The barn was a big part of my childhood. It had always been there, and it had always been old. But long before I entered the world, the barn had once stood new and proud on a ranch/farm that would one day belong to my parents.
According to what Daddy said before he passed away, Mama bought the barn and house, and the land both occupied, while he was away working as a lumberjack in far-off California. They’d been living in a little three-room house on land owned by Daddy’s parents when the place went up for sale. Mama called Daddy and he told her to buy it. And if memory serves me correctly (Bear in mind that I am going on what others have told me; I wasn’t even born yet.), Mama moved my older siblings in, lock, stock, and barrel, all on her own. No indoor plumbing, no electricity, but to my parents and brothers and sisters, that place became home. And after I was born, it became my home as well.
I have often wondered about the family who lived there before us. And I wondered what that old barn had seen in its heyday. All I know is what it saw when it came into my family’s possession, and maybe a little of what it heard and felt.
Laughing kids playing in its rafters, building hidey-holes in the bales of hay stored there for feeding the cattle in winter. Daredevil kids scaling its gray, splintered walls to stand on top of its rusty, sheet-iron roof to look out upon the field, barn lot, and small calf-pasture surrounded by woods that stretched out as far as the eye could see.
Mama standing by the gate that led out into the field, calling the milk cow in her own unique way. I didn’t understand the soo-wees and other noises that went into it, but the milk cow did. She trotted or meandered, depending on her mood, to the wide gate made out of crossed boards and cedar poles, and Mama let her into the barn lot, then inside the barn. There, Mama had a big pan of cotton-seed hulls ready, and while the cow ate, she milked. On the ground nearby, an old pie plate awaited a few well-aimed squirts of fresh milk for the barn cats. I remember that at least on one occasion, a contrary milk cow kicked off Mama’s glasses, and she called a couple of us kids out there to help her find them.
And I remember the calves born inside that barn. In cold weather, my daddy kept a close eye on the pregnant cows, and when their times came, he herded them inside and out of the elements for the birth, and for protection the first few crucial days afterward. Sometimes the birth was difficult, and Daddy had to help by reaching inside and turning the calf so the front hooves came out first. He couldn’t save every calf in distress, and it was sad when he couldn’t. But we all rejoiced—and maybe the barn did too—when a little, wet calf took its first wobbling steps and suckled.
The barn served as protection for our food as well. In a shed separated from the main part of the barn, we laid out freshly dug potatoes on clean hay and sprinkled them with lime to keep them from absorbing moisture and rotting. One year, we had drying peanut plants hanging from the rafters. I remember sitting up amongst the hay bales cracking the hulls open and popping nuts into my mouth.
Near the barn, an old oak spread its shading limbs over the feedlot. My brother nailed a few boards to form a platform high in the oak’s sturdy branches, and we christened it “The Tree House”. I bet that old barn heard me sitting up there singing or talking to myself—two things I still do to this day—after my older siblings pushed and pulled me up into The Tree House and left me there while they went off to play. Maybe it enjoyed my singing. Maybe it laughed when I carried on conversations with imaginary friends. I’d like to think it did.
The barn is no longer there. Quite a few years ago, it was torn down before it completely collapsed, and a new one took its place. But that old barn, the smell of it—hay and manure—will stay with me for the rest of my life. Those two combined odors symbolize home to me. Security and warmth. Love and family.
A lot of people might shake their heads, and think, “Poor girl, poor children, to grow up so deprived.” But we were never deprived. We had plenty to eat, a fireplace to warm us—one side at a time—and a mother and father who put their children first in every aspect of their lives.
And we had a barn.
And it had us.
© 2019 KT Workman