Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Red Barn Society

Kim and I love old barns. Last week we took a drive just to photograph some of the ones we had seen here in northern Michigan. (Truth be told: We were looking for one specific barn, but we couldn’t remember where we’d seen it. Never did find it.)

The older we get, the more we appreciate old barns. They remind us of simpler times, though to be honest, those times, for us, are largely imagined, not remembered – neither of us has ever lived on a farm. (In Darien, Connecticut, we had golf courses instead of farms.) But even knowing that the nostalgia is fake, it still has its power.

But the appeal of old barns is more than nostalgia. We identify with them. I told Kim that we are not really old - that we have just acquired patina.

She elaborated, perhaps feeling the effects of her chemo on her hormones and energy: We may have lost some paint . . .

we may lean a bit to the side . . .

our foundation may need some shoring up, we leak a bit . . .

things are growing on us and in us . . .

and there may be some snow on our roof . . .,

but we are still standing, damn it!

This, despite the powers that dwarf us.

We think of barns as red, but this is not always the case.

And some are not barn-shaped.

One thing that is especially appealing to us is the color red when it lingers triumphantly, like the memory of passion that still can generate warmth.

And sometimes the red is new, like a passion learned or discovered despite our age.

Some barns appear masculine.

Even with the red, there is something peaceful about old barns.

         Maybe it’s not just patina we have acquired. Old barns have “character,” whatever that term means. I think of Kim’s dad, living in the woods in Michigan’s U.P., telling me that one thing he liked about retiring to the woods was that he did not have to deal with assholes any more (he had just met me). Kim smiles to recall how he would keep repairing his favorite pants, coats and shirts, stitching them up with Frankenstein stitches of any old color. He did not see the point, at his age, of buying new clothes or putting up with bullshit – except maybe his own. He had character. Kim and I are approaching his age.  Some of us aren’t cute any more. Instead, we have character.

Maybe we just hope that if we love old barns, people will love us. And we do sometimes wear red.


John Perkins:
          Our barn story: In 1974, I took my first faculty position at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati.  A very rural area, which at the time we liked.  We bought our first house, just outside of Oxford; it was a pre-Civil War house, and it had a barn, plus 16 acres.  Presto, we were farmers, in the eyes of the IRS if not God's.  The first year we owned the house, I had a research grant that provided a summer salary, woo-hoo!  I thought it might make the long Ohio summers a bit more prosperous, and then I took a good look at our barn.  It had a saddle-back roof, i.e. the roof was on its way to collapse.  We figured, fix it or lose it, so we fixed.  The entire summer salary went into the barn, plus some, but let me tell you, we had a barn with a mighty fine roof.
          Not only were we farmers, we were also share-croppers, an institution with a somewhat tawdry reputation.  A "real" farmer down the road had been renting our barn and land for many years, and we kept up the tradition.  His use of the barn was essentially as a brothel: he put his sows, with one boar, into the barn, and glory be, the sows came out pregnant.  We were very proud that this miracle of procreation took place under the finest barn roof in southwestern Ohio, although the noises that pigs make when they get down to business, often at night, is not entirely dignified.
          At one time our barn might have been red, but we could see no trace.  It might have even had a Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco ad painted on, but that, too was gone.  We never got around to painting it.

Jerry Beasley:
          When I was a kid I spent a lot of time on the old "home place" in "Sleepy Holler" off Beasley's Bend in the Cumberland River near Lebanon, Tennessee. My dad grew up there. Uncle Wally stayed there, and the farm had an old barn, built in 1900. He kept his mules there (yes, he plowed with them until the early 50s and then kept them until they died many years later). When my own daughters were little I had a small farm (no barn, but a nice tractor shed) near Earleville, Maryland, about a mile from the Chesapeake Bay. Had a few head of cattle, a large organic garden, and a big old farmhouse. My daughters spent their formative childhood years there, helping out, and my older daughter became quite a carpenter helping me--from the time she was 8 or 9 years old--as I restored the old farmhouse.

1 comment:

  1. Kim - these images are beautiful. Your artistry and sweet nature shine through them.