Every child should have a barn


It is often said that every boy should have a dog. That does sound nice. What I truly believe, however, is that every boy — and girl — should definitely have a barn.


The first barn I vividly remember is my grandmother’s barn. It is the quintessential “big red barn.”

The lower level featured horse stalls and a wide center aisle. The haymow above was a treasure trove of imaginary play — serving as everything from mountains to scale or castles to build.

Even the barn hill itself entertained.

The long sloping rise from the drive to the haymow provided my first — and favorite — sledding hill. At the time, I was sure I was traversing Everest.

Today, I see that I’ve probably had steeper drops from a stumble. Still, in memory it looms large.

I can remember as a child being shooed into the tack room to keep me from under the hooves of dozens of horses as they were let in, or out, of the barn. I would swing on the door while they thundered out to pasture.

All meals — all LIFE at Gram’s — revolved around activities in the barn. You could definitely say that her grandchildren all had a true “barn raisin’.”


Meanwhile, just minutes away loomed the other barn of my childhood. It too was a red wooden barn, but there all similarities end.

By the time I came along my great-grandparent’s farm had long been out of the livestock biz. As a result the barn, while well maintained, had been relegated to storage.

The fact that they had started the farm during the Great Depression was never more evident than when we were forced to clean that barn out some six decades later. It was, we would discover, where 60-plus years of neatly stacked “we might need this someday” goes to die.

I would imagine that in my entire life I never ventured further into that barn than where the shaft of sunlight admitted by an open door came to an end — and even then not more than a handful of times.

There was just something spooky about that barn. Sans the heaves, sighs, and hoof beats of living, breathing things, it sat in a sort of murky darkness on even the brightest day.


One of my favorite things to do as a child was dare myself to enter the barn. I would get myself all psyched up to go just past the first stall, then the second, then the third.

For the record, I’m pretty sure I never made it past the third. The Holy Grail would have been to make it all the way to the back of the barn where, I was certain, every ghost who had ever not lived kept all their ghostly horses and carriage. (I was, I should note, a very imaginative child).

I had once scaled a small hill behind the barn (also haunted I was sure) to peer in through the back. I think I knew by then I was never going to make it far enough in from the FRONT to figure out what was back there, but that if I went in from the back directly it might still count as a “win.”

I swear I saw a sled, carriage, SOMETHING in there. Where normal children would have been so intrigued, I’m sure, they would have simply HAD to investigate, I was too busy scaring myself to death to do anything more than scramble back to the brighter, sunny spots and forget all about that barn.

In hindsight, I see that beyond all my dares was the truth that it was a lovely barn. Nonetheless, for me it served as the perfect childhood foil — a “spooky place” to test my own limits that was, of course, perfectly safe.

In retrospect, it should come as no surprise that a girl who once dreamt of living nowhere less populated than Boston or D.C. would end up, in the end, with a barn of her own.

Could I ever have felt quite at home without one?

Built to house fruit and not farm animals, our barn has become such a key part of the children’s collective memory that our daughter, entering it yesterday, said with a depth of feeling normally reserved for living things, “I just LOVE how it SMELLS in here.” (For the record it’s a BARN. I think it smells like dust.)

I suspect her sentiment has more to do with her heart than her nose, however.

I find it amusing to think that if and when people pull out that old adage and say “what’s the matter with you, were you raised in a barn?”

Yet another generation can say with utter sincerity, “yes, as a matter of fact, I was.”

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