Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Man in the Top Hat

My grandfather died when I was in the sixth grade. Any memories I have of the man are of when he was older so when I came across this photo showing him with two of his six daughters I couldn't take my eyes off him. I don't know how old he was when this was taken. It doesn't matter. What does matter is that it offers me a glimpse of my grandfather as a young father-dressed up and obviously on his way somewhere with daughter Ruth on his lap-and my mother in her little knit hat and buttoned-up coat by his side. It looks like they are in some sort of a sleigh with blankets. Wih that top hat and wool coat, my grandfather reminds me of Abe Lincoln-minus the beard. I remember him to have been tall and thin with Beech-Nut chewing tobacco in his back pocket. I remember him wearing suspenders and reading at night in the front parlor.

Besides showing my grandfather as I'd never seen him before, this photo offers another glimpse of the barn I always write about. The more I find pictures with that barn included the more I realize the role it played over the years, from one generation to the next, from one season to another. I've heard the stories about the horses it housed and the mean rooster nicknamed Baldy who ruled the barnyard and the bull who almost did my mother in if it hadn't been for my grandfather and his pitchfork. But by the time me and my cousins came along there were no horses or bulls or mean roosters-just a barn offering us a great place to play and pretend.

Family farms peppered the landscape back then. It was hard work seven days a week from early morning to late at night. Sadly, most family farms like my grandfather's have been sold or boarded up and abandoned. Many farms are big business now. It makes me wonder if kids still play in barns or ride on the back of hay wagons like we did. Although he didn't wear his top hat, it was our grandfather driving his old Ford tractor and pulling the hay wagon to the barn. We were so lucky! Trouble with that-you don't realize how lucky you were until looking at a photo of years gone by.

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