Judith Sutherland: Barns can hold untold stories


“There are places I’ll remember all my life, though some have changed. Some forever, not for better, some are gone and some remain.”

— Beatles

The barns of my childhood hold memories for me, nooks and crannies explored endlessly until they had become a part of our landscape. There was always something interesting and mysterious about those big old barns, as though they held secrets just waiting to be discovered.

Each year, as summer wore on, we helped to fill those barns with first, second and then third crop hay and straw. As the barn filled, we were able to reach the pinnacle, putting us right up there close to the angels of heaven.

We dreamed of creating new places to play, undoing the hard work that had gone in to the perfect placement of all those hundreds of bales.

By the time third crop was put in, we felt like big stuff to be able to climb the ladder high above the barn floor, coming close to the ceiling of those huge old barns, even peeking out the louvered windows at the tippy-top.

If it had been a particularly bountiful year, we could sometimes even reach high enough to touch the angled pitch of the barn ceiling, feeling the warmth from the roof. We created tunnels from our make-believe store to our imaginary school. We spent hours in those high mows, the reprimands of “if you get hurt….” ringing in our ears.

We had no intention of getting hurt. What kid ever thinks of that possibility?

One day last week, my heart sank as I saw one of those old barns being dismantled, then a huge fire blazing away the remnants.

The McKinley place

It was the red barn Dad always referred to as the McKinley place. He rented the land as a very young man from two ladies, the McKinley sisters. The sisters married brothers, and though they were the Spencer couples, the farm remained, in our language, the McKinley farm.

For many years, the sisters refused to sell, sentiment of the place they had once called home being their sole explanation. If someone had asked me when my father started farming that particular patch of ground, I only knew that Dad rented the farm for all the years that I could remember, contacting the McKinley sisters to work out the rental agreement year after year, the costs and profits split 50-50.

Eventually, with the failing health of one of the Spencer men, a sales agreement was reached and Dad purchased the farm, but it wasn’t until I was married with a family of my own. After my father’s death, this particular farm was sold.

Wish for keepsake

The new owners decided recently to dismantle the barn. I mentioned to my hubby how great it would be to get a rafter or a rock, just any little thing, as a memento of the place Dad once worked and I climbed and explored. Doug said he would see what he could do.

It was with total speechlessness that I accepted something even better.

Found tucked in to a section of the old barn, a tiny black booklet was revealed, a clear one-inch window revealing, in hand-written cursive, “Stanley M. Young, Route #1, Jeromesville, Ohio. June, 1958” — a passbook savings book from Ashland Bank and Savings Company.

Lying flat in the palm of my hand, there is not a scratch on this perfectly preserved account of the income and expenses of my father’s first few years of farming the McKinley place.

I looked at the crisp white pages, 1959 holding great interest for me, the year I was born. It appears the farm did quite well in the years recorded within the tiny book, 1958-1962.

Why or how this tiny booklet remained, pristine, within the walls of that big old barn all these years remains a mystery.

Amazing find

My dear dad, sweetly sentimental, is surely smiling upon this amazing find. Of his five children, I was the only one born during that particular span of time, so it feels as though the discovery was meant for me. It is a gift worth more than silver or gold, a little treasure I will cherish.

I hope to one day place it on the hand-hewn beam the owners also gifted to me.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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