Why yes, as a matter of fact I WAS raised in a barn …

One from the archives …

If your birth year falls anywhere near mine, you probably heard your parents say at least once, “Shut the door, were you raised in a barn?”  Grown-ups saw it as a clever way to grab a child’s attention; however, the question never had its full effect on me as a reprimand because one of my favorite places in the entire world was a barn, a big gray wonder standing in the middle of the corral on our farm.

It wasn’t always gray and weathered, of course.  Before I existed it was a proper barn-red hue, with a shiny tin roof.  Or maybe the roof was originally green shingles.  Or shake.  Sadly, there’s no one left to ask — I’m the eldest sibling, and everyone above me is gone.

The barn was two stories high, with a tall peaked roof, and the ground floor was lined with pens, milking stalls, and two storerooms for tack and supplies.  The top level was usually stacked floor to ceiling with fragrant hay bales — green rectangles of alfalfa that we rearranged into forts.  The loft was also where nearly all new batches of baby kittens could be found.

My grandma told me stories of when the barn was new and the loft floor solid and smooth.  She and Grandpa held barn dances that drew friends and neighbors from miles around — a mental image that could keep me occupied for days.

Recently a friend posted a link to an essay by Michael Sims, published in The New York Times Sunday Book Review, about that pseudo children’s book Charlotte’s Web.   (It’s a book for grown-up types and we all know it.)  As I read Mr. Sims’ essay, my mind snagged on a single line and wouldn’t turn loose …

” … the barn’s handmade stanchions and hoof-scarred planking …”

Every inch of “my” barn was handmade by my grandpa and uncle and dad, and its stanchions and hoof-scarred planking are part of my DNA.  That graying expanse, with its sweet hay, lowing cows, newborn calves, sinuous cats, and scent of freshly-drawn milk in pails, taught me as much about life as any classroom in which I languished.

It was in the barn loft that I learned how to cuss.  Lying on a stack of prickly hay bales, watching dust motes float down the sunbeams from roof to floor and plotting my next adventure, I’d hear my dad bringing the cows in to be milked.  Invariably, especially in the evening, there was at least one that declined to obediently trot to the stanchion and wait for him to slide the trap against her neck.  Instead she’d go a little wild, kicking and bellering, with my dad hot on her tail.  He was tired from a full day’s farming and would have preferred the coolness of the house, his supper, and some peace and quiet.  But here was this ol’ heifer, intent upon vexing him in every way possible.  As he unleashed an impossibly creative string of expletives, swinging a sawed-off 2×4 in the air for emphasis, I couldn’t help feeling ever-so-slightly superior to him for just those few seconds because I instinctively knew that if he’d just give the old girl time to settle down a bit it would work out much better for both of them.

True to stereotype, I learned how to smoke out behind that barn.  The cigarettes were made from weeds wrapped around more weeds, but the Diamond matches cadged from next to Grandma’s stove were the real deal.

I learned a little about life and death there, too.  Not all the kittens survived.  Not all the baby calves brought in and penned up with their mothers lived.

I learned that if you leave big spiders alone in their nests they’ll go about the business of eating flies and bugs and leave you to your snake-killin’, which was Grandma’s word for any and all endeavors.

I learned that baby mice are pretty cute, their parents not so much.

I learned that if you hear your name being called but don’t answer right away, your mom will move on down the list to one of your sisters.

I learned that I was a farm girl and my Detroit cousins weren’t.  My cousin Katie became infamous for her plea while walking through the manure-filled cow lot after a rainstorm to “Get me outta this tow-tinkin’ tuff!”

The barn still stands and has been repaired and rejuvenated, but the farm is no longer in the family.  The three farmers who made all the haying and milking and calving happen — my grandpa, my dad, and my brother — are gone.  But they, even more than that big old barn of my childhood, are part of my DNA and I will never forget what a gift they were to me.  The tears in my eyes and throat bear testament to how much I miss them.

silage pit

My dad, a neighbor, my grandpa and I, filling the silage pit next to the barn.  I was four years old.

Barn

Me, my little sister, and a friend on one of the barn’s ramshackle gates.  I see lipstick, so we were obviously fresh off a dress-up session in Grandma’s attic.  But that’s a story for another time.

joads

That old Diamond T truck was a relic long before I showed up, but my headscarf and high-water pants make us appear to be contemporaries.  Long live the Joads!

Image

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sheldon
    Mar 07, 2016 @ 23:18:18

    This story is a very similar portrait of my grandparents barn south of Ensign. It was white with a green roof. The milk cows always got a 3/4 of a gallon of ground maize when it was time to milk, so no argument from the Guernsey or the Holstein when it came time for the stanion trip. The creamy milk was poured into the separator and a can of rich cream came out a separate spout from the milk. We made lots of butter from that cream. Still have the churn we used. We heard similar stories of barn dances and played many games with our cousins in the hayloft. The memories of the grandparents, parents and cousins and the times on that farm are the some of the most cherished experiences of my life. Your story quickly snapped those to my frontal lobes for imaging and savoring.

    I didn’t really know your family, except that what people were doing and what my grandmother thought about it were subjects of conversation at her house. Your family name came up once in awhile in those conversations. In a good way I am sure, but I don’t remember any specifics. I know whenever we went home from the farm by going over to Beeson Road and east, your family farm was always pointed out. I also knew your baby sister from visiting my cousin’s class every year when we had a Catholic holy day and were out of school, so I went to school with John at Ensign.

    It took me awhile to figure out how a Kansas farm girl became such a word Smith. 🤓

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Judy Smith
      Mar 08, 2016 @ 16:58:39

      Sheldon, your notes are such a joy. Who knew Kansas urchins such as ourselves could “wax eloquent”? And hand-churned farm butter — it was my job and my pleasure. Wish I had a time capsule full of it. (You know, with magical preservatives, or whatevs.)

      ” … word Smith.” You’re good, man. That’s the humor I’ve always known and married.

      Like

      Reply

  2. Carrol Burnett
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 21:55:57

    Oh Judy, this touched my heart. I love reading your stories. As I was reading my memories were running parallel with yours. There were two big ole barns in my life. There is an interesting twist in my story that I would like to tell but I’ll save that for later being this is your blog not mine. You discribed my barns perfectly ! The first, the big brown stone block barn south of Ensign,(actually in your family now for years) I was there every night with my daddy, the smells, the suo boss, the stanchions, the loft, the grain bins….everything, my fort, my hideout, my castle, all there under the safety umbrella of my dad. Then poof, life changed…. age 8 I left my barn behind……….
    Keep writing Judy, your words are beautiful!

    Like

    Reply

    • Judy Smith
      Mar 13, 2013 @ 09:12:03

      Carrol, thank you so much for sharing that, and I want to hear about your other barn … and so many other memories. Your story touched MY heart. I know which stone barn you mean, but I didn’t know you lived on that farm … unless the years have simply erased a few things already. Kids who don’t grow up on a farm miss so much, but at the time I thought it was the other way around — I was envious of the town kids. Come back soon, please, I love having you here!

      Like

      Reply

  3. Linda
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 13:42:04

    Sweet, sweet story and memories! I wasn’t raised in a barn, but my husband was, and our children had the privilege of growing up there as well. Fun to see where you came from Judy girl.

    Like

    Reply

  4. Melanie
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 13:31:34

    That is a wonderful story. I enjoyed the pictures too.

    Like

    Reply

  5. georgefloreswrite
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 09:52:44

    What a beautiful glimpse into your early life, Judy! 🙂

    Like

    Reply

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