By Maureen Heffernan

I was troubled today and my close cousin, the barn, was there for me. I brought out paper and pen and as I stepped through the door, they went flying as I jumped at the same time the deer did because we startled each other. When you’re close to a deer, their eyes are just about eye-level with yours and when they’re afraid, the eyes become gigantic. It’s a comforting thought for me that the barn is not just there for the storage of priceless, sentimental, never to be used, worthless junk but as a shelter for wet, hungry and cold deer, stray cats, raccoons, swallows, skunks and those things that go bump in the night.
I picked up the pens from the dirt that I like to doodle in with a stick, another doodle not of my hand catching my eye, (I quess that’s another instinct humans possess besides the temptation of the empty swing; both not being equated with age but rather an unconscious attempt of trying to recapture the pleasant moments) and I drew a heart for the next passing doodler, knowing that it is the little things that help make life bearable, hoping the deer would walk around it and headed up the hay-draped stairs.
I like the smell of hay. Even when we tried to make a living making it for others, steering a tractor with one hand and holding the baby with the other, rushing to work as fast as possible to make as many bales as possible before the rains came, hair full of seeds, eyes watering, being scorched by the sun, sweating puddles, and the sweat burning the many reddened scratches on the legs, arms and back, catching the rhythm of digging into a bale and heaving it up on the wagon, or running after it because one string broke, peeing outside and telling your kids, "there’s no bathroom here," riding on the top of the pile like it was gold and delivering it to one barn as the unloaded bales seem to weigh more than before, going to another field and doing it all over again, eating sandwiches for dinner on the tractor ride to the last barn, knowing that the bales have now tripled in weight as they’re being unloaded, fighting off the blizzard of moths that are attacking the outside barn light, finally sitting down and your whiny itching like fury from all the sticks and seeds in your underwear, raising an iced cold beer onto parched , dusty lips, swallowing a few seeds with it, looking at the miserable pay, wondering what happened to your sanity and your back, praying that it rains like hell tomorrow so you won’t have to do it again, no wonder I needed a back operation . . . but, yeah, I like the smell of hay. It’s really something kids should know.
I stop on the stairs, bend down and scoop a handful up and bury my nose in it. A sweet, fresh scent of accomplishment, yet reminding me that I couldn’t do it again or perhaps have too many brains to. These stairs are enough for me with the bum hip and back and stinging hot arthritis creaks and cricks of a 90 year old instead of a 39 year old.
Reaching the top, I slowly survey my kingdom. What a heap of junk! Old college books, underlined for what? , a yellow play pen, a kiddies swimming pool, worn out clothes, kids books, "A cat in the hat" peeking out from one kids outgrown, blue snowmobiles boot, some old wire, picture frames that I was going to fix, sheets of plastic to cover these treasures form the leaky roof and -- what was that? There it is again . . . from the corner, I pull back hay to see a large black, gray, orange and white, furred, 12 legged, 6 eyed creature staring at me! Now it splits into 3 parts. Awwwww. 3 kittens. So adorable with their toothless gums showing as they pull back their mouths and appear to be hissing but there is n o sound. I wonder, if in their posturing, they are convinced that they are scaring me away as I back off, knowing Mom will get upset if she smells me on them. Well, they’ll help to keep the mice down.
I sit down and look at white paper --- seems so large and stark, like a snow-filled driveway waiting to be plowed, pen poised for the attack of the flow, like a stick over dirt, like a birthday cakes’ icing singing out for candles. 39 of them.
Ah, it comes.
Entering the warm barn,
The dark, womb-like cave,
Sheltering old memories,
It stops.
Nicodemus asking Jesus, "What do you mean I must be born again? I can not crawl back into my Mother’s womb?"
I’m 39 years old. Oh, what would I change next time around . . .? Probably nothing. But it took this trip out to the barn to realize it.
The first line of my poem about stone walls reads, "Stone walls are like good friends, always there when you need them." Barns are like that. Another close cousin of country living, their redeeming quality being, when you don’t know where to put it – put it in the barn. You’ll use it someday. I try to do that. put my troubles in the barn. I’ll use them someday. But not now.
I got a party to go to.


Copyright © 1998 Maureen Heffernan. All rights reserved.