About the photo


It’s John Wesley Pinckney (1861–1919), a great-grandfather of Jackie’s, in, we think, Nebraska or Iowa. The “Grandpa Pinckney” written along the bottom looks to be the handwriting of Jackie’s maternal grandmother, Lillian Fay Buckley Pinckney, perhaps as a keepsake for her daughter Violet. Lillian married John Joseph Pinckney, John Wesley’s son.

I was fortunate to meet John Joseph Pinckney and Lillian in 1977 at their farm in Smyrna, N.Y., where he had raised Red Polls. This was two years before Jackie and I were married. This was also the same day I first met Aunt Violet, Uncle LeRoy (“That what they teach you in college, to put your coat on to walk from the car to the house?”: his very first words to me), and cousin Dale, over at their dairy farm not too far away in Sherburne. So, then, why is this photo here?

It’s simply my favorite picture. It encapsulates the ancient virtue of perseverance, of staying with it, of getting rid of dead wood. It looks exactly like composing (or at least orchestrating) to me. In this wash of a snapshot, the left foot is just about to alight, the right arm is slightly akimbo, just enough to balance the load on that broad Scottish shoulder. To the left, the merest hint of a simple clapboard house. The photo is taken just as he clears the out-buildings—from above, the log frames them. In a step or two the front of the log would be hidden. It is stunningly parallel with what looks to be a garden-border on the ground. He is just left of center, driving the motion out of the frame, but amazingly, the log is perfectly centered between the right and left borders of the picture, cut off bluntly in front, trailing a dramatically decaying comet’s wake behind. He not only bears his burden but is obscured by it. He and it make the sign of the cross.

This photo, this one-in-a-million, transfixes me.


4 thoughts on “About the photo

  1. beverly geier

    Kile, I am fairly certain this was taken in Nebraska. There are several pictures taken with the same surroundings of my mother as not much more than a toddler. One of my favorites is of her and a pig. She remembered going on a train , with her mother and Joe when her grandpa was very ill, to help her grandma take care of him. I believe it was not too long before he died. I will check the Pinckney family history book and see. Can check with it’s author too. There is a Pinckney family member still living in the house Grandpa Pinckney was born in in Iowa. From what I understand it has been in the family forever since. Don’t know what you know of this.

    1. Kile Smith Post author

      Thanks so much for this information, and we’d love to find out whatever there is to know. To think someone from the family still lives in the Iowa house! If you know town names or anything, that’d be great, but I’m so glad, in any case, that you told me this!

  2. chrystal

    This was my great great grandpa pinckney, i had the pleasure of meeting my great grandmother Violet Goodrich in 1999 when i was 15. She gave me the amazeing memories i have of my sisters and i spending time on their dairy farm for the summer. She was very dear to us all. Thank you for posting this photo. It is beautiful. –Chrystal Fiehl

    1. Kile Smith Post author

      Dear Chrystal,
      You are so kind to write and to tell me about all this. I love that farm and the family history. Violet was as sweet a person as they come. All the best to you,

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