Nothing embodies the weirdness of it all quite like the barn. The barn was standing there when I was born. I grew up with the barn. The barn was still standing there whenever I revisited this place in the intervening years. The barn stood there during the two years I lived here alone while my mother resided in care facilities. Yet, prior to 2015 it never occurred to me that I might one day own the damned barn outright myself. I cannot explain why. I simply never considered that or the implications of it. The plan, you see, had always been that if I came into ownership of this place, I would immediately sell it and run off back to Mexico. Yet, here I remain. I so hope that all of your “plans” have worked out precisely as planned.
In its prime the barn served multiple purposes. As it stands vacant now the barn serves no purpose at all, none whatsoever. That is its distinguishing characteristic today. Now that it is mine, the barn has endeared itself to me by virtue of its utter purposelessness.
Do I recall correctly that the youthful Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney starred in a film in which their characters got the bright idea to stage a musical revue in an old barn? Or did I dream that? At this stage of my life I do no research. Whatever the case, were Judy and Mickey to launch into one of their hoofer routines in this barn, they might very well disappear through the floor and find themselves in the old milking parlor below. The floor is critically unsound in several place. Caution is in order when dancing inside the barn.
I shall spare you a litany of maudlin anecdotes relating to my life in or around this barn that, without my noticing it, brought me to the point where I cannot deal with the barn in any rational way in my old age . . . save one. Many years ago there were two identical barns there, twins that sat next to each other on the bias. It was striking and was the thing that set this old family farmstead apart from the neighboring ones. In the early ’70s I was separated from this or that wife and staying here alone babysitting the farm while my parents were off at some livestock show in Illinois, the kind of thing they did for fun then. There did not seem to be anything unusual about the thunderstorm that came roaring through at first. Then I actually saw the lightning strike the twin. When flames appeared on that roof, I was able to get the boys of the local volunteer fire department out here quickly.
Upon their arrival the volunteers focused streams of water on this barn while the conflagration devoured its twin next to it. There was an old underground cistern down there left over from the days of the windmill from which they were able to draw water and keep up steady streams on this barn without a lot of trips back and forth to town. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I can say without a doubt that had I not been here, this barn would not be standing today. It was only luck, but nevertheless, therein lies the rub. If you save something, you will ultimately become responsible for it whether you realize it at the time or not. Here I am. There is my barn.
I am not so out of touch that I do not realize that these are momentous times for us as a people. Large issues beg for our attention. Each of us is called upon for action–large or small–in service of the commonweal. Yet, here I am preoccupied in an emotional pas de deux with a barn. One rational option would be to thoroughly renovate the barn as a kind of memorial to a bygone era. The financial outlay necessary for that is beyond imagining, but still . . . .
Another rational option would be to take the barn down and sell off the weathered barn boards and beams. I am reliably informed that there is a hot market for that, although I do not at all understand why. Another consideration is that I pay real estate taxes that are in part attributable to the “assessed value” of that barn. One might logically think that if the barn were gone, I would realize a significant savings on future real estate taxes. But that is not the way it works, my friends. Were I to remove that old barn, the assessor would undoubtedly declare that I have enhanced the value of the property as a whole. My taxes would then go up. This is an example of why we in these parts regard the assessor in a way much akin to how Roman tax collectors were regarded in ancient Judea.
In any event all of that is moot. I have determined, irrationally, to take half measures. I have cleaned junk out of the hay mow and the old milking parlor. I have reinforced this or that beam with new lumber. When yet another siding board has fallen off, I have clambered up on a ladder at risk to life and limb to nail it back on. So it goes.
The barn is now coming hard up on its centenary. Since that barn still stands after all of the weather that has hit this ridgeline over the course of 100 years, perhaps with a modicum of help from me, it will still stand when I die. I will be forever divorced from the barn and will no longer care what happens to it. The barn will be someone else’s problem. I say “problem” because it will not at all be their responsibility.
Stephen Brassawe, Iowa, Adrift in Amber Waves of Grain