Trip to the Jubilee Barn

By David G. Hardin, Royal Oak

I played a game in the car on the way to the Jubilee Barn. I cupped my hands against my face to make a tunnel. From inside my tunnel I could see blue sky and hills covered by green trees. I could not see my father sitting to my left or the countryside rushing by on my right.

The road ran up and down over the round green hills. I imagined I was flying a small airplane. The nose of the airplane went up. Down went the hills at the end of my tunnel. All I could see was blue sky. The nose of the airplane went down. Up rose the hills at the end of my tunnel and blocked out the sky. I looked out over a valley and saw the roof of a house gleaming like a nickel in the sun.

We turned off the paved road. Still I played the game. Up and down, faster and faster went the nose of the airplane. Pushing and pulling, hills and sky seesawed, green to blue and back again. I felt a butterfly trapped inside of me. The nose of the airplane went up again. It barely cleared the tops of the trees.

I looked out over a valley and saw the roof of a house gleaming like a nickel in the sun.

We turned off the paved road. Still I played the game. Up and down, faster and faster went the nose of the airplane. Pushing and pulling, hills and sky seesawed, green to blue and back again. I felt a butterfly trapped inside of me. The nose of the airplane went up again. It barely cleared the tops of the trees. Suddenly, before I was ready, it dropped down in a fast, steep dive. Trees filled my view at the end of the tunnel. They grew bigger and bigger then slid sideways in a blur of green. I held my breath and covered my eyes with my hands.

The plane landed safely just as my father pulled the car off the road and stopped underneath some trees. He turned the key to shut off the engine. "You all right," he said? He slid his arm across the back of my seat and smiled at me.

We could walk the rest of the way, he said. A lane of grass growing between two dirt tracks ran straight up the hill in front of us. Tall trees grew over the lane and blocked out the sun. My father started walking to the top. Stripes of shadow and light bumped down the back of his blue shirt.

"Wouldn't driving be faster?" I said.

He stopped and called back over his shoulder. "It doesn't look as steep when you're standing at the top."

The lane seemed to end at the top of the hill, hanging between the trees on either side. I ran to catch up. Big rocks lay half-buried in the lane. Puddles of still, brown water filled the flat places between the rocks.

I played another game. I imagined climbing up the spine of a tall mountain. Steep sides fell away to my left and right. I was high above the clouds. Running and leaping I scrambled up the narrow peak. My eyes searched the path ahead and told my feet where to land. I jumped over the strip of grass in the center, then back again. Once, my foot slipped and I windmilled my arms for balance. The butterfly in my stomach beat its wings fast.

I made it safely to the top of the mountain. My father waited for me. The back of his shirt was wet and stuck to his skin.

"Why do they want to tear it down?" I asked.

He looked up at the blue sky then down at me. "They bought the farm to build houses on the land. They're not interested in the barn," he said.

My father walked on and I followed him. He held his chin high like he was looking over a fence. I had to walk faster and faster to keep up. We stopped by a red dirt bank higher than my father’s head. I climbed to the top, my hands and knees caked the color of a Halloween pumpkin. I could see a long way in every direction. I saw fields and trees and the black stripe of a road. I saw my father standing in the lane. He was looking away, past the red dirt bank toward some distant trees.

"We could see the weathervane on the barn roof from where you're standing," he said.

I knew he was talking about a time when he and his cousins were kids. They spent long summer days playing on their grandfather’s farm. I imagined them yelling and sliding down the red dirt bank then racing each other back to the top. I imagined my father’s big white grin, his face brown from dirt and sun. I imagined him standing on top of the bank, looking toward the weathervane spinning lazily on the roof of the Jubilee Barn.

My father liked to tell stories about the farm. I liked hearing them again and again. The porch swing, overloaded, going too fast and too high, sailing out over the lilac bush on creaking chains. Quietly lifting grandfather’s shotgun off the wall pegs in the kitchen then slipping outside to face an imaginary lion closing fast across the yard. Throwing back the heavy doors built into the deck of the side porch then climbing down the narrow steps through cobwebs into the cool black of the root cellar. Sending fresh eggs from the hen house sailing through the air toward enemy bunkers.

The best stones were about the Jubilee Barn. Sharing a bed on a summer night by a window that looked out over the garden to the big open doors, blacker than the night. A dare whispered late at night to walk the lane to the barn and ring the brass bell that hung just inside the door. Crossing the high rafter beams in the loft that could only be reached by a ladder with missing rungs. Posting a lookout for grandfather before trying to squeeze milk from Star, an old cow, wide as a tugboat and known to kick.

"I hope we're not too late. Can you see it?" my father asked.

I blinked once or twice and the boy I imagined was gone. In his place stood a tall man, his mouth and brow drawn into tight creases across his face. I could not see the weathervane.

"Come on Dad," I said. I slid down the red dirt bank and ran ahead. I stopped when I came to a big yellow bulldozer. It sat silent in a field. Its sharp blade gleamed hot in the 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.

The yellow bulldozer sat napping in the sun. It did not notice us as we walked past and looked out at the jumbled pile of timber and stones and rusty metal.

Turning a car into a plane or a hill into a mountain were easy things to do, but I could not fix a broken barn. It was gone. The bulldozer had turned the Jubilee Barn into ruins. Soon trucks would come and haul it all away.

My father walked out onto the flattened barn.

"Dad, I want to come with you," I said. I knew he would point to the rusty, jagged metal and broken glass and splintered wood. He would say it was too dangerous. He would tell me to wait for him in the tall grass.

He looked at me for a moment. Then he said, "Yes, but watch where you step."

We did not say a word as we picked our way through the rubble. It seemed that time was taking a nap, too. We did not notice our shadows unrolling across the broken wood and loose stones. I found a chain big enough to hold an elephant, attached to a long piece of wood by an iron ring. I tried to lift a heavy burlap sack that sat on an old car door. I stood on a smooth stone wheel that lay flat with an iron rod through its center. There were horseshoes, barrel hoops, a crosscut saw with missing teeth, green glass bottles, broken shovels, empty seed bags and an old straw hat.

My father just stood there, not saying a word, gazing at the sad slabs of the barn. Maybe he was imagining the bulldozer running in reverse, the big blade pulling wood and stone like a magnet. Thick beams rising and pivoting against each other. The whole barn filling with air, inflating like a balloon, then settling back down onto its stone foundation. Maybe he was thinking about long summer days and the boys who played here all those years ago.

I knew the bulldozer was too far away but I picked up a rock and threw it as hard as I could. I threw so hard I spun around, facing the other way. The rock hit something metal and I turned toward the sound. My throw had fallen short. I heard a ringing note, so clear and bright it could not have come from the squat, sleeping bulldozer.

My father and I searched together until we found it. The bell was lying on its side. Carefully, my father lifted it free. He picked up a handful of dirt and carefully polished the bell until it shined like a penny. There was something written there. He traced the letters with his finger, spelling the words Jubilee Barn.

My father handed the bell to me, a smile on his face. The bell felt heavy in my hands, as if the barn were gently tugging, not wanting to let go. We drove home then, the bell on the floor between us, my father telling stories while I flew loops over the round, green hills.

Take me back to the Summer Fiction index. David Hardin lives in Royal Oak. E-mail comments to [email protected]