Janet Sheridan: About barns
November 10, 2016
"Two things make my husband happy," our tightly corseted 4-H leader said into the phone while we crocheted and eavesdropped, "an orderly barn and the sweet smell of manure." As Mrs. Huff cackled to punctuate her comment, we looked at one another, speechless but impressed.
Though not as smitten as Mrs. Huff's husband, I, too, am partial to barns. My fondness for them began in rural Utah, where tall barns dotted the landscape, dwarfing homes and commanding attention. The farming community where I grew up boasted scrupulously maintained barns and neglected barns, painted barns and weathered barns, leaning barns, abandoned barns, haunted barns. Most had extended, peaked roofs and a hayloft; and all were irresistible to children.
Except during haying season, my friends and I regularly used barns as our playground. We played hide-and-go-seek among tractors and harrows, rubbed the softness of barn-cat kittens against our cheeks, climbed stacks of baled hay and peered across our parents' fields from the hayloft door. We liked to lie on our backs on stacks of loose hay, watching dust motes dance in the rays of sun that penetrated the aged walls of our hideout. Many stories were told and secrets shared in the permanent dusk of barns.
Once the best looking boy in fifth grade chased me around Anderson's barn during a birthday party while classmates yelled encouragement. Catching me, he twisted my arm and pulled my ponytail before running away. I went home in a glow of happiness, certain he liked me.
Barns enlivened our conversations. We knew what it meant to lock the barn door after the horse was out and shook our heads in despair at those who did so. We described a poor marksman, whether a hunter or a ballplayer, as someone who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn; and when a sibling left a door open or tracked mud into the house, we'd chorus, "Were you born in a barn?" (Our Utah accents commonly turned this insult into "Were you barn in a barn?" which probably confused newcomers.) Whether true or not, we loved to tell others, "Your barn door is open," then laugh as they flushed and looked down to see if their trousers were zipped.
"Old barns are like fine antiques," my first husband's aunt remarked one summer as we ferried her around the outskirts of Carson City, looking for barns with character. When she sighted one, we waited while she photographed it from every angle so she could paint an old barn series that would make her famous. Unfortunately, she died while working on the first canvas in her planned series, leaving behind shoeboxes filled with barn photographs no one wanted.
I still remember a small barn of character she photographed. Snug and proportionate, it stood alone in an unfarmed field along the highway that ran from Carson City to Reno. For 23 years, I watched the barn slowly deteriorate until it collapsed under the heavy snows of a prolonged winter. The stalwart sentinel that guarded its fields for decades became a slumped heap of useless lumber.
We have a barn in Craig that did the work it was built to do for more than 60 years before receiving the facelift and facilities necessary to serve Craig as a community center. Then its maze of rooms and spacious porches hosted weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, retirements and entertainments where folks met, celebrated, danced, ate, sang, flirted, laughed, gossiped and performed for one another for thirty-five years.
We need to save the Luttrell Barn so, within its walls, our past can continue to connect with our present.
Sheridan's book, "A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns," is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on the first and 15 of every month.