go much. Lynn won't let me go. She always says, 'I'm going to Walmart.' She don't ever ask me to go with her. If I get to go I guess I have to take off and go. (Major laughter.)

What is your proudest achievement/accomplishment in life?
The best thing I can think of is when I got saved. I wasn't that bad, I don't think. I was drinking some. That's one reason I quit drinking. I was thinking about my family. First I quit smoking, and then I quit drinking. Quit smoking in February, quit drinking in July, and I got saved in September. The first Sunday after I got saved was the first Sunday in October. The time had changed. We went to church and there wasn't a soul there. The first thing that had come to my mind was the rapture had come and left us.

(Yep. He's laughing.)

I'm proud of my family. Oh yes. My wife. God gave me a good wife to help me. I thought I was gonna train her up. She was young. I thought I was gonna train her up in the way she should go, and that didn't work. She's trained me. And my children, my grandchildren, my greats. I'm telling you the truth, I'm so blessed. It's amazing how blessed I am. I just thank God. I've got 2 great-grands, and 2 on the way. It won't be long before I'll have 4 of them. I've got 3 grandchildren that aren't married. 6 are married. I've got 3 to go. It looks like my great-grands might be married before some of them are married. (Laughing!) Of course I was 25 before I got married so I can't say nothing.

What are the most important lessons you've learned in life?
What I'm learning now: The closer I can be to God, the better off I am. Put Him first in your life and you'll do great. You'll do good. And hard work will get you somewhere. And too much of it isn't good either. Which I did. I put my work before my family most of my life. I didn't want to, but I did. Of course I knew it was important to provide for them. I guess you can go to extremes with anything. But I'm thankful. God's taken care of me over these years.
(Willie pauses, and adds...) I'm happy, really. I've got my ticket. If I go, okay, and if I stay, okay. I'm not rushing it. But, I'm just ready to go. To leave here. I am.

Let's pause for a second. 

Okay. Moving on...

When are you the most happy (doing what)?
Well, let's see. I was cutting the grass out there on Friday. And I was a'singing. Bobby and them said they heard me singing. I was enjoying that.
Serving God is the best, really. I get the feeling that the anointing of the Holy Spirit is, to me, the best thing there is. There ain't nothing better. That's the best thing. I'm thankful for that. I'm thankful that I found the Lord. He knew where I was all the time. In fact, He knew me before I was born and He ain't never forgot me. I'm thankful for that. Hallelujah. I'm blessed. I'm really blessed. With my family, and everything. With my wife and children, grandchildren and greats. Couldn't ask for no more, no better.

You light up a room. Where does that come from?
I guess it's got to be God. I'm joyful and it's because of the Lord. I don't know what else it could be. It's got to be. That's it. I don't know what else it could be. I want to be a witness. I try to be a witness for the Lord. That's my prayer.

Dancing suits you. Have you always loved to dance?
Yep, I have. I used to dance when I was a kid. My dad was a banjo player. He had a band. They used to go around and play for square dances. I'd get out when I was real young and dance, and people would throw me money. And when I got through dancing I'd pick it up. I'd have my pockets full. They went to schoolhouses and clubs and put on a little show and I'd dance for that. The older I got, the more embarrassed I was, and sort of reserved, and I quit that.
Ginger: Didn't they give you a little hat to wear?
W: Oh yeah, I had a black hat with bells on it. Those girls, they liked that. They'd come up to me, and talk to me, and run after me. In fact, one got me. That one over there. I didn't have a hat on though, did I? I didn't need it. I used to make people laugh when I danced. I played music some too at those dances at the schoolhouses.
Ginger: So, your daddy had a band and you were in the band?
W: Well, yeah, sort of. I played some for dances at the schoolhouses, but I didn't play any other than that. They didn't think I was good enough, but I did.
Ginger: And then you have a bunch of grandchildren that have bands, or are in are in bands?
W: Oh yeah. I've got grand-youngins that play and sing. Man. They got it honest. My daddy, he was good.
I remember the first time I ever saw him drink a beer. Man, I did not like that. That was bad. Now that's not good, I thought. The doctor told him he needed to drink a beer a day. Some people use that for an excuse, and I don't know if he did or not. (Lots of laughing.) But I never did see him out of order. We were down at Crescent beach at the American Legion hut. They were having a square dance there, and he was outside and somebody gave him a beer. And that's when I saw him drink a beer. And that was the night that I got home and found I had a hundred dollar bill after dancing. A man had given it to me. I thought to myself, he didn't mean to give me that, I know he didn't. He was drunk and he didn't mean to do it. So, I went the next day and gave it back to him. He took it, and he thanked me. (Cracking up.) That was the kind of fella I was. Somebody said I ought to have kept it. Well, if I knew he meant to do it then I would have, but he didn't mean to do it.

