Curiosity surrounds this image. A derelict farmhouse is at geometric center point for farm buildings and as many as four combines from the fifties and sixties – three on the left (one is hidden behind the darker one) and one on the right, in front of the grain bin. The buildings have not been burnt off the land and the combines no longer work; again, there’s an air of abandonment as well as reverence for what was a family’s starting point.
My cousin, a farmer, in his first decade of marriage would occasionally wear an A&W shirt from its nation-wide hamburger restaurant chain, something likely found and bought from a Goodwill or Value Village or Thrift Store back in the eighties. I’m not sure if his wearing of this shirt was youthful cynicism or if he was making light of the fact that as a farmer he fed the world – all farmers do this … but role/position in what one does for work as farmer sometimes blurs/shifts to the background what farmers accomplish on a global scale. I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about how many people all his grain and all his cattle could keep alive in one year; I wonder if he has?
My cousin and his wife ran a mixed farming operation in partnership with his father and his mother in Rimbey, Alberta, an area of Alberta situated in a golden triangle blessed with the right combination of rain, sun and cloud for their grain crops, an area of the world that supported a sizeable Hereford cattle operation, as well. The Blindman River runs through their property and while summer was an extremely busy season, my cousin likely looked forward to days when friends and relations would visit, allowing him to break away from heavy or mundane routines. On our visits, we’d go back into the wooded ravine and talk. There’d be good-hearted, entertaining, teasing back and forth as we investigated the currency of each other’s lives in playful interrogation. A good amount of bull-s**t would extend exaggeration into all that our stories could become. On my cousin’s farm, I watched him grow from a boy building model cars, to a youth with a grain elevator job who was dating (… and owning a black, two-door, 1966 Chevelle), to a young spouse, into a farming partner, to a father, and then two decades later into an innovative entrepreneur with patents for frost-free nose pumps.
In recent years I’ve been struck by how close to the land they may actually have been living and how much their success or failure as farmers depended on their ability to rely upon and support their neighbors; help offered and help received is/was really an investment in community and in each other. I am impressed by the humility they exercised in allowing themselves the help offered by neighbors who took care of them and saw them more as family than neighbors. Likewise I am impressed by the care they showed not only to our family, but towards others by putting something positive in their lives when they needed it … even if this was only done by way of good-hearted humour and teasing during an evening board game.
Stories take me back to this era of time when farms such as this one captured in this image were starting points for Canadian families. One set of Canadian stories about farm-life were W.O. Mitchell’s Jake and the Kid Stories. The other story that opened out the time toward moving into the fifties was John Grisham’s A Painted House. The farm I know best, though, is that farm my cousin grew up on; and, then I come back to this image and the questions I have about leaving it in this state – it must be memorial, something that draws memory back to what was and who they were that made things happen, feeding the world.
As I’ve searched through my music for songs associated with Canada and with farms I’ve run into Murray McLauchlan, a singer and songwriter whose album I purchased would have been one of the first three albums I ever purchased. The one that would have pulled my ear to the radio would have been Hard Rock Town, a song I tried to understand in terms of narrative in grade 8, 9 or 10; the other would have been Farmer’s Song, a song that could be sung around a campfire in unison, a song that could be sung in a prairie tavern when everyone’s collected on a Friday or Saturday night.
Listening to – Murray McLauchlan’s Hard Rock Town from his Songs from the Street album and Farmer’s Song, done I think with Murray McLauchlan et al in Lunch at Allen’s Catch the Moon album. Finally, tonight I purchased Ryan Adam’s Chains of Love from his Ashes & Fire album.
Quotes to Inspire – (1) “A photographer without a magazine behind him is like a farmer without fields.” – Norman Parkinson; (2) “Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.” – Matt Hardy