By Benita Le Mahieu
Dearest Old Red Barn,
I’m writing this letter to confess that for reasons no longer so clear, we let you go. I’m writing this letter to admit that it was us, proud proprietors, that allowed Time and Circumstance to steal you away. And I’m writing this letter to seek your forgiveness for not restoring you to the distinction and grandeur of yesterday. For that I weep.
Neighbors told us you were a liability. “Tear it down,” they insisted, as though your fate was theirs to decide. “Someone will get hurt,” they forecasted, as though they had a ball in which to see the future. And in the altering landscape of opulent homes, some insisted you didn’t belong.
Only streaks of faded red still splashed your greying walls. Your sliding doors hung cockeyed, and your roof had gaping holes that looked like wounds dehisced. Dearest Old Red Barn, for reasons fathomed only by us, we did let you stand – for a while. For that I am consoled, though not absolved.
It was the Children who gave you life as they clambered to dizzying heights the lofty hand hewn beams, and swung from frayed and timeworn rope. To them, Dearest Old Red Barn, you were magnificent.
One day a Farmer pulled up in our driveway. Weathered and stooped, he stepped from his half ton carrying a sketch book and pencils. Without preamble, he pointed to our farmhouse, “I was born there, you know. On the kitchen table.” We learned then, Old Red Barn, that long before us, you belonged to him. Long before us, your walls bulged with stacked, square hay bales, and your stalls soothed bawling cows, whose udders sagged with dripping milk.
He told us he wanted to construct a miniature model of you, because he too had heard the murmurs. Coming and going silently, the Farmer became a frequent visitor, figuring dimensions and proportions. He worked quickly until a crude sketch was complete. And then we saw him no more.
Dearest Old Red Barn, later that year we left you too. We moved across the ocean and around the world. “Don’t worry,” we said, “You still belong to us. We will be back.” But before we returned, their voices reached us, clamorous and relentless, wanting to know what was to be done with our Old Red Barn.
And then one day, something was done. A brazen bulldozer toppled your greying, red streaked walls, decimated the mulberry tree, and tore out the wild grapes that clung to you so ardently. It pains me now to relate, but as your walls caved in your spirit left you.
That winter night, a match was lit. It was cold and clear. The stars appeared to touch the earth, sheltering you in their glow. But with a roaring whoosh the flames devoured all that was good and real. And stories of many, many generations that labored and loved drifted high and out of reach like a thousand paper lanterns. Then evaporated – just like that.
Wretched, the Farmer could not bear to watch nor could he bear to look away. So he lingered and listened to the ghosts of the past, swirl and tumble in the smoke and flames. Voices, young and old, cried and laughed, and the keening of cattle reverberated through the night air, then melted into receding snow drifts.
For a week, the Farmer’s miniature model was displayed at the Public Library. People from all over the county came to visit, praising the fine craftsmanship, the meticulous details and the intricate design. The local paper showcased it on the front page.
But peering inside those tiny, empty rooms of the Farmer’s splendid, red construction, my throat constricted and I turned away. I could not look. Because, Dearest Old Red Barn, with scalding clarity, that blistered and burned, I understood what had been lost. And for that, I can only grieve.
Benita Le Mahieu lives in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea with her husband and children. She grew up on a farm in Alberta, Canada. Benita earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, with a major in nursing from Augustana University in Sioux Falls, SD. Her fiction has appeared in Cricket Magazine. Benita enjoys reading, writing, and traveling.