RIP- Uncle Tony
Last Monday, my Uncle Tony, pictured above with his family in this circa 1970 photo, passed away at age 91. Recall this recent blog I had written about him and his brothers. Digging through my Uncle's records, some notes were found that I’d like to share about his memories of the family farm in St. Patrick’s. Enjoy!
On my last visit to the family farm before it was sold, a thousand thoughts and memories crossed my mind as I observed that wonderful building. As I stood there and gazed at those 60 ft. long hand hewn beams, still as square and straight today as the day that barn was built over 100 years ago, I marveled at the craftsmanship of that generation, and how they produced that magnificent building with few basic tools, and from trees growing within a few hundred feet from the foundation. I noted again how the framework of that barn was put together without bolts or screws or nails: no metal building materials of any kind. Hand formed wooden pegs hold the entire building frame together. What a marvelous piece of workmanship! This occasion had me mesmerized. You just can’t help but shake your head in amazement at the ingenuity of the people who built these structures.
I envisioned Grandpa’s neighbors getting together for the "barn raising", an event I witnessed as a young boy, when my dad was one of those helping a neighbor rebuild after a disastrous fire. Framework for the sides and ends were assembled on the ground, then dozens of men with ropes pulled the assemblies into position, inserting more of those hand made wooden pegs at the corners to hold the sides and ends together, with every joint in perfect alignment. An amazing feat!
This barn, standing alongside the venerable farmhouse built in 1886, stood the test of time, enduring all kinds of weather, bearing the brunt of severe thunder storms , tornadoes, the scorching summer sun and the freezing winter weather. That fantastic building has seen a lot of winters with snow and ice and howling winds. At all times, in the spring, summer, fall and winter, this old barn was a place of refuge for animals and man alike.
This old barn is a handsome building, standing straight and tall, proud to have served our family for well over a century. It’s condition today is a testimonial to the love and care of it’s four generations since 1887, and instrumental in the Centennial Farm Award granted this farm in 1997.
The barn is where we usually started, and ended our workday with chores 365 days a year. In the summer and fall, we stashed hay, grain and fodder in the mows and granaries to feed the livestock during the winter months.
The barn was also a place for certain social occasions, hosting hoedowns to celebrate various family events, including wedding receptions. The threshing floor was cleared of hay and chaff, a wagon moved to one end for the local fiddlers’ stage, a keg of beer was tapped, and the party was on!
It was also used as a gymnasium of sorts for rough and tumble boys. And it was here I first heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor reported on the constantly playing radio.
I learned a lot about life and death here. We knew the function that a bull, or boar, or buck rabbit served. Many a litter of cats and dogs were born under the barn. I’ve watched the miracle of birth, and assisted in the delivery of calves when the mother cows needed some help. Some animals reached old age, some died of natural causes or disease. Others were slaughtered to provide food for our family. It didn’t take much imagination to factor such experiences into some understanding of human reproduction and life.
Even as I write this today, I feel a great amount of nostalgia. So many wonderful memories are connected to that old barn. No longer is it used to house and shelter our dairy herd, horses, rabbits, cats and dogs. The stanchions are gone, stables removed, the watering tank demolished, the grain storage bins taken out, and the sweet aroma that only a hay mow can give, as well as the pungent scent of stables, is gone forever. The original "barn red" painted vertical wood siding is now covered with man-made material. The 1887 numerals cut into the peak of the south end is covered up. Now the barn is just one big storage area for tractors, machinery, boats, and motor homes. No more are milking stools, or harnesses or saddles or forks or ropes all neatly lined up and convenient for the next time they were needed.
This old barn has observed many changes on the farm, watching four generations of my family born and raised here. It has seen farming revolutionized from tilling and planting with horses to farming with huge tractors and machinery, and to no till, chemical, and biological farming practices. If only this old barn could talk. It could reveal much more about life on the farm as it existed then.
When I learned that the farm was for sale, a new and unexpected sadness came upon me, knowing that we’d no longer visit and enjoy that old barn. Never again will kids play basketball on the threshing floor, shooting to a homemade hoop and backboard. No longer will kids frolic and jump into the hay mows, or walk the 4" wide beams 12’ above the threshing floor on a dare or for a thrill. No more will they find the haymow a place of refuge, where one could be alone, reading or fantasizing, as many a rainy day was spent alone in the haymow, reading whatever material was available, while listening to rain battering the shingles.
What amazes me most, however, is the fortitude of my forbearers, who labored so hard and diligently to provide a living for their families. Their strength was much like the strength of this old barn, the strong timbers of the frame, the pegs, which held the entire structure together, and the roof, and siding which protected it from the elements and danger. Yes, this old barn had a soul, too.
I had better stop before the list of nostalgia grows any further. The bottom line is that the barn was the focal point of the entire farm, for work as well as play.
Not long after Pearl Harbor, those of us who were eligible went off to war, never again to work and play in that old barn. Only thoughts and memories of bygone days remain. Not only are these thoughts endearing, but they also bring back so many memories of when I was a simple farm boy. And these memories will never, never die.
Godspeed, Uncle Tony. Rest in peace and thanks for the memories.