As the December holidays approach, I’m reminded of my grandparents’ farm in northwestern Ohio, which is where my mother had spent most of her childhood. The Dennis family would travel there by car from Flint, Michigan several times a year when I was a kid, including for Christmas. Making that trip was one of my favorite things in the world. Long before I had known of any complicated family history between my grandparents and my interracially-married parents which had included a boatload of unpleasantness from years before I was born, a trip to the family farm ranked in my mind above everything but perhaps a hypothetical trip to Disney World. The Dennises would never go to Disney, but that was fine, as we traveled through Europe and lived in Liberia for a year, which was where my father’s family had originated.
My maternal grandmother, whom I have referenced before, set a template in my mind for qualities I have always admired and sought out in others. She was highly empathic, intelligent, resourceful, hardworking, put together without being vain or prissy, and of high moral character. She loved and would talk to all kinds of people at random, proud of all of her multi-hued grandchildren in tow that also included my two blond-haired cousins. I get the sense that Grandma had only been a passive participant in the earlier racial drama only just to go along with my grandpa, regardless of how she actually felt. Women simply weren’t as empowered back then, and “stand by your man” was just what many wives and mothers did. Knowing her, it probably deeply hurt her heart at the time to do so.
Empathy, by itself, means less without conviction and action. On some level, I do sympathize with my mom about how her poor treatment affected her, with its damaging effects having filtered through her to the rest of my family of origin in sustained, complicated, and very toxic ways. Therapy saves lives. I honestly had no idea until adulthood that there had ever been any bad blood between my parents and grandparents and had erroneously assumed for a very long time that everything had always been copacetic. I was the product of the most unlikely couple from backgrounds that couldn’t have been more different (they met at college). By the time I was born in the mid-’70s, everything seemed to have been smoothed over, if my impressions of old family photographs are even somewhat accurate.
The “yellow bedroom” at my grandparents’ farm. Northwestern Ohio, early 1990s.
With all of that said, I absolutely loved my grandparents’ farm and spending time with them, having grown up never to have been made to feel unwanted, unwelcome, or unclaimed by them. I remember dreamily waking up even into my teenage years in the “yellow bedroom”. There was also a “blue bedroom”, which is where my parents stayed, and grandma’s and grandpa’s room, which I think I had seen only once or twice (access was strictly forbidden). The wind would rustle through the surrounding corn and grain fields, which would undulate like giant, unending waves. The wheels of a passing semi tractor-trailer on Ohio State Route 281 would slowly build to a crescendo from nothing, and then back to nothing as the truck would disappear into the distance. The room smelled pleasantly of old books, dried floral arrangements, and potpourri, and its walls were decorated with pictures of extended family and the Lord.
The view out of the back door, beyond the living room and utility room.
Sunlight would dapple the walls in random patterns through the crabapple trees outside the bedroom window, and it was such a feeling of tranquil bliss, one I wish I could have bottled then and re-experienced today. The farm was literally miles away from any mall, video arcade, or type of place the average American kid would love, but when I was there, I honestly didn’t miss any of those things. I was with my beloved grandma, who took pride and a genuine interest in me and let me into her world. At some point in the morning, the smell of bacon would permeate the house, which would get me to put on yesterday’s clothes and walk to the kitchen. Grandma always seemed so happy to see us “boys”, as she would continue to prepare a big breakfast that also included eggs, cereal, juice, instant coffee for her and Grandpa, and toast with lots of butter and jam available to spread.
My grandma with the butter. She used it on or with everything, and copious amounts of it. Her Christmas cookies have never been equaled in my mind for taste, to this day. Why? So much butter. The thought of her fried chicken still makes my mouth water (like at this writing), and I preferred her recipe to even “store-bought” KFC. My mom let the cat out of the bag years later when she told us Grandma’s secret: she fried it all in butter.
With all of that butter in the foods she prepared, what I can’t figure out is why she or my grandpa didn’t each weigh three hundred pounds or have heart trouble. Maybe it was all of that hard farm work, though they certainly weren’t doing much of that by the time I was around, as Grandpa had officially retired around 1980, about when I had started elementary school. What’s more likely is that they didn’t eat like that all the time, and that visitors or family got the red carpet treatment (and extra butter content).
My grandma, with her seahorse birdbath and bird feeder in view.
It may seem a stretch to draw even a dotted line between this butter-yellow Galaxie 500 seen in Las Vegas a couple of months ago and my grandma’s farm breakfasts. My thought, though, is that the general size and bloat of this car seem consistent with how an average human body might look after a steady diet of butter-rich foods like those my grandma used to prepare. A Las Vegas vacation is not the time or place to decide to go on a diet. I’m pretty sure the breakfast at the Peppermill Restaurant on the northern end of The Strip that I had eaten the day after I had photographed this Ford contained the entire recommended daily intake of calories, but it was absolutely worth it.
Compare the look, dimensions, and weight of this ’73 Galaxie to that of the ’68 Galaxie I had spotted and written about earlier this year. Just five model years had bought significant increases in most exterior measurements, and weight. Comparing Galaxie 500s two-door hardtops from ’68 and ’73, the newer car was 6.2 inches longer (at 219.5″), an inch and a half wider (at 79.5″), and 500 pounds and 14% heavier to start, at just over two tons. The factory color of the paint appears to have been simply “Yellow” with no modifiers, which seems unusual given Ford’s bent toward creative nomenclature in those years.
The Galaxie subseries of big Ford was still a solid seller by ’73, with non-wagon sales of about 182,300; This two door hardtop was one of around 70,800 produced that year. By this time, the LTD was the more popular choice, with 272,300 sold and an additional 140,700 LTD Broughams that found buyers. Only about 42,500 entry-level Customs were sold in ’73. Back in ’68, however, the LTD badge was going into only its fourth model year, so the Galaxie’s 395,400 units represented the bulk of that year’s numbers, supplemented by 122,800 Customs and 138,800 LTDs. Two-door Galaxie 500 notchback hardtops sold 84,300 units in ’68, about 16% better than the number from their ’73 counterpart.
The neighboring farm had belonged to my grandfather’s brother.
This generation of standard-size Ford would represent the high-point of Ford’s “road hugging weight” approach before being downsized for ’79 with the introduction of the Panther platform. I honestly don’t think my grandma was purposely preparing unhealthy food, nor do I remember her or my grandpa having a bunch of health problems. That was apparently just how a lot of people ate. I exercise regularly and eat healthily in order to be, look, and feel fit, but I’m also not riding tractors, harvesting grain, and / or working with heavy machinery all day. I’m sure both of my grandparents burned mega-calories during just an average day when my mother, aunts, and uncle were growing up. Maybe all that manual labor washed with all the butter and extra calories, back in the days when it was presumed that big meals gave one extra strength.
I’m sure the ride in this not-LTD is butter-smooth. That is and was the appeal of full-sized cars like this. This Galaxie 500 is a solid, well-fed, zaftig cruiser that’s full of all of the creature comfort calories. As the year-end holidays have already commenced, how I miss Grandma and her baked goods. A great lady she was, one who proudly and unhesitantly claimed her mixed-race grandson as her own, allowing me to claim her, as well.
18b Arts District, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Sunday, October 1, 2023.
Pictures of my grandparents’ farm are from the early 1990s, taken when I was a teenager.