Dust sifted down sprinkling him and getting a bit in his eye. This was always a hazard of play, but it gave away someone’s hiding place in a loft. Climbing a ladder and getting back to base was the challenge before the other person was able to. Instead of climbing down, the captive leaped for an edge of a hay chute and missed. Hitting the ground on his side made a solid snap and a scream alerted all to an injury. A friend lay holding his arm, but still raced to the base to be safe and won the race. The game was over for a bit while a parent raced the injured to the doctor. When he came back everyone admired the cast and set to work signing names on it, as was the tradition. The next day they were one short for the game, but it continued on, in the barn.
I can still smell the fun, feel the frenzy when I go inside a barn. There were a variety of games, depending on the structure being used. Older square bales made mountains to climb and conquer. A rope made a swing to yell like Tarzan and swoop onto the back of an imaginary elephant. Ladders and lofts made great apparatus with which to make an obstacle course, play tag, or hide and go seek. Looking across the fields from the top floor you were a king or queen surveying the land. Imaginations bloomed when in a barn, and play was never regarded as dangerous. After a bad fall you were often cautioned to take it easy, but never really did. We were invincible in our prairie palaces.
Growing up in the city it was always a treat to visit a farm of friends or relatives. We marveled at the beauty of their lives and they of course marveled a bit at ours. As kids you take all for granted and don’t realize the opportunities you had until later years. We couldn’t understand why our parents chose the city when they could have a dream home on the farm. It didn’t seem like hard backbreaking work, nor did we realize it was 24/7 and very hard to finish the tasks for the day.
The games always started where they left off; age didn’t slow down our interests very much. A treat was when I would go and visit a great-uncle and get to stay for a few days. Our morning started with coffee, mine with lots of milk and sugar, in a cup that was just for me. A hearty breakfast sent us out to look for eggs to be eaten the next day. This usually became hurried, since the games were to begin and we couldn’t stay away. New feats would be shared and tried with other cousins and neighbors who came to visit. Soon we decided the game to start off the day and played until someone’s feelings were hurt or there was a call to help with other chores. I would be amazed each time my uncle came in how he tossed his hat on a stuffed moose head, always hitting an antler perfectly. I practiced many times, but never got it right. I was to inherit this moose, but it was discarded by his widow with other precious trophies before I could claim my prize.
When I was in fifth grade we moved to a new home and right back in a field where the suburbs hadn’t yet touched was an old horse barn. This became the best home we had, and I immediately trudged through deep weeds to get a look. There, I soon met most of the kids that lived near and soon felt this barn was part mine. We often inspected every crook and cranny for treasures long gone. It wasn’t being used for anything so we had a big play area to test our agility and speed playing games of tag and army. In my high school years they tore it down to build more homes and we each rescued a brick from the broken foundation.
Working for a farmer baling hay each summer gave us free rein to explore the barns we filled with hay bales. We didn’t want our friends to possibly know we were still playing tag or king of the mountain, but had some great times. When we did let a few know they joined in on the fun and we were shocked it didn’t seem so childish to them. We moved through the hay in leaps and bounds, sometimes amazed ourselves how far we could go. When we started to date, this fun was set aside, not too many girls wanted to run and push around like we did.
Each year in my state we lose one thousand of these palaces. Newer models work better and farms consolidate leaving behind homesteads to decay. A few clubs have started to try and restore these giants of the prairies, many standing have seen quite a few families and kids through their reign. When was the last time you visited one, reviving those treasured memories of your past?