Trip To The Jubilee Barn
I played a game on the way to the Jubilee Barn. I cupped my hands together and held them to my face. Looking through my tunnel I saw the world rushing at me through the windshield of my dad's car as it flew along the blacktop road. I saw blue sky above and green hills below.
I was a pilot flying a small airplane fast and low over the trees. When the car went up a hill I saw a heart shaped patch of blue sky. When the car went down I saw only green trees. Up and down we went, dad behind the wheel of the car, me at the controls of my airplane.
Dad turned onto a gravel road that climbed and dipped. Blue sky turned to green trees then back again. We would hang motionless for one long moment at the top of a hill before diving straight down the other side. Just ahead the road turned sharply to the right. We plunged toward the trees and I held my breath, covered my eyes and waited for the crash.
But there was no crash. My dad turned off the road and parked the car under some trees. I landed my airplane and looked at my dad through cupped hands.
“We're here”, he said. He smiled and pointed toward a dirt lane that ran up a steep hill.
Tall grass grew in the center of the lane. Trees towered on both sides and blocked out the sun. The way up was through a long, cool, green tunnel. The lane seemed to end at the top in a patch of sunlight. My dad started up, dark shadow and bright sunlight moving down the back of his shirt.
“Why can’t we drive up”, I said?
Without turning around he said, “Come on, it's not as steep as it looks”.
I ran to catch up. The lane was a patchwork of big flat rocks and puddles of still, brown water.
I played another game. I was a mountain climber scaling a tall peak. Steep sides fell away into mist. I was high above the clouds. I leaped from rock to rock. I slipped once but caught myself just in time, nearly sailing out into space. I made it safely to the top where my dad waited for me in the sun. The back of his shirt was soaked with sweat and stuck to his skin.
“Why do they want to tear it down,” I asked?
He was quiet for a moment. “They bought the farm to build big new houses on the land. The barn is just in the way, I suppose”, he said.
We set off down the lane. Sometimes he'd stop and gaze at the trees ahead. Then he'd start walking again, faster than before. I had to run to keep up. Finally we stopped next to a steep bank of red clay, higher than my dads head.
“Why don't you climb up and see what you can see”, he said. I scrambled to the top. My hands and knees were caked rusty red.
I could see a long way in every direction. I saw rolling green fields, the shiny tin roof of a distant house and the thin black stripe of a faraway road.
“When I was your age I could see the weather-vane on the barn roof from where you’re standing,” he said.
When he was a boy my dad spent his summers on his grandfathers farm. His cousins lived nearby. I imagined them sliding down the red dirt bank and racing each other back to the top, white teeth set in faces smeared with red.
I liked to hear stories about the farm. My dad and his cousins crowded onto the porch swing and sailed out over the lilacs on creaking chains. They lifted their grandfathers old shotgun off the wall pegs in the kitchen and slipped quietly outside to face an imaginary lion charging across the yard. On hot days they threw back the heavy doors on the side porch and descended narrow stairs through cobwebs into the cool black of the root cellar. They lobbed fresh eggs from the hen house toward make-believe enemy bunkers. This made their grandmother very angry.
The best stories were about the Jubilee Barn. There were ladders for climbing, beams for balancing and lots of dark places to hide. The warm air smelled of manure and tobacco and corn growing in surrounding fields. Just inside the door hung a big brass bell.
At night they shared a bed by an upstairs window that looked out over the garden. Beyond the garden loomed the dark shape of the big barn, doors open wide to the night. Dares were whispered in the dark. Go on up to the barn, someone would say. Go on up there and ring the bell. Unless you're chicken. But no one ever did.
“I hope we’re not too late. Can you see it,” my father asked?
I looked around but saw only trees.
“Hurry, dad,” I said. I slid down the bank and ran ahead. I rounded a bend and stopped dead in my tracks. A big yellow bulldozer blocked the way. Its big curved blade gleamed in the hot sun.
My father walked up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders. “I thought we had time before they brought in the machines,” he said.
We walked around the dozer, careful not to wake the sleeping yellow giant. A little further along we saw a jagged pile of planks, beams, corrugated metal and field stones. The Jubilee Barn was gone. Soon trucks would come and haul it all away.
Silently, we walked out onto the pile of rubble and picked through the ruins. The shadows grew longer but we didn't notice as the day slipped away. I found a chain attached to a wood beam by an iron ring and tried to lift a heavy burlap sack that lay on an old car door. I stood on a big stone wheel with an iron axle through its center. There were horseshoes, barrel hoops, a crosscut saw with missing teeth, green glass, crocks, empty seed bags and an old straw hat.
My father stood surrounded by the remains of the Jubilee Barn. Maybe he imagined the bulldozer running in reverse like a movie played backwards. In his mind the big blade attracted broken pieces like a magnet, beams rose and pivoted, wood planks lined up in ranks and the barn suddenly filled with air and gently settled onto its stone foundation. Maybe he remembered long ago summer days and the boys who played here believing summer would never end.
I knew the bulldozer was out of range but I picked up a baseball-size rock and threw it with all my might. The rock landed in a tangle of debris. But instead of a dull thud, our heads turned toward the clear sound of ringing metal.
Together we found it. The bell lay buried under a snarl of rusty barbed wire. Carefully, my dad lifted it free. He spit into a handful of dirt and gently rubbed a spot on the dull brass until it shone like a new penny. With my finger I traced the words Jubilee Barn.
My dad handed the bell to me. It was heavy. It seemed to want to pull free and return to its hiding place, sad to leave the barn.
We drove home, the bell on the seat between us. My dad told stories while I flew loops over the round, green hills.