By Cecilia Farran
Our family barn is born. A mere 24 x 60 feet, it houses a few calves, two horses, a dozen cows. My grandfather Arnold, with German frugality, built so that his dream might fit his pocketbook.
But through the years her stanchioned span grew to shelter 160 milking cows and stretched 330 feet — yes, longer than a football field — the longest barn in the county. She became the Grand Dame of the farm, a queen reigning not only over the landscape, but our lives and hearts; a strong mother-queen, sheltering cattle, fodder and always larger dreams.
But only a modest dream was dared, when, in 1915, Arnold and Celia Geason, my grandparents, bought a 40-acre hilltop of pasture, woodlot and spreading fields overlooking Nagawicka Lake, Town of Delafield, Waukesha County, Wisconsin
In time a local carpenter came to place her square on a rise of land. Doors to east and west, Arnold could stand and view to a long horizon, and watch the sun setting over his herd and fields. The barn was an agrarian Stonehenge of sorts. The passage of the seasons were marked there as his son Richard grew to farm beside him, and in turn Richard’s sons to farm as well. Our queen saw a century of family and progress as farming moved to larger and larger machinery, bigger yields, greater acreage, an ever-larger herd and another generation of farmers.
I am 7. The barn radio tuned to WGN, Paul Harvey promising after the station break, “the rest of the story.” I scramble up the wooden ladder to the mow to tip down three bales for the evening feeding. I move quickly for I want to get back down to hear the promised story’s end, but in this hay mow I am in a world apart. I linger, held fast by the magic of its great winter maw where cobweb frost glistens in the light of a single bulb that holds back a cavern of darkness.
The end of the radio story goes unheard, but my young imagination forges its own story and night by night as I do my chores I dream a changing story with endings that are mine alone.
Times shift and change, and dreams fed by the warm breath of cattle, the fragrance of hay and grain and hard work sweat yield to the seasons.
Instead of crops, now a harvest of urban migration sprawls itself against line fences. Our barn becomes an island, a lone sentinel in a world gone to concrete. A warren of curving roads cuts through the once fertile turf. Cars roar by on the state highway. Stop lights meter their flow. Change, and a new chapter, so much bigger than this barn or farm had ever seen.
The time has come. The herd is sold, the barn bereft of purpose. My father’s words ring true: “An empty barn will not stand time and weather.” Our barn now a derelict silhouette. Progress has eaten away yet another family farm.
Nov. 27, 2018.
The once centerpiece of the farm, our queen, crumbled to change, but even though the wrecking crew relieved her of the burden of years, that is not how the story ends.
For we are the ones writing the final chapters, letting change shape new dreams, which in time will tell the “rest of the story” even while we hold to the land and keep our memories dear.
Cecilia Farran, Spring Green writer and story spinner, grew up on a dairy farm in Waukesha County, Wisconsin, then dubbed “Cow County USA” — more cows than people, it was said. Her chores were an act of love and joy, and she carries the stories still in her heart. She reminds folks that while she was not born in a barn, she spent a joyous chunk of her childhood there. To have Cecilia spin tales for your guests in your own home, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.