Growing Up Leota: The Night The Barn Burned Down
If you drove on down to the old farm place, the first thing you'd see is the apple orchard, there next to the gravel road. Pull up a little farther. There's the big old red grainary, on the right, back a little bit. Next to that? The hog house, faded red and falling down just a little bit.
Whoa, stop the car now, right here in the middle of the yard. There, to your left, that's the old farmhouse. Back behind that, 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.
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. 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. 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 burned down.
It was in the spring. We were at the church in Edgerton. The high school graduates were being honored there at Baccalaureate. Then we would head over to my Uncle Art and Aunt Millie's house by Chandler. My cousin Duane Achterhoff would be graduating from Chandler High School in a few days and there was a party that night.
I was eleven. It was my last year at the two-room school in Leota.
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.
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 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 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. She was worried, worried in a way that my 11-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.
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