I got down to the farm for Memorial Day weekend. Most people use that holiday for going to the lake or for other recreation. I used it to cart a pickup full of tools and other stuff halfway across the state. Every time I go, I seem to look like Grapes of Wrath, with the truck bed piled high with ladders, lumber, tools, and whatever doors or windows or other parts I’ve picked up at the thrift store. I keep thinking that the time will come when I can make a trip without needing to take so much, but it hasn’t happened yet.
On this trip I took a barn door that I’d made. While this farm was occupied by the previous owners, the careless cattle barons, as I call them, many of the doors were allowed to blow off the barn, letting rain and snow in. After all, if you’re into raising cattle, an old barn has no real value to you. It’s just something to maintain. Or not maintain.
This particular door I made was for the haymow of the old barn. A couple times every summer in my childhood we’d stick a hay elevator through that door and fill the haymow with sweet-smelling alfalfa. I have fond memories of those times, even though, or maybe because, it was hard work. There’d be a man in the haymow and a man down below sending the bales up the elevator. If the lower guy had a twisted sense of humor he’d send the bales up as fast as he could and it would become a challenge to keep from being buried in bales before you could get them stacked.
When the farm came back into the family three years ago we put plywood over the open hole, temporarily. It’s taken me until now to make a door for that hole, because of all the other crises that had to be tended to. But now there is a door and it is in place and it makes me happy. Of course, there are three other doors just like it I have to build and install. That’ll make me happy too.
Needing more boards with which to make the other doors, I scouted around and found a pile of them in a fence line along with tree limbs and other debris. There are still so many piles of junk that it’s hard to know what one will find. Some people get excited by buried treasure. All it takes for me is a pile of old twelve-inch wide boards. These boards are probably around 100 years old and they are perfectly fine. I carefully retrieved them one by one from the junk pile. There was a surprise under the bottom one. A skunk had made a home there and he was in residence. He was no doubt startled to have his cozy home exposed, but not startled enough to spray, for which I was grateful. I backed away slowly and he, or she, ambled off to find another home. Sorry, fella, but I need these boards.
I took other usable boards off Grandpa’s old garage on the farm. Before it was a garage, it was a horse barn for a country school. The school, which was a mile north of the farm, closed in the forties and Grandpa moved the barn down to the farm. Country school horse barns were always open on one side, generally the east. Grandpa closed in that side and kept his ’49 Plymouth in the shed as long as he lived.
As I dismantled the garage I found that I could tell which side had been the open side, because the boards on that side, which had been bought in the 1940s, were narrower by a half inch than the ones on the other side, which dated to the late 1800s. Over time the lumber industry made most boards just a little narrower than their true dimensions. This was for reasons having to do with shrinkage when wood was dried. The lumber companies also made a little more money this way. Like making chocolate bars smaller, for the same price. So when the garage was dismantled I had a mix of 1 x 12s that were a full 12 inches wide and some that were 11 1/2. The boards on the hay barn, which was built around 1915, were all around 11 1/2 inches wide. I had to be careful as to which replacement boards I used on the barn. A “full 12” would be too wide and would need to be trimmed.
I made a new cover for the well house on this trip. The earlier one I made was too heavy and hard to remove for servicing the well. The new one is easier to handle.
There were lots of birds in residence this trip. Barn swallows had built nests in the hay barn, just as they always have and were busy raising young. Orioles and mockingbirds sang from the tops of trees. There were dickcissels and western meadowlarks on the fence posts, and a couple of vultures perched on the silo.
On Memorial Day we drove over to the cemetery and put out flowers as we always have. We like this annual opportunity to think about the dead and spend a moment with them. I laid two small stones on Great-Grandpa Fost’s tombstone. I’d picked them up last fall on the Chancellorsville battlefield on a trip east. His injury on that battlefield ended his Civil War service. It was a million dollar wound, actually–a minie ball through the hand. He was saved not by “modern” medicine, but by maggots, which, as he retreated from the battlefield, cleaned out the wound and let him live a long life and let me be here to tell the story. I guess I should have asked him first if he wanted a memento from the battlefield or if he’d rather forget that unfortunate episode.
We skipped the actual Memorial Day service around the Civil War monument this year at the cemetery. Over the years we’ve heard everything this Christian preacher has to tell us about blind patriotism and nationalism. We preferred to walk among the stones, just out of earshot. There are so many people I know under the earth here–relatives and others. They needed our attention more than the preacher did.