Saturday, July 27, 2013

Everett Mitchell's Barn by John Mitchell

     In my mind the barn and my father are inseparable. The huge barn was my father's domain as the house was my mother's. He ruled over the animals and the activities of the barn with full command. He spent his days and evenings there. He only came to the house to eat and sleep.


     Like the barn, he was tall and his big bones and long legs were like the rafters of the barn. His gray hair and gray mustache highlighted his huge head and large jaw. He stared down the animals and they obeyed him. He never flinched around them. If they would not go where he wanted them to go, he'd push and shove them. And if they pushed or shoved back he smacked them with an open hand making a sound that would echo off the barn and fill the barn yard. The biggest horse and most stubborn cow would move after one of his smacks.


     He kept care of his tools. He spent hours sharpening saws and axes, mending horse harnesses and wagon parts. He smoked a pipe and the filling and the lighting of the pipe was a ritual he had down pat. It always went in the same order: open the pouch, put the pipe in the pouch, with the index finger of the same hand that held the pipe, the tobacco would be pushed into the bowl.  The pipe would then be withdrawn from the pouch. The pouch would be folded up  and returned to the left rear pocket of his coveralls. Then using the finger of his free hand, he'd push the tobacco into the bowl until it was at a tightness so that it would be able to draw air through it but still be tight enough so it would not fall out of the bowl. In one pocket of his shirt he carried wooden matches, the big ones with the red tip that can be struck against anything.


     He would put the pipe in his mouth and then with the match in his right hand he'd lift his right leg  and strike the match against the back of his right thigh. When the match burst into flame he would bring it up to the pipe's bowl and inhale deeply so the flame would be drawn down onto the tobacco, and the tobacco would start to burn. As soon as it was ignited, smoke would flood all the cavities of his head. Smoke would come out of his nose and out of his mouth around the stem of the pipe which was clenched in his teeth.


     The first great puff or two of smoke seemed to be what smoking a pipe was all about. After that it didn't seem to matter whether the pipe continued to burn or not. He'd hold it in his mouth and smoke it, but half the time the pipe would be out and he'd dump the burned and unburned tobacco on the ground and put the pipe back in his pocket to wait for the next smoke.


     He was a slow man who took his time with everything. He was like the creaking old barn. They both breathed the way a great elephant breathes, slowly in and slowly out, the great bulk swaying with each long breath. He walked like a barn with legs stiff and creaking. He never bent his knees. His walk was a relaxed goose-step. It was like his height would make him fall if his knees were ever to bend. Stiff and slow he went leading a horse or carrying a saw and an ax.


     But somehow he piled mountains of wood; cord after cord that big trucks came and took away. He never owned a power saw. He never owned a tractor. He never bailed hay with a hay bailer. He never had a milking machine. He never worked with power tools of any kind. He provided his own power or the horses he was driving did.

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