Hilton Head man uses his 'junk' to create real spirit of Christmas

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Hilton Head man uses his 'junk' to create real spirit of Christmas

By DAVID LAUDERDALE dlauderdale@islandpacket.com 843-706-8115
Published Tuesday, December 22, 2009   |  537 Words  |  news

On one of Hilton Head Island's back roads, Santa Claus is already up on the roof, almost tripping over presents with both arms stuffed with stuffed animals.
No, there's another Santa sitting on the fence out front, going over his long list with care. He perches between two wreaths made of red, green, white and gold bows and dripping with Christmas tree ornaments.
No, there's Santa standing on top of the fence, under a big party umbrella beside the wooden "Soul of Christ" sign. This jolly old St. Nick is sporting a novelty hat in Pan-African colors with attached dreadlocks.
Welcome to the winter wonderland of Joseph Miller Sr.
Year-round, his home off Spanish Wells Road is a live-in piece of folk art.
But at Christmas, buckets of special stuff comes out -- giant candy canes, red bows, antlers, outdoor Christmas trees, Nativity scenes. It covers the house and fills the small yard where Miller's home wraps around towering pines, two giant magnolias, 10 camellia bushes and two tangerine trees. Decorations even spill onto his 1978 Buick LeSabre station wagon. Wondering eyes could easily see it as an eight-cylinder sleigh.
"I got a lot of junk, I'll put it that way," said the 59-year-old self-taught carpenter and fisherman who's having a hard time even finding odd jobs these days. "You want to buy some of it?"
His place on Oakview Road looks like the anti-Hilton Head, a colorful, spontaneous oasis in a sea of tightly-controlled, subdued sameness.
But in reality, this home's roots are the real Hilton Head.
Miller said he bought the lot from the Workers of Charity, one of the civic and social clubs that were pillars of the Gullah community before the island had a bridge.
The house is actually a collection of five different rooms he built from scrap material, one at a time over the years, before connecting them with no blueprints. At its core is another remnant of the Gullah culture. His kitchen and half a bedroom was once the wood-frame 14-by-12-foot store where Miller's late uncle, Pheris Campbell and his wife Laura Campbell, sold candy, cookies, rice, grits, slices of bologna and bacon and such on Spanish Wells Road.
Miller's mother died when he was going on 4, and he grew up in a household full of kids with his grandparents on Daufuskie Island.
"I love Christmas decorations because on Daufuskie we wouldn't have any," Miller said. "All we had to look at was each other."
Miller said his home -- with gazebo, balcony and raised deck with oversized, hand-made chairs under umbrellas and other "junk" he was given or got at flea markets -- is almost "spiritual" because it came not from design or training, but from scraps and intuition. And he's never had a mortgage.
Miller is proud of it, but he still says his house and yard is full of junk. He even calls the Christmas decorations "junk."
"I call everything junk," Miller said. "Rich people I work for have nice stuff, but I call it junk. Good junk, I would say. When you get more than you need, it is junk."