You were dancing a lot with a little boy at the wedding. What do you see when you look at little ones like the little boy at the wedding?

I guess I see Jesus. It's precious. Jesus had a special thing for children. He said, 'Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not.' He loved children, and I do too. I love babies. They're special to me. I guess it was so precious to see that little boy dancing with me. That was sweet, sweet. The youngest and the oldest out there dancing together. I thought about that and thought it was cool.

Ginger: Tell them about the time you were dancing in church and you got into trouble.
W: Well, some of the people in the church where I went didn't like dancing and thought it was a sin to be dancing in church. I danced in church and they didn't like it. They brought me before the district board. I went up there and they were talking about it.
I got up and I says...

(Willie starts singing...)

David danced
before the Lord
He danced with all his might
His heart was filled
With holy joy
His spirit was so light

Now this is what his wife said...

Michal through
the window looked
To criticize his God
She didn't know that David
Had got the dancing heart...


The Holy Ghost
will set your feet to dancing...
The Holy Ghost will thrill you
Through and through

The Holy Ghost
Will set your feet to dancing
And set your heart to dancing too

(I'm laughing and clapping for Willie's song!)

The moderator broke out and went to laughing and everybody else did too. And then they dismissed the case. Dancing's good sometimes. I enjoy it.

What's something you'd like to be remembered for?
Well, what I'd mostly like to be remembered for is for being a blessing to people, and for being a soul winner. That's what I would like most.
One time I went to this little store in Conway where I lived. I had been there a few times. I was witnessing to the boy, the fella that owned the place. Some time later he got in a car wreck. He was in the hospital. He couldn't talk. He was in critical condition. His wife could lay her head on his breast and communicate with him. Somehow or another he asked for me to go see him. He was in Florence, about 60 miles away. I went up there to see him in the hospital. I prayed with him and asked him if he had accepted the Lord, or did he want to. He wanted to, and he did. A couple days later he passed on. He died. That was precious to me. I remember that. That was one of the most memorable things in my life. And probably about the best...that I had something to do with bringing somebody to the Lord.
(Everyone is drying tears...including Willie.)

I got married. That was a good thing. And then I got saved. That was the next. And then I had babies. I thank God for it all. It's a blessing to me. I got some in-laws. They're pretty good. I got some good ones.

And, that's the interview. Sweet, or what? Okay. One more dancing picture...  This is Willie, his grandson (and groom) Jonathan, and his son-in-law, Bobby (Ginger's husband).

I can't think of anything else to add to this post, except, thanks Willie. Thanks for your heart, and your life, and your mark on this world. Your legacy is incredible. Your life is awe-inspiring and your dancing is spectacular. Your stories will live on forever.

As the saying goes, you don't know me from Adam, but no matter, I love you just the same!

And thanks Ginger. I can tell your daddy thinks you hung the moon. Or, is it the other way around?

And a great big thanks to Jonathan and Christina for letting me crash your gorgeous wedding!

What a special family!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. (I deleted my first comment
    because of a typo).
    Thanks for a great article
    about a wonderful man who
    is beloved to his family
    and all who know him. He has
    had a great impact on my life
    since I was a child.

    1. Billy. Thanks so much! I loved writing about him. He's so precious!