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.
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12 thoughts on “Wood Stains”
My gosh, Ed, such a sad memory. Your father, that little boy, must have been beyond devastated. All his life that stayed with him. May he rest in peace. Now he is back together with his father. May they both rest in peace. You did quite well on writing all this down, it must ave been very painful for you to do this, bless your heart. You dearly love your father and grandfather, it is such a special love. May you find peace and healing. Great work.
hi Phyllis, a true story that weighed heavy on my fathers life . It’s one that just needed telling ! Thank you as always !
I am so glad Ed they allow true stories here now so you could tell this one. What a life your father must have lived with that guilt every day of his life but I know you know as well as I do that they are back together once more and there should be no more sorrow over this….ever more.
So pleased you shared this with us.
Very sad tale indeed
A sad tale well told Ed and such memories never leave us, but linger and add to who we are, the trials and emotions of our ancestry ever-present. Thanks for sharing my friend.
Hi Jackie , my father “lived ” with this for all of his years , He never told us kids until we were adults about this tragedy , in truth I hadn’t ever set foot in that barn nearby but imagined so , I am never far from the realization of how fragile a life is . Thank you .
Hello Kurt , I’m glad you are with us ! Keep up your awesome writing !
Tony ! They do add to us incredibly ! Thank you !
Ed, you are an amazing writer. This is a heartbreaking story, but you have managed to capture the true spirit of it through the eyes of your own heart. Incredible details, I could feel the life of the barn, and the timelessness of unexpected loss. Very well done.
Nothing short of amazing – both in it’s content and how you’ve written it. So much emotion is captured by your words. It’s an honor to read it.
Mel ! , Thank you so much , it was a story that needed telling , I had written poetry about this and maybe a short story but the truth is that my father did this and lived with it for all of his life . I can only imagine the true cost of that and he was an incredible man . Sad part is things llike this happen to children even now .
RJ , Thank you kind sir , truth is I don’t even know where that barn is or if it even still exists . I sure would like to step into it just one time though. I think I would hear echoes !