I witnessed a little bit of history recently.
Some friends of ours demolished their barn, which was almost 100 years old, and I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t a sad occasion. It’s hard to describe what a barn truly means to the farm family.
The barn is an anchor–a beacon, a place to call “home” for livestock–a protector of their health and well-being; and an enormous symbol that assures us that we are home. It’s a sense of pride they have in seeing the barn standing guard over all they are working for–even holding it sacred, as it contains some of the bounty from a growing season for which they gambled all they had for another year. It stands as a testament to the story of agriculture–to that of yesterday–and to those who had the grit to do it “back in the day” when it was a hundred times more physically hard to do than it still is today.
I marvel over the craftsmanship of the barn; how long it must have taken men to build them back then, and how many neighbors it brought together to put one up. And once it was put up, those neighbors came together again during threshing season to help each other get their oats and straw in the barns. They were brought together by agriculture, and the farmer’s barn.
Homesteading farm families back then most often built the barn before they built the house–living in the barn until the house was finished. Again, a testament to the importance of establishing a living, caring for livestock and putting their needs before the needs of the family. In that spirit, agriculture hasn’t changed much in all these years.
The barn is a monument to hard work. It says “rural” and “family” like nothing else I can think of.
And what about the stories that a barn could tell? They are places where important life lessons are taught and learned, and where the seeds for a life-long love of land and animals are often planted–especially among the youngest of aspiring farmers and ag workers. And it also offers a place to teach a sense of responsibility.
Someone I know told me the story of how, as a teenager, he got home one Saturday night at 4 a.m. Sneaking up the steps so his parents wouldn’t hear him, he met his father, who was coming down the steps at that same time. His father was snapping the cuffs of his work shirt, and while never stopping or looking at his son, he said, “Get your clothes changed, Jimmy–it’s time to clean out the barn.” And so–without any sleep that night, Jim got to spend the rest of that night and the whole next day cleaning out the barn with a pitch fork.
He said he never stayed out that late again.
Once again, the farmer was the teacher, and the barn provided the lesson.
The farmer and his children spend a lot of time in the barn–filling it with livestock, feeding it, bedding it and cleaning it out. The farmer is the first teacher of his children of the lessons in life and death. They gather together in the barn to oversee the births of many a pig, calf, lamb or goat; and sometimes they gather together again to watch some of those same animals die. And they mourn together there.
When crisis or tragedy strike the farm family, the barn calls them still–because the animals inside still need to be cared for, even when the farmer and his family are suffering. In those times, the barn offers them a place of solace to sort out all those things in life that they can’t understand–and sometimes being angry with and bargaining with the Almighty, in private.
The farm family works and sweats together there as it vaccinates, sorts and loads animals out of it, nurses animals back to health, and fills the hay mow on what seems like the hottest days of summer.
If the heart of a farmer is to protect his family and those beings under his care, then the barn stands as the protector of the farmstead. It stands the test of time, though perhaps looking weathered over that time. But even then, with a brilliant sunset behind it, it’s still a breathtaking silhouette.
The Amish raise them. Southerners dance in them. Rural people admire them. They remind us that generations before us were here with the same love of the land that we have today. They have paid it forward and left their mark–with old barns standing as reminders of a simpler time. No wonder barns are so nostalgic, and so historic. You sure don’t see new barns going up today.
Farming has changed, but the farmer and his dreams have not.
As I watched our friends’ old and weathered barn come down, I couldn’t help but think that if the barn could speak, maybe it would say it was relieved after almost 100 years of service. It’d been a long time, and it was getting tired, and that it was time to close that barn door for the last time.
“Well done, my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)