ODE TO THE RED BARN
It once was the symbol of the Great American Farm.
It once held a hay loft, as well as memories of our years as farm kids.
It once stood as a beacon on our family farm, just like so many other farms.
The red barn on our family farm lived a long and full life, and in the name of moving forward, it came down.
Gail, Suzanne and I spent Easter Saturday on our family farm with three of our four brothers, and all our respective families. Our oldest brother lives in another state, and wasn’t able to join us. It was a day of visiting, eating, and reminiscing. Like every time we get together, it was a memorable day.
We grew up on this now-fourth generation family farm, and while the original house we all grew up in and the barn have since come down, the memories remain. Our brother John and his family are caretakers of our family’s heritage, parceled into a farm on the Great Plains. For their stewardship to the land and our legacy, I will be forever thankful to them. I treasure the opportunity to have grown up as a farm girl, even though I chose not to stay there.
The iconic red barns appear to be a thing of the recent past, and metal buildings are appearing on many Great American Farms as their replacement.
Wooden barns, John tells me, are no longer the most efficient and effective structure to have on one’s farm. He, along with my husband, who has erected many of the metal ones–including helping with the one that now stands in place of the barn, tells me the metal ones are the wave of the present and future farm. Perhaps a few fully-functioning barns remain, but they are likely on smaller, hobby farms. They are costly to repair and/or maintain; the metal buildings are less so. Some classic red wooden barns have been repaired, refurbished or renewed, but most working barns have been replaced by metal buildings.
I have many fond memories of time spent in that barn in my childhood. John, who has always been industrious, had a wood shop just inside the front doors. He built many wooden projects there, and I recall lingering behind or beside him as he toiled with his craft. I was fascinated, made a few feeble attempts, but never engaged as a carpenter myself.
Perhaps that is one reason why I was drawn to my husband, the builder extraordinaire. But that’s another story for another day.
As long as I could remember, we always raised cattle on the farm. John, somewhere in his teenage years, decided to start a small swine operation in the barn as well. Suzanne and I were reminiscing about the lessons taught by Mother Nature when, no matter the hour, we would hurry up to the barn to see the baby pigs being born. Once in a while, we even saw a baby calf come into the world.
John continues to raise cattle on the farm. They once came in and out of the barn, but their new home is this metal building. He no longer raises hogs.
The barn had an upstairs hay loft, where many of our memories were created. I didn’t realize the new cattle “barn” had a hay loft as well. The small, rectangular hay bales are not as common as they once were; but John stores some in the loft now, just as we did in the barn. The much-larger, round bales are the most common type now.
For those of you with no farm history, the hay bales are tightly bound wrapped bales of the wheat straw that remains after harvest. The grain is harvested and sold, and the straw is baled for livestock feed and bedding. These bales were stacked in our barn, both upstairs and downstairs. There was a large, sliding door on the ground floor of the barn, the one traditionally painted with red and white stripes as shown in the pictures. The smaller door upstairs slid open sideways, and a long bale elevator was used as a conveyor to move the bales from the ground to the upstairs through this door.
Our younger brother Ryan with Kate, Gail’s first-born enjoying the view from the upstairs door. The striped door below was the front door to the ground floor. Circa about 1987.
We built many forts out of these bales, and it seemed our brothers always possessed superior architectural and building skills that made their forts “cooler” than any we could construct.
There was a square, hinged “trap door” in the back of the barn from the upstairs to the downstairs. We spent many hours jumping from the upstairs to land in the loose hay downstairs, not caring one bit about the hay that ended up in every crevice of our clothes and bodies. It was good clean—but dirty—fun. Suzanne and I commented that now, we would likely land with a few twists and sprains. Gail, however, probably would free-fall in such a way to avoid that. She always seems to land on her feet, literally and figuratively. As a little sister, I am still watching her, still looking up to her to learn how to do so many things. Recall from her birthday post that she has zip-lined…as Suzanne has as well, but not me–yet. And did I mention, she also bungee-jumped just a few years ago? She holds that singular honor among us three.
The steps to the upstairs of the barn began to show their age in their last years. I recall holes in the steps—some large, some small—that needed to be avoided in order to make a safe ascent. Several steps probably weren’t safe to step on, but I don’t recall any fall-through injuries.
Those steps were well worn not just from our family, but from an old tradition of “Barn Dances.” Our parents spoke of earlier years when our grandfather would host other couples for a dance in the upstairs of our barn. The music was provided by local musicians, and I am quite sure fun was had by all.
The upstairs in the barn was also an indoor playground for us. There was a basketball goal and modified half-court. Gail recalls the days when our oldest brother hosted frequent Sunday afternoon basketball games with his friends. The group was large, as our barn was apparently the hot spot on Sundays. She recalled, and I do too, that caution had to be taken to not get too close to the edges of the floor near the walls, as they weren’t always reliable.
Ryan turned what would have been the back half of the court into his work site with his Tonka tractors, graders, and other equipment as well, farming the loose hay. There were some cabinets and other older, perhaps antique furnishings and small equipment stored in the back as well.
Gail, Suzanne and I visited the new “barn” last weekend. Instead of cattle and hay, it now houses the machinery that plants and harvests the crops, as well as the other necessary implements and machines that keep the farm running.
Gail was the only one of us three girls who learned how to operate the farm machinery. Recall that she has always been a Swiss Army Knife.
I recall the good-natured argument between farm kids regarding the best color of farm machinery: red or green? My family has always been red, and probably always will be. Those color allegiances tend to be passed down to the next generation, although I did spot a few small pieces that looked green to me…
When I meet retired farmers who are now my patients, I always ask: red or green? Typically, it sparks a good-natured discussion, and sometimes well-intentioned banter and boasting.
The barn, with its resident hogs, was a smelly place. To add to that, Suzanne recalled the family of skunks that took up residence there as well. I don’t remember as clearly as she does, but when she was perhaps ten, there was a mother and about four babies that kept her away from there for months. I probably didn’t go near it for a while, either.
The barn came down in 2008. The house came down last fall. Some things, while they served a purpose and were well-loved at one time, are not meant to last forever. That’s how things in life are.
Sticks and stones.
Moving past the sentimentality and emotional attachment can be hard, but sometimes a small gesture and/or token can ease the pain enough to move forward with the good memories, and leave the pain of loss behind.
John’s wife, Lara, rescued several small pieces of the barn wood after it was torn down, as it was headed out to be burned. She took a picture, put it on a barn-shaped piece of this wood, and created a Christmas ornament for each of us–and other relatives as well. It is a treasure, one I display year-round. This small token, this actual piece of our farm’s history is all I need to keep the good memories alive and leave the loss behind.
Thank you, Lara.
Thank you, John. You and your family are keeping Our Great American Farm alive and well.
Dad, posing for his high school graduation. The barn lives on in so many pictures, and in so many memories.
Dad’s legacy–and progeny, too, lives on–in the same place he was raised.
Long live the farm, and the farm girls of The Sister Lode.
When I chose the format and title picture for the front page of my blog last summer, I was drawn to the barn picture featured on the opening page of THE SISTER LODE. Hmmm…