Kindred Spirits
March 30th, 2009

It’s no big secret that I’ve long been an admirer of the Farm Security Administration photographers who documented the plight of migrant pickers and displaced workers during the dust bowl years. As a boy, I imprinted upon the black and white images of Dorothy Lange—some of which I found in library books, others in our own family album. Say what you will against poverty, it’s quite photogenic!

Instinctively I’ve always kept an eye out for faces that hark back to that era, and now and again I find one. For instance, back in the summer of 1971 I was rolling north astride my motorbike on US 89, near the village of Sigurd, Utah, when off to my left I spotted a young man standing in a hayfield, just inside the fence. He was sweaty from pumping hay bales; bits of straw clung to his hair and neck, but what really struck me was his face. He looked as if he had just stepped out of the Nineteen Thirties!

I hit the brakes, whipped out my Bronica, and asked the young man if I could take his picture. From waist level, framed against the sky, he loomed statuesque and oh-so-Dorthea Langelike. To his left was a younger person, face turned away from the lens—just like the children flanking Lange’s “Migrant Mother.”Darr_Kreutzer

Two minutes later I was on my way, having made just one exposure. I hadn’t bothered to introduce myself, nor had I asked his name. Yet I’ve always felt a kinship. Rarely do I get the sensation that the space separating me from my subject has evaporated, but when it does happen, I get very excited. I just know that the picture is going to turn out exactly right, and it in this case it did. “Fieldhand, Sigurd” has become one of my all-time favorite images and part of my traveling exhibit, my only regret being that I never had a chance to share it with the actual so-called “fieldhand.”

Fast forward 37 years. I get a phone call from a woman identifying herself as Shirleen Bosen, of Temecula, California. “I’m trying to track down a Richard Menzies who took some pictures,” she announces. “Are you his son? His grandson?”

“You’re speaking to him,” I replied, somewhat testily. “I’m the one you’re looking for. Still kicking—thanks to modern medicine..”

Somewhat hesitantly, Shirleen explained the reason for her call. Turns out that a cousin of hers, Chuck Jonkey, had had a strange dream. “Something about Sigurd and the Internet.” The dream inspired Chuck to embark on a Google search, and to his astonishment, up came a picture of Shirleen’s older brother, Darr Kreutzer.

Thanks to Chuck, Shirleen, and others, I now know more about the photogenic young man who caught my eye as I passed through Sigurd almost forty years ago.

“He grew up in Whittier, mostly,” writes Shirleen. “As a young teen he would go to Sigurd, Utah, where his mother, Rae, was from. Darr would work on his Grandpa Vernal Bastian’s (Rae’s father) farm all summer. He worked many summers there. His cousins admired him and viewed him as their hero, and looked forward to him coming from California in the summers and help on the farm, along with his brother Valgene. They hauled hay, drove the tractors, hoed beets, and worked very hard. That is why he was on the side of that fence that day in 1971. Darr is 19 years old in the picture.”

“In 1971 I was 11 years old,” writes Darr’s cousin Eric Bastian. Darr was my absolute hero! I couldn’t wait for summer to start and for Darr and Valgene to come up from California.

“The picture brings back a lot of tractor driving memories for me; I guess we all drove tractor at one point or another for Darr and Valgene. I only have great memories from those days, those experiences: swimming at the Tubes after a long day, stories told from one end of the day to the other (Darr, of course, being the master story teller and jokester), homemade root beer at the end of lunch just before heading back out to the fields, Sunday afternoon rock-n-roll behind Lois Thalman’s house (courtesy of Darr, Valgene and Jim Thalman), and a close connection between cousins, aunts, uncles and Grandma Sadie and Grandpa Vern.”

“I, too, have wonderful memories of Darr and Valgene and our summers on the farm,” writes another cousin, Jolene Robbins. “As kids we worked pretty hard and didn’t often get time off just for fun, but your brothers made everyday living lots of fun, and Bonnie and I practically lived for when the rest of your family would come every summer. The picture is really remarkable because the photographer caught him in a rare serious moment. I love the picture, but whenever I think of Darr, he is always smiling and laughing in my memories.”

Still another cousin, Bonnie Moore, heartily agrees. “Darr was such a big part of my childhood and that of all my siblings,” she writes. “We spent hours hauling hay with Valgene and Darr, building these amazing hay forts and straw forts into the haystacks as it was stacked that had many rooms and tunnels from one room to the next. They also helped us build our amazing tree house that probably most of you remember in the big tree out front that held our tire swing, and they laughed and joked with us, hung out with us, and played guitar and drums a lot of the time. We would go swimming down at the Tubes after a hard day’s work, and we just had a great time. I miss Darr and his quirky sense of humor; he was happy almost all the time when I was around him, and always made me laugh.”

“All who knew Darr loved him,” adds Shirleen. “He loved to tell stories and jokes. He could talk to a perfect stranger and tell his life story. He was the life of the party. He loved to dance and spin on the floor and do fancy dance steps. At the church dances, everyone would clear a spot to watch him dance.”

So WHY are tears welling up in my eyes as I write this? I’ll let his sister explain.

“He was strong-headed and strong-willed and would not listen to people’s advice. Darr had to learn the hard way, by doing everything himself, despite what advice he would get.”

Now that sounds familiar. I’ve heard the same said about myself!

Shirleen goes on to relate that her brother enjoyed farming so much that he bought a home in Sigurd and moved there about 1981. He raised cattle, milked cows, grew hay and bailed it. On June 14, 1986, he married Janeece Jorgensen in the LDS Manti Temple. They have two sons: Skyler, born January 19, 1988, and Trever, born February 10, 1989.

“Darr had planned a huge reunion for his friends from California, to come to a party at his home in Utah,” Shirleen continues. “He had no idea that he was planning his funeral. Darr was on a winding road in Utah, on his way to cleaning one of the church buildings, when his car flew off the side of the road, and he was killed. The same date for the party, was his funeral.”

So now at long last I know the name of the handsome young man I saw standing beside the road, what he was doing there and what became of him afterward. I also know the pain of those who loved him and lost him and miss him in the worst possible way, because it so happens that 24 years ago my father had also been planning a big party for family and friends. In preparation for the event, he’d been pruning bushes and cleaning up the yard, and on his way home from the dump—on a winding road in Utah—his pickup truck inexplicably ran off the road and crashed into a utility pole. Dad was killed instantly, and was laid to rest on March 30, 1985—the day that would have been my parents’ Golden Wedding Anniversary.

-Richard Menzies