Saturday, July 27, 2013

Memories of Littleton Maine and Father's barn by John Mitchell

This is not the barn in John's story, but it is across town near our house. It was known as the Stillman barn. It will give you an idea of the look of the barns in the area, though many were much more sophisticated.

The barn was sixty feet high. To young children it was bigger than a mountain. The barn was the god of the farm. He stood over everything. Inside the rafters criss-crossed up to the seemingly infinite ceiling. Hay pile after hay pile—up and up as far as you could see. Light pushed through the cracks illuminating hay dust with thin bars of light. It creaked and shifted always; making noises as it settled and resettled, adjusting itself to the changing weight of it's great load of hay, feed and animals.
At times it was like a living, breathing god. Knot holes of light were like eyes; whispering sounds of wind through cracks were like silent orders from the building saying when to feed the animals; when to bring in the hay; and when to pile up more fire wood.
The animals where content in the barn. It was the place, at night, where they knew they'd be safe from bear and wolf. It was their den; their cave; their burrow from carnivores.
As the sun set the barn was where all headed, and not just the cows and horses, but the cats and the dog and the people. Sunset was milking time. It was also feeding time. Hay was pitched down from the top of the rafters onto the middle of the barn floor. From there it was divided up amongst the cows and horses. The horses were given grain as well. The cats would prowl the grain room looking for a brave mouse to come in through a crack in the barn wall. This was the cats supper. The dog, who fed on scraps from the kitchen table, would crouch down in the middle of the barn floor, where the hay had been, and make a bed from where he could watch the barn door. If any man or beast, unknown to the dog, tried to enter the door the dog would bark and growl until someone from the house came down to see what it was. Usually it was a skunk or raccoon trying to get to the grain.
The barn door was half as high as the barn. It was hung on pulleys that rolled along a long steel bar.
When open in the summer to let in the hay wagon it looked like a huge hole had been blown in the side of the barn. In cold weather the big door was kept closed and people and animals came in and out through a small door set in the lower middle of the large door.
The rooster shaped weather vain on the top of the barn spun in the wind. It was mounted on a lightening rod that ran through the barn into the ground.
In the summer thunder storms where common. They'd blow in from New Brunswick and you could see them coming; fast moving black clouds pushing birds and straw before them. Once a great bolt of lightening hit a tree behind the barn and split the tree in two. One half lay on the ground. The other half still stood. When it cracked it sounded like a crack in the world—and the smell of burning wood and
the smell of electric fire; reminded me of burning meat.
After we left the farm, the barn stood longer than all the buildings. Vandals burned the house; the chicken coop was burned too. The machine shed had been torn down. But the barn survived. It fell of its own weight without the weight of the hay to keep in accorded. The last time I saw it, it was listing to the south. It was blown that way by the North Wind; which proved to be a powerful god.

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