Growing Up Leota: The Night The Barn Burned Down
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 hoghouse, 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 farm house 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.
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 barn's 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 ever 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 graduate's 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 farm place.
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 we 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 in 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.
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