Saturday, September 17, 2011

F. L. Millwee, my grandfather

I just happened to catch this picture of my grandfather, F. L. Millwee, years ago when he was cleaning beets from his garden.  I took the picture with a borrowed 35 mm camera while I was auditing a photography class from the Univ. of Okla. during the time I worked at Griffen Memorial Hospital, one of Oklahoma's state mental hospitals. When I first developed the picture, my teacher said it was unusable, because the back yard was so shady and I was such a novice, I hadn't used the right camera settings. However, he said there were some ways we could try to salvage the picture. We used dodging on his face with a little tool we made from a coat hanger and a piece of panty hose, while we tried to bring out his shirt better. Actually, the photo I have framed in my house has more delineation on his shirt, which blends into the sky on this picture. But, I was trying to show his face with this, so I had to loose the shirt. I also used a high contrast paper, which helped bring out the contrasting highlights between the beet leaves, the handle on the knife, and the dirt on his hands. This has become a favorite picture for years in our family and my sister Patricia had my mother paint it for her. I always think, "not bad for a picture that almost got left in a trash can in 1974".  Not only was he a very inspirational man, but he also was the hardest working person I've ever known. In about 1963 at the age of 73, he got kicked in the head by a cow that was coming up a ramp behind him. An incompetent dairy hand had opened up the ramp when he wasn't supposed to. Granddaddy got a brain tumor. The doctor that operated drilled several holes around his skull to relieve pressure. He wasn't sure if it would work, and said he might not ever be the same, but it worked. He lived to the age of 102 and was active until just a few years before he died. He retired within a couple of years of the brain tumor, but went on to farm a garden of several acres that included a huge blackberry patch and every vegetable known to western civilization. One of my most vivid strong willed memories of my life was of being at the kitchen table with him when I was about 5 years old. I was telling him, "but, Granddaddy, I don't feel like yogurt today." My grandparents made their own yogurt, dug up pine trees with a root ball for Christmas trees to replant later, and gave away garden vegetables to anyone that showed up and asked.  If you will note, there is a tree at the back of the picture with a couple of diagonal lines leaning against it, those were his hoes. Just beyond this tree was a back garden gate that led to some back barns, a chicken coop, and his goats, plus a fantastic view of the Wichita Mts., which the geologists believe are some of the oldest mountains in the United States. 
The F. L. Millwee Family, 1940's (L to R: Glenn, Mamie, F. L. Claude, and Lena May)


  1. I so love these old pictures. My daughter is a professional photographer and she is trying to figure out how to get this look with all the new digital "bells and whistles". Isn't it funny how we appreciate things later.

  2. I love black and white too. Actually, this extra grainy look was quite accidental. For the sake of speed and not taking forever to sort through tons of pictures for just the right one (which is what I would usually do), I remembered I had a photocopy of this one leftover from decorating for a family reunion. I decided it did give a unique special effect.