I was raised in southwestern Indiana among the small towns and farms. My mom’s family of eight brothers and sisters all started their lives in a farmhouse near the community of Union. Some stayed close by and continued to farm, while others pursued careers in anything except farming. L. J. and Minnie, my grandfather and grandmother, were married for over sixty years and died within a few weeks of each other. My mom is now 89 and she and her younger brother are the only children remaining from that extraordinary marriage.
Growing up, I spent quite a bit of time at my grandparent’s farm, much of it with my younger cousin, Larry, who lived nearby. I’m sure there were times I got bored being there, but I just can’t recall any. There were personal baseball diamonds to build in the field next to the house, trees to climb, corncobs to convert to grenades by shoving a firecracker into the cellulose center, marathon washer-pitching contests, much rock throwing, and the occasional well-intentioned, but ultimately poorly executed idea. Many of these activities took place near the biggest structure on the property; the barn.
To show the importance of this structure to the farm, you have to understand my grandfather built the barn in the late 1920’s before he built a newer home for his family. My mom is of the opinion that the new barn was nicer than the house they were living in at the time. It was, and is, an impressive structure. When the family was raising chickens, it had three floors and a cup elevator system to carry chicken feed from the ground floor to the other levels. There were holes in the flooring on each level to facilitate cleaning and the transfer of items too large for the stairwells. On the second floor, there were two openings on each side of the roofline to allow even larger items to be moved in and out of the barn.
It was from one of these windows that I discovered contrary to what I had seen on cartoons, a bed sheet did not make a great parachute. It was in the barn that I learned about the miracle of birth as several of us used gunnysacks to clean newly born piglets. It was on the second floor that Larry and I discovered at age 6 that no matter how much we tried, we could not teach baby chicks to swim on top of the water. When our parents, uncomfortable at the silence around the house, found us, we were horrified to learn that chickens couldn’t swim underwater, either. We had innocently drowned nearly 40 of them in the brooder tank. Having almost drowned a year earlier, I should have known better than to attempt to teach swimming to any living creature.
When my grandparents died, the farmhouse was sold, but the barn and the farm stayed in the family. With no one to maintain it, the barn got the worst of it from the elements and was a sad thing to see when I drove by the old place. Fortunately, my uncle decided a few years ago to bring the barn back to a state better than when it was built. The renovation took it down to the bare bones, eliminated the third floor, and dressed up the outside a bit. Somehow they managed to keep the smell intact.
Within the last year, he purchased the farmhouse at auction, and with the help of his children, returned it to livable condition. I returned to Indiana last week to visit with Larry, who now lives in Harlingen, TX. He told me he and his wife would be staying in the farmhouse and asked if I wanted to join them. It wasn’t a tough decision. That house holds more memories than the barn, but I’m saving some of those for another post.
I chose this shot of the barn’s interior because I think it does a great job of showing past and present. You see the strong ribs supporting the roof looking as good as they did in 1928. Looking closely at the front, the boarded-up windows speak to a time when more ventilation was needed on the second and third floors. The roof is free from holes, most of which came courtesy of my cousins and me with the occasional errant rifle shot meant for a pigeon, crow, or sparrow.
I very much like living in 2016, but it is nice to occasionally have the option of traveling back to an earlier time. Thanks to my Uncle John and Larry, I can do that.