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Bud Grossmann’s
Words of the Week
for the Week of
February 18, 2018
Published as a Gramma Letter
dated February 18, 1997.

© 1997, 2018 by Bud Grossmann.
All Rights Reserved.

On a Wisconsin Farm (1986)
  On a Wisconsin Farm (1986)
© 1986 by Bud Grossmann


Tuesday, February 18, 1997

Dear Gramma,

      “Everyone ready? Look at the camera, and smile!” More than a few photographers have issued that command. I myself try to avoid it because I prefer “informal” portraiture. From time to time, though—when I’m visiting family and friends—I take what I call a “tourist” picture. I line everyone up and request that they face my lens.

      Of all my tourist pictures, one gives me particular pleasure. In it, you, Gramma, are standing front and center. Three people accompany you: Grampa, my four-year-old son David, and me. We are stiffly standing on the lawn outside your Wisconsin farmhouse. The catalpa tree towers above us, its broad, heart-shaped leaves rich with the green of summer. You and Grampa had just returned from church. My grandfather, in his gray suit, is leaning a little toward the camera. His tie hangs askew; its lower end has escaped the confines of his jacket. You, Gramma, are standing straight and tall, shoulder-high beside your husband and grandson, and head-and-shoulders above your great-grandson. Your light-colored raincoat has its top-most buttons undone, allowing a glimpse of your dress, a print of black-on-white. You steady yourself with a cane. A gauzy blue scarf covers your hair and is knotted under your chin as precisely off-center as Grampa’s necktie. Dave, in a blue T-shirt with a darker blue trim, clutches his Glowy the Glow Worm doll.

      My son and I had skipped Sunday services. So, instead of a somber suit, I wore for this photo a pair of borrowed bib overalls and a baggy blue denim shirt. Encircling my neck was a white handkerchief, lowered like a bandit’s mask and echoing the asymmetry of Grampa’s necktie and your blue scarf. A red baseball cap made me as tall as Grampa and provided a bright splash of color in a scene otherwise dominated by deep greens and blues.

      As the four of us waited for my tripod-mounted camera to snap the self-timed shot, you and David displayed relaxed expressions. Grampa, however, was scowling. Lines descended from the corners of his open, toothless mouth to give him the appearance of a ventriloquist’s companion. Only one person looked straight into the lens and smiled: your grandson, Bud. My own smile is what I love best about this photo. I was happy because, a few minutes before, my grandfather had said Thank you.

      Words of appreciation came hard for old Earl Grossmann. No matter what we grandkids did around the farm, our grandpa would—as often as not—tell us how we might have done it better. But on that picture-perfect morning, he had come home from church and profusely thanked my cousin Terry and me for moving a big load of baled hay from the hay wagon to the loft. Evidently it had been a task Grampa was dreading, weary as he was from the field work of the previous day.

      For Terry and me, unloading had been no big deal, really—just an hour’s labor in the cool of the morning and the shelter of the barn. The task was easy, compared to the haying itself. Grampa, on the John Deere, had gone round and round with the rattling, rusted baler and the rickety old rack, while my dad and Terry laid the dense bales in place like bricks. I followed along, itching and sneezing beneath the scorching sun, forking stray strands of alfalfa into mown-and-raked rows where the baler had not yet passed. We brought the last load into the barn as the light faded from the sky. We left the unloading for another day—Monday was what we figured.

      Instead, as soon as you and Gramp left for church, Terry showed up from town and said, “Buddy, let’s put that hay in the mow.” We did it, and Grampa surprised us with a thank-you. Terry left to go fishing, and that’s when I grabbed my camera. No one ordered us to say “Cheese,” but I couldn’t help grinning with delight.

      Thanks, dear Gramma, for holding still for the snapshot.


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© 2018 by Bud Grossmann