A Big World in your own backyard
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 4, 2006
Behind our flat gray house on Mallory Drive was my world of imagination. It was a two or three acres of yard that dipped down right off our terrace and ended at Jones Creek.
I loved and each and every inch every inch of it.
I knew her seasons -the summer when you were on an eternal vigilance for snakes and blackberries (and in that order) – and the spring when the world had that left over winter chill but you knew that azaleas were building to a massive pink crescendo- and the fall when Daee piled up all the summer trash, poured gasoline over the whole thing and threw a match on it, and then the cold silence after Santa had circled over us and headed in for a long nap.
In that world and in all my worlds it seems, there has always been a barn.
Now the first barn -the Mallory Drive barn was a one room stall sort of thing. It was more like a shed and under it would gather all the animals that came and went for years. Horses, goats, chickens, rabbits and once a lamb named Mike.
I remember once that we went to Montreat and had to ask Ida’s son to come and feed the animals.
I went down there the day before and took a marker and drew right on the wall ‘Kenny”, I wrote in scrawling letters, “Feed them right here.”
And I drew this arrow to where the animals came when they heard anyone bonging around in the barn.
For years after that, those words remained, “Kenny, feed them right here!”
That barn held nothing else that I can recall. Sister never stored anything much – just old Cothran Feed bags and my saddle and the bridle that hung off of one of Dee’s nails.
Usually hay covered the floor. The day that we moved to the country, I think the same hay was there from when Kenny fed the animals long ago.
Our country barn was a serious barn. I mean it had the peaked barn roof and a big drive through. Daee would pull right in there with catfish food loaded on the truck. He’d just lift those bags like they were feathers and toss them into one of the three or huge rooms the barn held.
The old tractor lived in the barn and the outside shed held all Daee’s tools as well as a couple of generations before we came. The whole area had stuff that was of endless interest to me.
Inside the barn on a rainy day was like being in another world. You could hear the rain pelting on the tin roof and smell the wet smells of hay, feed and gasoline and history all wrapped up together.
It was wonderful. Barns are impervious to the fears and strains of the world. Once inside a barn you have a clarity that the world will not allow.
The world has too much order – at least we try to order it, and barns just don’t tick that way.
Barns do what they want and live up to what their heart says they must be.
I’ve always admired those people who will take a barn and turn it into a house but then I worry because you know that barn is still just a barn, and probably never in its wildest dream did it want inside plumbing and carpet.
Our country barn looked out over the lake, which was right down the hill.
Daee used to get in his truck after unloading catfish food and crank up the engine.He’d leave the door open on the driver’s side, put the truck in first gear and gun the motor just enough to get to the top of the hill. Then he’d
cut off the motor and coast down to the lake with the door open and his foot hanging out.
That barn held what our house could not hold – the treasures of our past, the leftovers of our present and sometimes the stuff of the future. It held the precious Christmas decas, hats, barrels of fabric, old lights, curtain rods, the mix master that used to throw cookie dough all over the kitchen, and endless articles of no value but priceless. The barn held wisdom. It was there for the taking. Simple. No frills. No worry type of wisdom.
One afternoon, Daee and I were filling up my little yellow car for a return trip to Selma.
While Daee pumped gas, I sort of stood there,
feeling that the moment held more than a tank of gas.
We had been through some tough moments and the world of Eden and the country was making its first turn away from tranquility.
Daee’s words were always short, but held power.
With his face watching the pump numbers spiraling and the little car gurgling like a baby taking a bottle, he said, “Take care of Katty for me,” he said.
Standing under the old barn shed, sunlight in my face, the smells of the gasoline permeating the air, two worlds gently nudged each other – the world of childhood and the impending one of being a grownup. They bumped ever so slightly that afternoon.
We never elaborated further on that barn afternoon now so distant and yet so close.
It just became a barn moment that has transpired now for almost 30 years.
Now I walk to our gray barn almost every day. It holds now the collective memories of all the barns of my life. It handles the past and the present and its braces for the future.
It holds those things that only the past will recognize, its stores faithfully those things that decorate and sustain our present, and it holds within those things the promise of the future.
Last week, we loaded all our Christmas treasures in their old familiar boxes and once again took them to the barn for storage.
I lifted them one by one to the shelves where they will stay for the next 11 months.
Christmas was a wonderful event for us. The barn had emptied the treasures of its past into our life and once again the carolers marched across the stage of our lives and the old shepherds carried their sheep. There were tidings of comfort and joy and the halls were decked. But there was something more this past year.
Christmas crept slowly and enveloped us.
In the late afternoon peace of that barn that afternoon, I sensed that Christmas it is not really over – that it will never be over – that the anticipation of another year of incredible possibilities lies in front of us all.
And that even though the tree may be at the curb, and the boxes out put away – that the season still exists in our hearts as we reach out for the hand of an old friend, as someone we love is healed, as we see our children leap and bound before us, or as we see justice roll down like water.
Christmas lies in the layers of life that we feel every day.
Good tidings of great joy.