My dad had gone to town and left me in charge of the barn. I was in seventh grade and on Christmas vacation. Dad and I had cleaned the gutters together, now he was off to the mill in Middleton to grind feed for our cows. If I had been younger I would have begged to go along. On this day I was proud to stay behind and finish the morning chores by myself. I was feeling grown up.
If you enter the haymow of our barn, the initials “J.K.” are carved neatly into the wooden post to your left, just above the electric light switches. You would have found his initials on a wooden stanchion in the basement, too. J.K. either had too much time on his hands or he did not want to be forgotten.
“Do you work on barns?” I shouted toward the three Amish men working on a roof in downtown Middleton. They were re-shingling a tall Victorian house on University Avenue, the main street. I needed a new barn roof. A friend had suggested I check out the Amish. Seeing them here, just three miles from our Ashton farm, felt like destiny.
Barn fires were once common enough that a newspaper headline about another fire might not raise your eyebrow until the day it was your own barn in the story.
That day for us was July 6, 1941.
Though I’ve spent a chunk of my life in one and I’ve been asked sarcastically a few times if I were born in one, I’m not an expert on barns. That would be Jerry Apps, author of Barns of Wisconsin. When I need help recalling the types of barns we’ve had on The Old Brabender Place or the shapes of their rooflines, I just pull out my dog-eared 1977 edition, beautifully illustrated by Allen Strang, to find all I need to know about old barns like ours.
This blog is a book in the making. If you're a new visitor, read Whole Hearted - A Farm Love Story. You can also find a copy in Prologue.