If one of those lottery tickets we’ve bought every week for the last decade had panned out, we’d be writing a different story than this one. But it didn’t, and our life’s regret remains unchanged: We regret that we couldn’t afford to buy Keith’s mother’s family homestead.
We kept our portion of the farm ground, which more than pays for itself. And we kept the acreage we now call “Mary’s Woods,” because I’d have divorced Keith if we hadn’t. (See “Our Woods”. ) But keeping the homestead would have meant taking over his grandparents’ 90-year-old house and barn. We didn’t have the cash to restore either one, and we didn’t have the heart to tear them down. So the house, the barn, and about a hundred acres were sold were sold to to a family who did have the wherewithal and who wanted their young sons to grow up in the country.
We did the right thing: The old place never looked so good. But we sure regret having to give up that barn.
Keith’s grandpa built it in 1922. Warren G. Harding was president then, and the depression that came at the heels of WWI had cut farmers’ income in half. That his grandpa had the cash to build this barn at a time when so many of his neighbors were struggling made them a little suspicious. Prohibition was in its 3rd year, after all, and the truth was that certain members of his family sold a little homemade wine to make ends meet in those days. But not his Grandpa Seidel. He just happened to have some hogs ready for market just as the war ended and prices went sky high. And he sold them to build a barn.This barn is about 24X60, post and beam construction held together with wooden pegs, and all of it came from oak trees cut on the property and then hauled over to the barn site and shaped by a steam-powered, belt-driven saw. It has a gambrel roof, which essentially is a double-sloped gable that provides a bigger space for the haymow. Back then, there were no haybalers or haybales: The haymow stored loose hay. Hayforks controlled by ropes and pulleys that ran along a metal track mounted on the roof grabbed the hay from the wagon and, when you pulled a trip rope, released it onto the floor of the haymow. It could then be dropped onto the main floor or all the way to the basement through a couple of hay chutes.
This was a bank barn, by the way, which means part of it was built into the earthen bank uphill from the Wabash River. This basement area is where the cows ate, got milked, and sheltered from bad weather. Its exterior walls are concrete, which were mixed and poured on site. On the main floor was a tack room where his grandpa kept his saddles, harnesses, and harness-repair tools. As you walk in the north end, there are (well, there were) horse stalls all along your right. On the left is a rough, wooden stairway that led up to the haymow or down to the basement. (To go down, you had to walk behind the stairs, grab onto the step above your head, and step down through a gaping hole in the floor until your feet touched the rung below you. This always scared Keith to death, he tells me, so he typically went into the basement from the outside.) There’s a corn crib along the east wall where his grandpa kept ear corn for the cows and hogs, and a grainary where he kept loose oats and wheat. (In case you were wondering–and I know I would be–he kept the farm equipment in another barn. In the beginning, he farmed with horses, but he eventually got a Fordson and then a brand new 1930 Case.)
Keith can still boast that he spent more time in that barn than he did in front of a television set, some of it doing chores, but just as likely building hayforts with his cousins or swinging out of the haymow into a pile of hay on the floor below. He still itches at the thought of hay stuck inside his shirt collar. He can still smell the pigeon shit on the rafters. He can still remember looking up from his landing spot and noticing the sunlight streaming down on him like a waterfall.
So what else is there to say? We have the map of this barn burned in our brains and it will be there long after we’ve grown gimpy and senile. We just hope our kids—or grandkids—find it in their hearts to take us for a drive every now and then and park our wheelchairs in front of the Seidel barn.