Granddaddy Hewell feeding the chickens
in one of the many barns he and his sons built

Granddaddy, Daddy, and Uncle Gene built barns – several of them. Before I was born, many barns housed chickens, but barns are versatile through the ages. As a young girl of nesting age, I transformed Uncle Gene’s shop and the center room with the most delicious farm sink you can imagine into my own apartment playhouse. Later, during my horse phase, another barn became home to Pet, my Shetland Pony. Then as I blossomed into my Save Every Living Creature phase, the other side of my playhouse barn became home to rabbits. Two at first, but by day three, I counted 200.

I became acquainted with my first scorpion in the barn farthest away, so that’s all you’ll hear about that barn.

I loved those barns with the gray seasoned wood, the smell of freshly baled hay, earth, and horses, the shop where Uncle Gene made lamps and repaired tractors and his motorbike before he was killed. I lovingly dusted and cleaned everything there, including the jars that screwed into their tops that Uncle Gene had nailed to the bottom of a shelf to hold his nails, screws, and whatnots.

I especially loved sweeping those concrete floors – even the floors under the rabbit cages. I’ve always loved sweeping.

The exteriors of Granddaddy Ballard’s barns, with their pieces of tin and the occasional Pepsi signs painted silver tacked on to cover holes and gaps between the boards, became the outdoor equivalent of Grandmother’s patchwork quilts. Granddaddy Ballard used one barn as his garage, parking his faded red Ford sedan in one side of a barn and his green Chevrolet pick-up truck with a hole in the floorboard in the other side. His mule called the barn behind that barn home, and it had a concrete water trough the size of a claw-foot bathtub with a spigot just the right height for me to turn and fill up the trough with cool, fresh water. A third barn had a place on the side where cows were kept, and a ramp where they walked into the back of a truck. The smokehouse was a dark, aromatic place with slabs of bacon and sides of hams hanging from the ceiling, curing. Granddaddy stored wooden cases of Co-Colas in the smokehouse.

Barns hold much real estate in my heart, and though we had a very specific destination on Friday, nostalgia ruled the day as we drove through bucolic countryside filled with barns and cows and pastures and hills and tractors. I swooned. A lot.