“If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride,” goes an old Scottish proverb. The beggars in this case could be those who love genealogy…right at the moment they discover an old photograph that becomes an instant treasure. The wish granted would be the ability to step into the picture and to experience the sights, sounds, smells along with those ancestors. I found such a picture five years ago when I was cleaning out my mother’s house…slipped into an envelope that had been tucked into an old, musty dresser. Since I had been purging and cleaning out for over a month, I almost threw the envelope along with other tossables in the trash. Maybe by sheer magic, the picture’s subjects called to me to pull out the contents. Why, it was a panoramic photo of a farmstead and its inhabitants. The photographer had signed and dated his work in the bottom right-hand corner just as an artist signs his masterpiece…Photo by Parratt, February 19, 1917. Later, I asked my mother the who, what, where, and why questions about the picture. Her answer was that it was Grand Storer and family on their farm in Tilden Township, Osborne County, Kansas: Grand Storer, my great grandfather. So I decided to let the magic begin…
February 19, 1917, was a bone-chilling Monday. Wash and Mina Storer had contacted the photographer from the Cozy Studio in nearby Downs to take a home portrait. Roy H. Parratt instructed them to have the family members space themselves out by their home along with prized possessions. The light of a dreary February day could be tricky so the right time of the day for taking the photograph was estimated. What if each person were to share his/her story with me?
Wash: I bought this land from my father and my older brother a few years before I married Mina in 1891. I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to be a farmer. For the first year and a half of our marriage, we lived in Louisiana where I worked on building levees on the Mississippi River along with my uncle and cousins. This work was not for me so Mina and I along with our newborn son Roy Eugene headed back to Kansas. We lived for awhile on a farm near Mina’s parents before we came to this land. Once we settled on this property, we lived for a few years in a cave…yes, a cave where I reinforced the ceiling with stone from my quarry. Imagine that! We built a new large house and three big barns just seven years ago in 1910. Now my farm consists of 240 acres with milch cows, Holsteins, chickens, and pigs. I make most of my money from the cows…I am not a wheat farmer. Both my son Roy Eugene and daughter Myrtle Mary are married and live nearby. Our remaining six children live and work on the farm.
Mina: Can you imagine setting up house in a cave? Many early Kansas settlers did that, you know. Why I gave birth to my twin babies Angie and Andrew in that cave…won’t that be a story for them to tell their grandchildren some day! Being a farmer’s wife is a joy to me, and I am mighty proud of our big house. I love to invite family and neighbors over for Sunday dinners after church. Making fried chicken and mashed potatoes with white gravy is my specialty. I am also known for my sugar cookies. Yes, we also enjoy inviting neighbors to barn dances here on a Saturday night. The ladies bring special desserts. We have three neighbor men who are the musicians for square dancing. Today for this picture taking, Wash and I decided that I would drive out our Model T loaded up with our baby Leslie and my daughters Angie Pearl and Hattie Della. I asked one of my boys to crank it up for us. Don’t it beat all to have a picture taken of our little paradise!
Angie: Papa and Mama told us to gussy up for this picture…make sure our hair is done up…just as if we were meeting our beaux on a Saturday night. Hattie here, she is the one who can really fix hair. Says she wants to be a beauty operator and not a farmer’s wife. Me…my sweetheart Carl wants us to have our own farm and settle in with a little family.
Hattie: Now, it isn’t too often that our pictures are taken. We have been doing chores since sunup when we went to the hen house to gather eggs for breakfast and to help Mama get everything ready to feed the men. Also, Monday is wash day so soon we will be headed off to heat water and scrub. Yes, sir…I am counting on leaving the farm life one day and moving west…California dreaming, I am.
Marvin and Hillis: Each day, we prove to our pa that we can handle this hard work. We ride out to check on cattle in the pastures. We look for broken fences. We bring cows into the barn to milk. When school is in session, we ride double to the one-room schoolhouse that we attend. Sometimes when we are riding across the fields, we talk about our dreams for the future. We would both like to see new places…explore a little. Pa likes to quote that saying, “The grass is always greener in your neighbor’s pasture.” Us…we want to see if that is true.
Andrew: Since my older brother married and has his own farm, I have been Pa’s right hand man. My hands are calloused, and there is not much time for daydreaming. Been thinking about the prospects of having my own place a few years down the road. Got a cousin who has a farm nearby that he would like to rent out…maybe, that could be me. At several of our barn dances, I noticed a little girl…she’s younger than me. Says she is going to Kansas City soon to help out her married sister. I really do not have a lot of time for courting, but I have her sister’s address so I can write her when she leaves. Understand from the paper that Europe is at war. President Wilson says that we are going to remain neutral…keeping out of it. Speculation around here is that time may tell. Been notified by the local draft board that I need to come register soon. All I really want is to stay here and hug the soil and the neck of a good horse. (Andrew winks at me as he walks away. In 32 years’ time, he will become my grandfather.)
Postscript: A copy of that panorama picture hangs in our home. It is over 100 years old and part of my legacy. The thoughts and feelings of my ancestors are just pure speculation and fantasy on my part. If only wishing could always come true…