There’s a barn in my town.
It’s old. I would say well over a century. I’ve been watching it get older for years.
My best guess is that the town grew up around the barn. There’s no farmland nearby. And, unless you can milk the stray cats who use it as shelter, there is no livestock in the area either. It remains some sort of island tribute to days past.
I was in the barn the other day, doing a favor. Younger hands doing what older hands no longer can. My eyes wandered from the rusted license plates, that once gave utilitarian Fords the tiniest bit of uniqueness, now nailed to walls, to the ancient tools and farming implements in the corner. Tools that relatives of mine undoubtedly used. To build this town. To feed people who share my DNA, but are trapped forever in water-stained black and white photos with curled edges, wearing their Sunday bests, which are somehow still fancier than mine.
The roof is pretty much shot. Rain pours through unimpeded in spots. Boards are bowed but still carrying weight over your head as you step around rotten floor planks. Things creak with a frequency and intensity that would send ghost hunters scurrying for the nearest exit hole in the wall.
Being in there now still reminds me of being in there as a kid.
There’s something in the smell. Just a little above faintly musty? Maybe, but not exactly. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I like that.
My strongest memory of the barn is of using the south side of it as one of my go-to hide n’ seek spots. If you were tall enough, and positioned yourself correctly, you could look diagonally through one not-yet-broken window and see anyone walking by another. It worked more often than not, and gave me great pleasure as I waited for the streetlights to come on and hit pause on the festivities.
Any tour of the barn, then or now, would be incomplete without standing in front of one of those bowing boards. I think it might be a two by eight. I would bet that it came from what was once a mill a half mile further inland, that was owned by relatives of the barn owners. They would have trimmed the branches from my own family tree before running it through the saw.
On this board, in a dripping green heart, is written “VM + AV.”
I look at it every time.
Some day this barn will be gone, but I already have plans to rescue this board where VM expressed her love. It was a short message, granted, but in the moment was likely the most important thing in her world.
That’s why I like writing. Even that done in leftover paint meant for any other purposes. Maybe especially.
Barns come down, but words can stand up.
Words can stand up.
Against the wind, rain, snow and dry rot the barn cannot.
I wonder if VM even remembers who AV is.
I know VM. She’s married now. She has a baby on the way. Sadly I’m not sure how many more trips to town VM has in her. Her reasons to visit – the old hands I mentioned – are aging even faster than the barn.
I wonder if her children will get to play hide n’ seek here. I wonder if her daughter will meet a nice local boy who, thanks to environment, is just a little bit different than she is. I wonder if the young girl will want to find some old paint and brush in the barn, pick the right board, and fill her heart with initials.
VM may still keep coming. Not as often. And perhaps only with a brief drive-through as she stays in a hotel in a bigger town nearby with more amenities and much less charm. If so, I hope that when she does come to town, that barn reminds her still of a nice boy who, if only for a moment, held her heart.
I write this so that I always remember the barn.
I write this, like everything else, so that you don’t ever forget a nice boy.
I write this so that years from now you might read it.
Maybe you’ll flash to fond memories. Maybe you’ll wonder what I’m up to. Maybe you’ll be sitting beside me.
When you do find this, you should let me know what this humble painted heart means to you.