Column: Farming in color


By Stephanie Strothmann

In my house on a prominent spot on the living room wall hangs a small black and white photo.

It is unassuming, just a girl on a horse and a middle-aged man dressed in a long-sleeved linen shirt and pants clutching what appears to be a gardeners’ hat.

The squinted gaze of the man toward the camera is one of polite patience, such that his work was finished in the fields that day and he really was ready to head inside for a glass of cool water or lemonade but stopped to oblige the photographer for a photo.

The young lady, dressed in youth’s attire of the 1930s, allows for a short-sleeved dress, a stark contrast to the man’s abundant clothing coverage on what appears to be a very hot, summer’s day in southern Illinois.

Her gaze is off on something in the distance, perhaps chickens running through the barnyard or pigs hungrily gobbling up the scraps from that day’s meals. She is clutching the mane of the horse, riding bareback, unafraid of the dangers such a large draft horse could impose if spooked.

I speak as if I know these folks in the photograph because I knew one of them very well. This photograph is the only known photo I have of my Grandma Strothmann and her father, Fred Jordan, on the family farm in Norris City, Illinois.

The photo is a copy of the original, and written at the lower part of the photograph in my grandmother’s handwriting is “Lottie, [unlegible], Pop and Me.”

I remember my grandmother telling me about Lottie the draft horse, how she would ride him bareback after the horse’s work was finished in the field. She got scolded quite a few times, too, for riding him like a circus horse, standing up on his back and riding him around the open area of their farm.

I’m sure my great-grandparents understood her free-spirited nature but also were thinking of the many chores at hand that needed to be finished before the evening — feeding chickens, pigs, cattle, collecting eggs and mucking out pens.

In the moment, though, my grandmother had taken a moment to pause with my great-grandfather and one of his favorite working horses to capture a moment that I’ve treasured since I first saw the photograph.

I walk past this photo each day, several times a day, and smile every time I see it. Sometimes, I stop and dream about what happened after the photo. Did my grandma ride off to more antics or was it nearing dinner time and she took Lottie back to the pasture to remove his working harness and release him to a nice back roll in the green grass?

What did great-grandpa do? Did he place the hat back on his head and finish the evening chores before dinner? All of that is left to the imagination.

One day, I’m sure someone will come across a photo of my farm and wonder similar things. We are fortunate, though, to have color photography, so it is easier to tell things such as temperature, season, etc. There is a song by Jamey Johnson called “In Color” that talks about a young man looking at old family photos and his grandfather telling him “he should have seen it in color.” How very true that is.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy this treasured photo each day I pass by it.

Until next time…

Stephanie Strothmann owns Purple Shamrock Farm LLC in rural Seymour. Read her blog at Send comments to [email protected].

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