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.