“I am always humbled by the infinite ingenuity of the Lord, who can make a red barn cast a blue shadow.”
— E.B. White
The grand old American barns are disappearing, lost to decay and development, to the fierce strikes of Mother Nature who shows no mercy, or abandoned by someone disinterested in its history, a blind eye turned to a sure demise from mischief and general bad behavior.
The ingenuity, incredible talent, muscle and determination of our ancestors to raise such enormous structures from hand-cut lumber that could stand the test of time is simply never duplicated in today’s cookie-cutter world, even though materials and tools have simplified the steps such an accomplishment requires.
All my life, the big red barn my dad’s ancestral great-grandfather had built in the 1800s on his home place stood in the landscape, a reminder of the days when timber from his “upper woods” had been harvested and cured to frame and build one of the largest barns around. Originally painted a pale yellow to match the Victorian home our ancestor had built, it was said to be admired as a showplace in those early days, situated in such a way it could be seen for miles around.
As the years wore on, the astounding 80-plus foot length of the barn started to grow weary of holding the slate shingle roof. Dad hired a crew to remove and replace the slate, and to restore and shore up the barn at great cost, saying it was the right thing to do.
One sunny day as we stood watching the men work, my young children playing nearby, Dad said to me, “Some might think it’s foolish to spend this much money to save this old barn, but it’s more than just a barn. It’s part of our family heritage, and it’s my responsibility. Now, believe it or not, one day you’re going to have grandchildren, and they will have grandchildren and you can tell them the story of how this barn came to be.”
Today, my grandchildren are still tiny little beings, growing up in loving homes nearby. They will never know the grand old barn as Dad had hoped, and it won’t be held in any of their memories of the landscape. While we were joyously busy, welcoming family for Christmas, the barn was being dismantled.
It was never mine; it was always ours. And yet, as legal tender goes, I had no more say in its construction than I did in its demise. That grand old barn which had stood so proudly for generations was stripped down to a skeleton in a matter of days.
Its shadow, like the great men who brought it to life and cared for it through the ravages of time and Mother Nature’s fury, will remain for a time, until those of us who held it in high regard as part of our family story are gone to the great beyond.
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