I doubt that very many people ever heard of Sal Hackett. I would further imagine even fewer people knew him. For the most part, he lived out his life on the Hackett farm in the Lock 7 community of Smith County.
In today’s world he would have been considered a “special needs” person, or “mentally challenged.” He was never gainfully employed. On a typical day he would show up for breakfast, then “disappear” until the middle of the day. After joining the family for dinner (the noon meal), he would be off again until day’s end. He was known to stuff his pockets with extra biscuits after breakfast. To show his favor, he would offer you a cold biscuit. He might have been carrying it for a few hours or a few days. A member of the family told me Sal could shell corn with best of them, and could be seen shelling corn for hours as he sat among the shucks and ears of corn in the corn crib. Sometimes he could be seen puttering on the banks of the sprawling family pond; but for the most part, the family had little idea of how and where he spent his time.
I was half grown before I knew of Sal. I saw him a time or two while visiting the Jack Hackett farm, but to me, he largely remained a mystery.
Then came the summer of 1966. Sal’s nephew, Neal, had been involved in a farm accident and was incapacitated at the time, putting the Hackett farming operation in a bind. Sixteen-hundred bales of first-cutting, red clover hay lay in the river bottom, and rain was in the weather forecast. Almost on cue, neighbors showed up on the day before the rain came to get the hay “in.” My father, two of my brothers, and I were among those who answered the call.
We arrived that day in our two-ton Chevy farm truck, complete with a 16-foot flatbed. It was made for hauling 100 square bales. We loaded up our first load and headed out of the river bottom. When we stopped at the gate, Sal stepped out from behind the overgrown fence row and indicated he wanted to ride. I pulled the handle on the door. I shall never forget how he reached up and pulled himself up into the truck cab. Neither shall I ever forget the excitement I saw in his eyes. He was like a child anticipating the opening of a wonderful Christmas present.
The old Chevy truck my father was driving was equipped with a powerful, straight-six cylinder engine, and the transmission had a double-low, first gear. Sal’s head swung back and forth as he waited for the truck to move. When my father pressed the accelerator and engaged the clutch, the engine roared as the old truck lurched forward. Sal’s eyes grew wider as he turned to my father and exclaimed, “BAD, ain’t it, Buddy!?!”
I shall never forget how freely my father laughed as he answered through his laughter, “Yeah, it’s BAD, Sal!”
The hill which led out of the river bottom seemed almost straight up. When we reached level ground, Sal suddenly pulled the door handle, climbed out of the truck, and was gone. We unloaded the truck and returned to the hay field and re-loaded. Not until we arrived at the gate did Sal show up again. He was waiting for us.
Each time he climbed in the truck that day, he seemed more excited. And every time the truck engine roared, he responded in the same way — “BAD, ain’t it Buddy!?!
And that’s how the day played out. Each time we reached the top of the hill, Sal would leave us, and he would be waiting for us at the gate for the return trip. I shall never forget the light in his eyes, nor the joy in my father’s laughter.
Sal was a grown man when his mother died. They played an old hymn at her funeral titled, “Leave it there.” You’ve probably heard it. The chorus goes like this: “Leave it there. Leave it there. Take your burden to the Lord, and leave it there. If you trust and never doubt, He will surely bring you out. Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.”
Some years later, a family member gave Sal a harmonica (He called it a French harp.) for Christmas. Would you like to guess the first song he played? “Leave it there.” Every note — just the way he remembered it from his mother’s funeral.
Of course, there’s a lesson in the song. It’s one thing to share your burdens with the Lord. It’s altogether something different to leave them in His care.
I visited Sal’s grave a few years back. It lies in the morning shade of a tall, cedar tree in the back row of a little private cemetery. His head stone simply reads:
Eugene (Sal) Hackett
His father, Rufus Donald Hackett and his mother, Grace Pettie Hackett are buried just to his left.
In the quiet of that little country cemetery on a windswept hillside, I recalled a roaring truck engine, and joyful laughter, and flashing, bright eyes, and a harmonica, and a song.
It’s funny, the people God uses; and how he uses them to enrich our lives.
And one other thing. They played “Leave it there” at Sal’s funeral. I’m told there was not a dry eye in the house.
Hartsville resident Jack McCall is a writer, humorist and motivational speaker.