If you drove on down to the old farm place, the first thing you'd probably see is the apple orchard, there next to the gravel road, on your right as you pulled into the driveway. Go ahead, pull up a little farther. There's the big old red grainery, also on the right, back a little bit. Next to that? Well, that's the hog house, faded red and falling down just a little bit.

Whoa, stop the car now, right here smack dab in the middle of the yard. There, to your left, that's the old farmhouse I talked some about on the way out of Leota. Back behind that, if you strain your neck some, off to the west there, that's the chicken coop. Oh, and next to the coop is the garage. Dad keeps his muskrat and fox pelts in there. Might even be a mink if he was lucky.

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OK, now look straight ahead through the windshield. That's the biggest building on the place.

That's the barn.

Oh I know, it's not as big as most of the barns around here. Doesn't need to be, Dad only milks about 8 cows, keeps some calves in there. Far beyond a faded red and tilting just a little bit, it's every bit as old (maybe older) than the rest of the buildings here. But it does somehow have some character to it, right? Kinda like an old boot, you find out in a grove somewhere? And if you stepped inside that old barn....well, nothing special, not even in the mind's eye. Just more of an old barn.

My goodness, you'd think that old barn would just topple over someday, just plain fall down. But it didn't. It didn't topple over and it didn't fall down.

It burned down.

It was in the spring just before high school graduation. We were at the church in Edgerton, the big town of a thousand people nine miles away. The graduates were being honored there and we had a cousin who was graduating. It was a Sunday night.

I was twelve.

As we were leaving town and driving through that cool, crisp Minnesota night, we saw a glow. A pinkish, reddish glow over there on the horizon, over by the Leota area. Might be a fire. Might be a fire over by the farm place. Might be a fire at the farmplace.

Well, yessir, it was a fire. And yessir, it was on our farm place. We were still a ways off back behind the grove of trees and couldn't see exactly what it was. The house? The garage? Oh, the barn.

By the time we got there, cars were parked all over the gravel road for a quarter-mile. We couldn't drive through, so we stopped and walked. Well, maybe not walked, at least not dad.

The barn was already burnt down, a pile of small fires and heaps of ash and debris. The first thing I remember my Dad saying, I mean the very first thing when we were on the gravel road and knew it was the barn was "Did we leave Sarge in the barn?" He didn't think about calves or hay or anything else. He thought only about his dog.

No, no we didn't. Sarge met us through a crowd of people when we got to the yard.

We made our way to the house, me, my Mom, and my Grandma. My dad and brother were working with neighbors putting out the last of the embers of the fire. My Grandma was already 85 or so and I remember sitting with her by a kerosene lantern that set on our little kitchen table (the electricity lines went with the barn). She wasn't crying but she was....close. She was worried, worried in a way that my 12-year-old eyes hadn't seen before. She worried about what we'd do now, how would we cope. She was worried about us. She was worried about her youngest son and his family.

When my Dad came into the house, he saw it written on her face, too. He put his hand on her shoulder.

"Don't worry, Ma. It'll be OK." And it was.

But the truth is, I don't know for sure if he really believed that, at that moment. And I'm not sure that she believed it either. But what I do remember is this: I believed it.

And just like my Dad said. It was OK.

Randy's Minnesota Memories

Randy McDaniel grew up on a small farm near Leota, Minnesota during the classic baby-boomer years of the 1960s and 1970s. These are his stories of growing up in the idyllic world of southwest Minnesota.

Here Are The 7 Remaining Drive-In Theaters In South Dakota

If you were born last century...you know, in the nineteen hundreds (ugh)...you may have spent a summer evening in the car watching movies. I don't mean on your phone, I mean at the drive-in movie theater!

If you were in Sioux Falls in the 1970s and '80's you may remember seeing Jaws and Indiana Jones at The East Park or the Starlite Drive-In. Both drive-ins opened just after World War 2. The East Park didn't make it out of the '70s, closing in 1978. The Starlite survived long enough to see the birth of home video, closing in 1985.


Drive-in movies had a bit of a resurgence during the pandemic. They were a way to go out and do something social without getting out of your car.

If you tried one during that time, or you remember the fun of a warm summer evening watching movies on that giant screen there are still places in South Dakota and around Sioux Falls you can do it.

 

 

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