Updated: Apr 29, 2020
Barns were a place of refuge for me in childhood. They were filled with the warmth of huge mammals constantly chewing, the comfort of grain and hay – and, in the winter, light against the night. Somehow, it was the most cheery thing in the world to drive by a barn in the cold of February knowing that inside there would be people taking care of cows, forking the sawdust or straw for the night for them to sleep on, fluffing the alfalfa bales that smelled like summer, falling apart in slices for them to eat. The barns that I frequented were filled with farmers who were quiet, genial, or in the case of Aileen Learn, jovial. There were cats and kittens underfoot, and often, horses out back.
When I was little, we drove to the barn to get milk for supper. Later, I worked at one after school. I remember singing John Denver songs in the barn as I shoveled cow shit. I never felt more welcome than I did in a barn. When one of my high school teachers scolded me for leaving a door open in his classroom, he yelled down the hallway, “Miss Stone, were you born in a barn?” One of my life’s biggest regrets was not thinking to immediately yell back, “Actually, yes I was!”
While I think nostalgia is almost dangerous in this “Keep America Great” nightmare we are living through, I wonder if the loss of dairy farms in small towns across our country is somehow contributing to our cynicism. What rows of light are out there winking in a row in the night as you drive down a back road? What beasts are we caring for each morning and evening, so we remember what it feels like to be needed? And, where does our milk come from – who pours it into the container we fetch out of the fridge? Maybe my country neighbors all feel a little more lost, and a little less needed these days. Maybe such vulnerability leads to susceptibility. I do not know for sure, but I know I miss barns in winter.