Uncle Milt's Barn: Eye Sore or Icon
It's long gone now, burned down. I do not remember the first time I saw Uncle Milt's barn. It was always just there. With three openings in the front, the barn sat on the west edge of Uncle Milt's circular yard. His house sat on the south side; the potato cellar on the northeast corner; the lambing pens and sheds on the north; the cow corrals on the northwest corner; and the granary in the middle of the yard.
Uncle Milt's barn was a huge thing that had long sloping roofs that peaked into a beak-like top that jutted out over the driveway. At one time, it had been painted red, but when I was growing up, the red had since faded into the crevices of the brown wood, long since worn by the beating snows and winds of eastern Idaho. The barn had windows on the side and one window in the front until one of my brothers threw an errant rock that shattered it instead of the back of my head.
The barn was divided into three sections, each with its own entrance. The first entrance led to where Uncle Milt milked his cows. Several cow stanchions lined the inside. Before Uncle Milt opened the back door that led to the corrals, he warned us to stand up by the front door. After he slid open the door, his huge Holstein cows rushed in, took a quick look at a couple of strange little boys in the door way, then sauntered to their appointed spots. They lowered their heads and began licking up the oat mixture that we had placed for them from rusted gallon cans.
The second entry led to a huge room. My dad said that this was the room where they would store loose hay, hauled up and in by an old Jackson Fork and derrick. Now the huge cathedral-like room was empty, except for a few rays of sunlight, mixed with dust and a couple of young boys staring toward an open window at the very top. I remember the softness of the floor of the room. Fifty plus years of hay, grain, straw, dust, manure, and who knows what else had been ground in, thus making a soft forest-like cushion.
If we stood real still and listened, the pigeons above us fluttered back and forth, perch to perch, then cooed as they sat, probably watching us, waiting for us to do something dangerous.
And we didn't disappoint them. We yelled to hear our voices echo, causing the pigeons and the sparrows to once again clamor about and across the great openness of the top of the barn. After a few moments, they settled and began again their musical cooing, wondering, I’m sure, when these humans would leave them alone to enjoy the silence and the airy barn.
Often, we walked in front of the manager and watched the cows chomp on the oats. Sometimes, they stopped, cautiously lifted their heads, and stared. The skittish ones tried to back out of the manager, only to find their heads stuck between the stanchion boards. When the shy ones did that, it was our cue to back away.
The middle section also had a loft with a ladder that led up to it. Frequently, we climbed up the ladder and played there until Uncle Milt or dad told us to come down. To me, it was scary to walk across the floor. Each board creaked, causing me to feel that I was going to fall through on top of the cows.
On most occasions when we visited, Uncle Milt let us feed the calves in a pen right next to where the cows were milked. We mixed milk in buckets that had huge nipples on the sides. As we approached the calves, they lined up to be fed. When we offered them their dinner, they latched on the white nipples and began draining the buckets, periodically head butting them as if they were their mothers' utters.
The third section of the barn was divided from the rest. In the old days, the horses spent time there after work and during the winter. Their harnesses hung on the back wall, waiting for another day to be in the hot fields around the necks of sweaty horses. The windows in this section were used as the opening to sling out manure to the pile outside where in the spring someone would haul it to the fields as fertilizer.
We did not go to this side of the barn often. Instead of horses and harnesses, it was full of odds and ends that had been stored there for years. Thick dust and pigeon droppings served as coverings for much of the stuff. My father retrieved his mother's table from the stack, spiffed it up, and placed it in our kitchen. It was big enough to comfortable sit six growing children and our parents.
Now, unlike grandmother's old table that still sits in my parents' kitchen, the barn no longer stands. Uncle Milt's cows have long since gone to the auction block or someone's freezer. After my uncle retired, he sold the farm to an area farmer. Over the years, the barn had become a safety hazard, perhaps even an eye sore. Before too long, Uncle Milt's barn, the icon that I could see from my house in the city, disappeared. And with its demise dissipated the years of history that lay soaked up in the decaying barn wood that once was red and bright and stoic.
Before my father and mother died, we passed Uncle Milt and Aunt Stella’s old house on our way to Menan. They, too, have gone like their huge barn. But I often honked as I pass by Uncle Milt's house, thinking that maybe, just maybe, I capture a glimpse of Uncle Milt out front in his typical hat, hoping he would wave at us. Mostly, now, I wonder where his pigeons roost at night.