This old empty barn …
True story, 1922
Standing in front of the big doors to this old empty barn, these big doors and all that lies of memory within the wood stains of the old planked, three inch thick hemlock floor boards and the all-knowing memory of past lives, I feel small. And yet as the story goes, when my father was just one day short of his eighth birthday his own small life took on a turn that would change all of his days forevermore. I reach up and grab the rusted iron latch of the door on the right and lift, pulling the dragging, squeaky hinged door open with much effort, I watch as the daylight magically invades the darkness and so, too, the forgotten memories of the past. Maybe this is why I just love old barns.
In the clicking noises of the warming tin roof over the old grey sheathing boards, instantly a flock of barn swallows take flight, all of them moving in choreographed movement of flight and fearsome beating wings towards the wide open loft windows. They exit out into the cool autumn air to evade my searching presence or whatever fear that lays in their instincts. I move forward in the returning silence, up from the end of the “high drive,” a ramp outside of the old barn doors and into the silent darkened and cooler shade within. Allowing a moment for my searching eye’s to adjust, my vision begins to reveal the farming implements of those olden days.
My mind also travels back in time, ………and the year 1922, a dark January afternoon, a seven year old curly dark haired boy walking into this same barn with a double barreled 12 gauge shotgun in his arms. I can hear the wagon and horses outside, too, as the horses hooves and the carriage wheels creak and squeal on the ice covered driveway as the neighboring farmer drives his wagon away, just after handing the boy the loaned out shotgun to ……….” Take this down to the barn and give it to your father son ……,” as I stand here and think about certain moments in time, I am in awe of how one moment can change a family’s entire history, a life, a death, one small moment.
I see a boy, a very young boy, my father, walked through this very same door that I just did, across from the front of the old farm wagon that his father had just unhooked the team of draught horses, big tall black and beautiful Belgian work horses that he was so proud of and was hanging the heavy leather work harness’ on their respective wall racks, and just as the young boy rounded the wagon tree at his feet he spoke up ,………
“Dad , Henry just brought back our shotgun “……………and as he stepped over that wagon tree that he remembered looking down on to make sure he didn’t trip over it , the shotgun that he was holding loud blast, knocked him clean off from his feet , the noise instantly deafened him hurting his head, his hands hurt, his shoulders and as the two big draught horses jumped backwards and reared up together, for what seemed like a whole hour nothing happened, he was frozen in time and yet as the boys senses began to return , as he remembered his eyes staring at the feet of the horses shifting back and forth on the floor in front of his eye’s settling down in the ensuing silence , hoping they wouldn’t step on him, his eye’s began to move slowly, his senses slowly returning ……..he realized that the shotgun must have gone off and he wondered why would Henry have left it loaded ?
As he slowly moved his legs and came to his senses, as he raised up to a sitting position he was half wondering why his father had not come over to help him up and soothe the pain that he felt, or why at least he wasn’t yelling at him for shooting the gun off in the barn and scaring the horses ? He reached to the back of his head and felt the bump there already rising from hitting the wagon tree, he looked down at his hand and saw the blood on it, his eyes began to refocus and make their way timidly towards where his father was standing knowing he would have his hands on his hips glaring at him, but he wasn’t standing there , …….his father was bent over or so he thought …….as his eye’s focused he realized that his fathers back was covered in something wet, that he was slowing sinking down the railing to the floor, he had accidentally shot his own father in the back ! …………………………….
……………..His father died that very evening, sometime long after midnight, after his mother had harnessed the horses up again to the wagon and ran them the six miles to the hospital in town without a coat on and where the doctor had worked and tried to save him for hours , where they had waited for long silent hours of the darkest night that they would ever live through ………..his father at thirty nine years old , was dead.
Today, almost seventy years later, after my father, that little seven year old boy died at seventy -nine years old himself, I returned to the barn where it all happened, where so many spirits have drawn me finally, at times unwillingly, I can feel the presence of them here and now and I realize, although our loved ones will come and go in this life, if we listen hard enough , if we try hard enough, if we stand and look down at the wood stains on the old floor ….. we can stand right next to those that we loved and know that they often live on forever .
I love you dad and you, too, grandfather.