Sometimes all you need is a barn with a stack of hay and a big pile of feed. It doesn’t matter how dusty and dirty you get. If you’re under the age of about 10, all you see is adventure.
It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long ago when we looked forward to the transformation of the empty barn bays of summer to the stacked and packed look of winter. The process started during late summer as Daddy strategically placed big round hay bales neatly (or mostly so considering they were never exactly round thanks to an archaic baler) in select alleys.
The intended winter windbreak for the occasional cow-calf pair and den sites for mama cats and kittens was soon complemented during fall with the addition of dusty piles of grain. Depending on grain prices, the feed of choice ranged from cottonseed to soy hull pellets to corn gluten. For two girls with active imaginations, the bales of hay and piles of grain were more than feed—they were a playground.
It might have been slightly dangerous, but Daddy never stopped my sister and me from creating our own obstacle course. This often meant tying ropes to the barn rafters and swinging down onto the feed acrobat-style. Only once did my hand get caught in the rope and I was left flailing above the dusty cottonseed until wiggling free from my mule-hide glove. To this day, I rarely leave the house without gloves.
Because there are only so many ways you can swing from the top of the hay (more turns meant more style points), this simple act naturally evolved to more complicated endeavors.
More structured games took on the form of a “Gladiators” event my sister and I contrived based on what little television we were able to view. It started with the stylistic rope swing but this was followed by a sprint and jump onto whatever series of round bales happened to be in the barnyard. After running atop those to the end, one would then attempt to walk/roll a 55 gallon drum to the catch pen fence.
Walking the drums was definitely the most challenging. They too were never perfectly round thanks to their purposed use as water barrels so the ability to roll them on foot usually ended in muddy britches (during the wet winters) and skinned elbows. If the contestant made it to the fence, she would then flip the drum to the other side, enter said drum feet first and roll down the hill to the finish line. Though again, with lopsided barrels, we usually went in circles and ended up fairly close to where we started with small rocks and dirt in our ears.
To balance our attempts at honing our mental acumen and personal physical fitness, we would also host more cultural events, including musicals using pets or livestock and my mother’s old tape recorder she used to record random conversations with my sister and me when we first started talking. We could never rely on the radio to play the right song for such productions, and we figured we may as well make good use of her greatest hits by Alabama. None of the dogs or cats seemed to enjoy the static-filled music or being placed on top of round bales and then coerced into sliding down a strategically placed playset slide. They were good sports though.
When not used as a proving ground or puppy dinner theater, the barn and its contents afforded the perfect vantage point for more natural acts over which we had no creative control. My most memorable birthday party involved the entire guest list fighting over the highest, best hay bale seat from which to watch with wonder as a cow our Daddy had penned for extra surveillance quietly calved in the catch pen below.
I’m convinced that children who grow up playing in barns make some of the best adults on earth. Or at least ones who stack hay and pile grain with the possibility that they may bring more than one kind of nutrition to the ranch inhabitants.