Putting Down The Dog

Putting to Rest Little White Dogs
APRIL 26, 2012 1:00PM

My avatar and me

Rate: 19 Flag

One of the comments in my last post mentioned my avatar so I thought I'd show its origin.


 I'm on the left, of course, with my two sisters and Boy, my uncle's farm dog.  It looks like Jackie is about 2 which makes me 6 and Michele 7, it would have been about 1955. I look cranky because the sun is in my eyes though I often looked pretty serious.  And my bangs are probably cut straighter than it looks, my hair's messy.  We were playing at the farm, not being all cute.

I wonder if my dad wasn't learning how to take pictures at this time.  We would have just moved to Minneapolis from a small town and dad would have gotten a job on the big city paper.  Soon he was to become the assistant photo editor.  He had a degree in journalism but we never talked about whether he had taken photography courses. He was always big on having his subjects face the sun.  He was a good photojournalist but would never have made it as a portrait photographer.  Somehow, all your defects showed up clearly in his pictures.


 Here's Boy in front of the farmhouse.  With Dad's shadow.  Boy was a good and patient dog. Riding on his back amidst a crowd of siblings and cousins is one of my earliest memories.  Every day, twice a day, he took himself down to the pasture and herded the cows up to the barn.  I'm sure they'd have come on their own to be milked but Boy made sure they were on time and there were no stragglers.  I never saw him inside the house but the barn was warm.

Very few years later I saw my strong and silent farmer uncle, Alvin, carrying a shotgun, walk to the woods with Boy and return with just the gun, his face red, swollen and streaked with tears.   I don't remember if it was around the time Al gave up farming and moved to California; maybe it was just Boy's time, or he was sick.  No one ever explained or even talked about it in my presence. 

As an adult, I'm struck by the shabby appearance of the farmhouse, Grandma's house. I thought there was a window on the visible wall, maybe it's to the right of the picture frame, maybe I just imagine it's there because the living room was always bright and pleasant.

I've always known that the barn had running water at least 20 years before the house, and then the house only got it in a kitchen sink.  I had a childhood of hauling buckets of water and chamber pots and heating dish and laundry water on the woodstove, usually in Grandma's massive pressure cooker.  That was just on visits and summers I spent on the farm.  Normally, I was a city kid.

And, ok, Uncle Al was a hardworking farmer with cows and pigs and 300 acres of pasture, soybeans, corn and alfalfa.  But there were a couple of aunts around, one with a husband, my parents were only 100 miles away and we visited pretty often.  Why didn't they get together and paint the house?  Why was there cardboard (or plywood?) covering the screen door in the winter?  I suppose for the same reason the barn had running water and the house didn't - it just wasn't important.

Come to think of it, at the time of these pictures, Grandpa would have still been alive and he and Grandma were living a few miles away from the farm.  Al was alone in this house.  Bachelor farmer. That explains a lot.

 And here I am in a school picture, 1955, age 6, looking a little more put together and cheerful, at around the same time, hair still resistant to my mother's taming influences, apparently.

 age 6 cropped


But the avatar will stay. I'm still feeling just about that cranky.







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It's that avatar that put me off reading you until just the other day. You looked mean and snarky. You won me with your writing, and now that I know the context of that photo, I think you look cute as the devil in it. Plus, anybody who had an Uncle Alvin, as I did, can't be all bad.
What a great glimpse into your young life! Don't hate me, but for some reason your pictures remind me of Scout in the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird. I'm glad you wrote this, cuz I've often wondered about that avatar.

I really liked this history of your avatar. It would be a nice open call to find out what's behind other ones. I could identify with a lot of what you wrote. I had a great aunt with a farm house that had never been painted, a grandmother who got her water from a pump, and a mom who could never get my hair right no matter how many Toni permanents she gave me. Nice memories and nice post.
That avatar is a bit standoffish in of itself. Glad to read your early years entailed visits to a family farm. Boy's demise rekindles sentimental moments of losing loyal family companions.
Rated, of course.

Hated those home haircuts myself. Geesh! Trying to tame naturally curly hair by shearing it with buzz cuts...the trauma! ;)
All avatars and the stories behind them should be so interesting!
Wonderful photos, and wonderful memories.
Bravo! I see now...so much was lost in the cropping. You are complete now. The school photo is much more becoming. Thank you, NC! I enjoyed this so much. :-)
I for one liked your avatar from the get-go. I also thought of "Scout," like Lezlie. Now that I look again I see a feisty little Sally Field/Norma Rae as a kid. This photo essay is spunky and charming, and I can just see that grown up girl with the crooked bangs standing ground here :)
See, Matt, it's where you put your eyes! And Al was great. I wish I had known him as an adult.

Lezlie - it's the bangs.

Jon - thanks. But I still like the cranky look.

jls - I think many of us have those farms in our histories. And oh, how I wanted a permanent as a kid. But that's another story & a few pictures I need to unearth.

belinda - that's so interesting to hear. I think I just thought it was funny and grumpy, I never saw mean.

Jeanette and Deborah - thank you!

Sag - thanks for setting me off on this little expedition.

dirndl - no more bangs - in 7th grade they brought on a case of forehead acne and were banished forever!
i have always avoided u cuzza that avatar.
that chick looked like one from my past.
2nd grade:she criticized my short story,
"why santa claus died for our sins"...
she was relentless in her snarky remarks, and then sullied
my masterpiece, "the coming islamic fundamentalist threat"
penned in 5th grade. she said i was overly stereotypical of
our muslim brothers. i lost the best story contest to her,
"the genesis of the decline of american farms." argh.sorry.
Cool! Glad to know the history of the avatar. Glad to know some of yours, too.
So beautiful...and as we look back things do seems different, don't they? The whole thing of hauling chamber pots...not such a distant memory! Well done!
This flowed with such authenticity and sincerity. I felt like I was sitting on the porch steps with you just reminiscing. And the second photo with Boy...and Boy's destiny as a farm dog, brought me right to tears. This should have an EP.
I have been a fan of your avatar since the first time I saw it. Little scrunched puss squinty-eyed wtf kind of expression. Perfect!
Seems as tho' you have introduced yourself in a good way here Nerd.

I seem to remember a picture of my bangs like that. My cowlick showed even though I remember my sister rubbing spit to make it behave...
I didn't imply you were mean. That photo looks exactly like one of my own when I was a city kid who, like you?, was exposed to what life was like in the countryside.

One of my kiddos has that same facial expression...ol' Mr. Sunshine sure blindsights us.

I'm glad you cleared up the mystery. Enjoy!
I love the picture and the writing...and your honesty mostly!
Great story.

My children will hate me in the future when they see all the years of first day school pictures with their little scrunched up faces from me making them face the sun.

I happen to think your avatar is adorable!
I have always adored your avatar. I just love that pissy little look you had...all pursed up crinkly little face. you look to me like an under appreciated and overaware of it little girl. and I think what I like best about that picture, is that you use it to explain you. you crack me up nerd, you really do.
and PS. this is a great post and should have been an EP. it's a real slice of minnesota life, AND the writing is great. AND the pictures are great too.
Thanks, Monkey. I was under-appreciated (or so I think) but certainly not aware of it. Not until recently as it turns out ... there's another crazy mother story in that! I hope cracking you up is a good thing!