Things Half Remembered: The Barn

This is something that I wrote in 1999. I wrote it in college, as part of an assignment. I received a better grade and higher praise on this than anything I had written previously, and from a professor who was not in the habit of generously praising my writing. About two years ago, I gave what I thought was my only copy of this paper to someone. That person lost it. I was devastated. Then one day, I found the rough drafts of this paper. I am not sure how much change and revision happened between the rough drafts and the final draft, but the general premise remains the same. I am publishing it here so that it doesn't get lost again.  I hope you enjoy it.

To many, a barn serves as a storage area or some other useful purpose, but when I see a barn, that is not what I think of at all. This has to do with how my grandpa's barn was used when I was a young. My grandpa's barn was an obstacle course, an adventure waiting to happen. The course was all mapped out. Obstacles 1 and 2: Get to the barn without being found out by overly protective adults or getting caught in the cross hairs of a sow being overly protective of her piglets or personal space. Obstacle 3: Establishing a fortress in the barn loft with my cousins without falling through a hole in the loft floor. Obstacle 4: Overcoming fears and reservations that may have held be back from jumping off the edge of the loft into a wagon full of corn below.

If the barn had ever been painted, no traces of the paint were left. The only hint of color on the wood was the green discoloration on the more rotted parts of the building. It hadn't any foundation, only a dirt floor. Some sections of the barn had started to sink deeply into the dirt, whereas other parts had risen off the ground, leaving five-inch gabs between the bottom of the wall and the ground. The roof was even worse. It was riddled with holes, and in some sections of the roof, it was better to say a skylight had been installed than ever to admit a roof had existed in that spot. The barn's condition had caused it to be excluded from storing any of the important farm equipment, but it did accommodate bales of hay, a wagon of corn, and an occasional sow with her litter of piglets. Most of the hay was stored up in the lofts, but there was so much of it that it spilled into piles on the ground. There was one loft on each side of the front part of the barn. The loft floors were perilous because of their many large holes; and the floors were always covered with a thin layer of loose hay, so I could never see the holes coming.

Unfortunately, my mother had banned the barn. My mother was one of those people who saw the barns as storage areas, not playgrounds. She was afraid that the barn would come crashing down around my ears, and her fears were not wholly unfounded. However, I still went. There was no way I was going to sit inside the house while my cousins went out to the barn. So, I developed ways to get out to the barn without my parents noticing. It wasn't hard; I just had to wait for a time when my parents were too preoccupied to notice I was sneaking out.

Once the challenge of escaping my parents was met; the next challenge was escaping the pigs. The barn was surrounded on three sides by fairly ineffective pigpens, from which the pigs had usually escaped. They would then wander around the farm lot until someone bothered to put them back in their pens. Some of these pigs were very large sows. The first step in avoiding the wandering pigs was checking the lot surrounding the barn very carefully before going into it to get to the barn. If there were pigs wandering, I had to yell loud enough to scare the pigs out of my way (but not loud enough for anyone inside the house to hear) and then run for the barn as soon as they cleared out of my path. Once inside the barn, I had to watch out for pigs that had decided to wander through the barn. The trick was, of course, to get up the ladder to the loft as fast as I could. In my mind, the pigs were sharks circling below me, just waiting for me to inch myself down from the loft and into their grasp.

Once I reach the loft, I climbed over the bales of hay, until I came to the place where my cousins were holding council to decide on team captains for a rousing game of capture the fortress. There were five of us who played in the barn together. The oldest and largest of us was Luke. Then came Zak, Pete, and I, respectively. The youngest was Lucy. When our families got together for the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving, we would all sneak out to the barn as soon as we were finished eating. Even in the cold November weather, we would run out there and find warmth in the mounds of hay. Luke and Zak were always captains. Now the rest of us knew that if you wanted to be in the good loft and if you wanted to win, you had to be on Luke's team. I always managed to get a spot on Luke's team.

Now as Zak's team scrambled over to their loft, Luke's team started building a fortress out of hay. We always built the fortress with high walls, secret entrances, and booby traps. To construct the fortress properly, we had to lay a hay bale floor, otherwise we could fall through holes in the loft floor. Booby traps were constructed by leaving gaps between the bales and then covering the gaps with loose hay. The idea was that the opponent's leg would slip between the bales and get stuck. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of this sort of trap was that often, I would fall in these myself.

Once the fortresses were built, the challenge of taking over the other team's fortress began. Luke's plan was always a surprise attack; Zak's plan was always to stay and defend the fortress. The surprise attack plan started by sneaking out of the fortress, and then sneaking down the ladder. After that, there were three separate paths to take. I could climb up some hay bales that were on the ground level of the barn until I was at the same height of the loft and then jump between the hay bales I was climbing and the loft. I would then help Luke attack the fort from behind. Another option was to climb into the corn wagon and hide inside there and watch for the other team to come out of hiding. If they ever dared, my job was to yell and throw corn kernels at them and get Luke's attention, so that he could chase them back to their fortress. The last option was the one that Luke always took. He would manage to jump and pull himself up from the ground, straight up to the loft. He would then completely take over the other team's fortress within a matter of minutes.

After one of the forts had completely surrendered and been demolished, we would abandon the game for jumping into the corn wagon. Even I, who am afraid of heights, would jump off the edge of the loft into the wagon below filled with drying corn kernels. Of course, if I hadn't jumped, it wouldn't have mattered because one of the boys would have pushed me off the edge. We would play at burying each other in a tomb of corn or we would take handfuls of corn with us back up to the loft and throw the kernels at each other until we had corn dust in our eyes and we couldn't stop sneezing.

Looking back, I can hardly imagine myself doing the kind of jumping and climbing that I did in that barn. Now, I look at it much like my mom did when she forbade me to play in it. But I don't regret putting myself in danger just to play in that barn. My memories of playing in that barn personify my childhood and they are among my happiest memories.