Walking on our family land feels like walking through history. I can feel myself move through layers of memories and stories, typically told by my dad. Here is where we had our Easter picnics... My great-grandparents lived here... I remember walking back through this field every day...
I wonder if Winfield and Pearl Reed knew this place would mean so much to us when they bought the first eighty-acre section in 1916. I don’t know much about them, except that they lived on the hill where Jan and Denny do now. They raised seven kids, one of them my great-grandfather, Ralphie. Winfield’s funeral was held at the church owned by the Old-World Mennonites and the pair is buried in a cemetery previously unknown to Dad or me.
Ralphie left home as a teenager and went to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1942 and served in the South Pacific until the end of the war in 1945. After his service, Ralphie returned and began farming the family land, which his parents sold to him in 1947 for “love and affection and $1.”
Ralphie’s shrewd nature and eye toward the future helped him grow the farm. When other farmers were too small to keep up with increased demand created by large agribusiness, Ralphie bought them out and grew his own operation. Success in farming became dependent on scale, and he was able to keep up.
During this time, Ralphie married Wilma Bond and had three kids: Ron, Denny and Rusty. They grew up working on the farm. Each left, but ultimately returned to their home. Ron served in the Air Force Reserves and never farmed on his own but now lives on his dad’s land. Denny attended to University of Missouri and met his wife, Jan. The pair sharecropped and worked on a cattle ranch before returning to farm the family land. Denny eventually traded a section of land for the original on top of the hill, where he and Jan have lived ever since. Rusty was a trucker until he realized it wasn’t the life he wanted.
All the land acquired by Ralphie and the brothers now totals around 1,600 acres.
Eventually, other kids arrived. Dad, Nee and Justin; Derek and Dane; Cody and Dillon. And then the next generation. Most have left, but the land is still there to visit.
Dad said, “you’re nothing without your roots,” and he’s right. I don’t know what the future will hold, but I know I always have a place to return to where I’ll always be welcomed, where my family has history and where I can connect with our past.
I am very happy with how this turned out. I was worried that because it was winter there would be nothing to photograph, but it was the perfect setting for introspection. Jackie said during class that the photographs were sad, a mood possibly coming from myself, and to make sure that was right. I talked to Dad and he said that it was okay for things to be sad sometimes. And I agree and think it was the right mood for the project, though I would call it more melancholic than sad maybe. I hope it sets the mood for thoughts and memories to flow.
I think I could have had stronger portraits. I love all of the other photos in the book but a few of my portraits are lacking. They had to be included because they were essential, but I think the project overall would have been elevated by better portraits.
Additionally, I needed to do more thorough reporting. I think I got so caught up in the fun of being with my family and making pictures that at times I forgot to ask questions, nail down facts and write down quotes. These details would have really improved my captions and my copy block.
I also wasn’t sure how to write the captions to include the family relationships of all the people but keep them clean at the same time.
Overall, though, I am incredibly happy with this project. I’ve been wanting to work on this for a while and I am thankful that I was able to do it in this class and receive such valuable feedback. I also needed a push to get it done, and without this class I may have never done it, so thank you.