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Let's Reminisce: Barn creatures
By Jerry Lincecum
Feb 12, 2019
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A news report I read recently called to mind a whole string of memories relating to a barn that figured prominently in my childhood.  When I was four or five years old, my grandfather built a big barn on the homeplace where I grew up.  It still stands there today, roughly two hundred miles south of Sherman.  But every square inch of it can be visited in my memory, any time I choose to.  It had cattle pens and corncribs as well as a huge loft for storing hundreds of bales of hay, and it was the current price of hay that shocked me into recalling my barn experiences.

 

Because we have been through a drought, the price of hay has risen sharply, making the small bales that we called “square” worth as much as $12 each.  As I contemplated our old barn filled with upwards of a thousand golden bales worth twelve bucks apiece, I felt like a character in some fairy tale.

 

Among my favorite barn memories is the smell of freshly baled hay, although getting those hundreds of bales from the meadow into the loft, year after year, was hard work.  One summer I was paid a penny per bale for working as part of a crew that loaded a “bobtail” truck, which held maybe 70-80 bales per load.  Many years I gained experience in stacking 18-20 bales in the bed of a standard size pickup, a balancing act that required some skill. 

 

When my brother and I were too young to help with hauling, the elaborate tunnels and forts we built in the loft provided many hours of entertainment. We also learned a hide-and-seek trick that worked without fail on city cousins. Make them wait downstairs until you have climbed into the barn rafters. Call them up but remain quiet and they would never think to look at the ceiling.

 

We had free-range chickens and occasionally some of the hens would nest in the hay.  If we heard one cackling in the barn, that was a signal to search for her nest and retrieve the eggs while they were fresh.  What about snakes?  Chicken snakes were easily distinguished from poisonous species, and spotting one with a bulging belly meant he’d already found the hen nest or maybe swallowed a big rat. Copperheads were given a wide berth unless a pitchfork was handy.  Hoes were good for disposing of snakes in the garden but ineffective in the hayloft.

 

We kept a milk cow, and learning how to milk Old Jersey was a challenge for me.  First her calf had to be allowed to suck for a brief period, so she’d “let down” her milk. Then getting the steady sound of milk squirting into a galvanized bucket required just the right fingering sequence.

 

The cow’s tail sometimes collected grassburs, which became guided missiles if she slapped you hard with it.  Worse, if you really upset her, a foot in the bucket meant having to rinse it out and start over.  The “milk calf” was a good one to butcher, yielding better beef than his less pampered comrades.

 

Barn cats were different from house pets: wary and rarely fed, they had to catch rats, mice and small snakes to survive.  One named Nadene was inherited by my brother Joe when he returned to the farm in retirement.  Nadene not only refused to socialize with the house tabbies; when Joe stopped using the barn and relocated to a lake house, she refused to move.

 

To this day I shake my head when I remember the childhood surprise of discovering, under old towsacks in the darkest corner of a corncrib, a nest of baby mice, hairless and unable to see.   Too tender-hearted to alert the cats, I covered them up again.

 

Visiting the loft after my father stopped storing hay there was a sad experience.  A magical storehouse of exciting memories had degenerated into a desolate attic: a dustbin for such shabby antiquities as the wooden highchair used by Lincecum children and grandchildren.

 

Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories.  He welcomes your reminiscences on any subject: jlincecum@me.com