The old barn stood strong. A tornado in 1956 destroyed the larger barn–leaving the concrete silo as a monument. It smelled the same–like grain, hay, dirt and cattle. Growing up, it was a place of adventure. Inside was a menagerie of barn cats, kittens, cows, calves, raccoons, and an occasional possum. Nesting barn swallows dive-bombed intruders. Other avian inhabitants were pigeons, sparrows, and owls. The barn loft served as playhouse. Stored bales of hay were perfect for jumping. Ropes that formerly brought in hay served as rigging for imaginary pirate ships. A curious white, dust-covered sign, inscribed with the letters “P-W-A” leaned against the wall.
Mostly, the old barn reminded me of Grandpa. I pictured him driving his red Massey-Harris tractor. Typically, he wore his favorite brown leather cap and a denim jacket. There was always hard work to be done–harvesting , cultivating crops, tending garden. Even in summer heat, Grandpa took his sharpened scythe and cut weeds. The sweat mopped with a red bandana. His wet shirts hung on the clothesline to dry.
Years of farming took a toll on his hearing. I wondered why Grandma always yelled at Grandpa. Grandpa always had a kind word. He was master of the quick retort. After sitting down on a light bulb, left absent-mindedly in the back pocket of his bib overalls, he just laughed. Tasty bits of fresh peaches or apples, cut with his pocketknife, were offered freely. There was never any doubt where you stood with him. His colorful description of the town lecher evoked my Mother’s wrath. “Blinking like a toad in a hailstorm, ” dubiously described an insincere person.
My memories are of Grandpa and Grandma in their twilight years. Grandpa survived serious injury twice. Neighbors pitched in to help with the corn harvest. My Grandparents were active in the community. My Grandfather supervised a PWA (Public Works Administration) crew during the Great Depression. He also served as mayor. Grandma was a member of the church Ladies Aid Society and Eastern Star. I have many fond childhood memories. When Grandma passed away, some of the twinkle left Grandpa’s eyes.
Barns provided more than housing for livestock and grain storage. They were centers of social activity. There were local barn dances. My Grandparents were regular attendees. Grandma played Spanish guitar in accompaniment to fiddlers. Barns represented the spirit of cooperation. Farmers helped each other–traded labor during the harvest. There was great camaraderie. Farm wives provided huge noon meals–yet nobody gained an ounce.
Many of the local barns are gone. It was hard watching Grandpa’s health decline. When Grandpa went to the retirement home, I knew It meant the end of life. He passed away when I was overseas on military duty. My Grandparent’s lives embodied the good things of their generation–hard work, honesty, generosity, volunteerism. A sense of humor made drudgery bearable. By giving of yourself, you got much more in return. Just like the old barn, Grandpa stood tall in the community. He left a large legacy to follow.
- Grandma Chism Has Gone Home (chismheritagefarm.com)
- RIP Grandpa (happyhippieliving.com)
- Grandpa’s Thoughts on the Great Depression (simplelifegoodlife.com)
- My grandma’s stories: Grandpa and life’s greatest hatred (seejy.wordpress.com)