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After All Those Years


A Red Barn Story

In the era when my grandfather owned an eighteen hundred-acre farm in rural Kentucky, barns were red. Many of those colorful frame buildings still dot the landscape along country roads today. None so nostalgic as the ones from my childhood.

I was an interior designer for a huge portion of my life. That caused me to wonder a little bit about the origin of the color red for barns. Research led me to discover that years ago, choices for paints, sealers and other building materials were nonexistent. Farmers had to be resourceful in finding or making a paint that would protect and seal the wood on their barns. So they used linseed oil which is orange-colored. To this oil, they would add a variety of things, most often milk and lime, but also ferrous oxide, or rust, which turned the mixture red. Rust was plentiful on farms because it killed fungi and mosses that might grow on barns, and it was very effective as a sealant.

When paint became more available, many people chose red paint for their barns, perhaps for its appeal and in honor of tradition.


I’m all about tradition. Recently I took a step back in time and returned to my grandfather’s home. The place had been sold after he died when I was ten, and I’d never had the occasion to go back. 

This past spring I made one—an occasion to return to the rambling pasture-land where I gazed in awe across the vast golden-flower-filled property. There I recalled the last and only time I ever got to ride with Papa Joe in his truck down the lane.   

“I want to be buried on this property,” he’d said as if I were taking note of his longing to never leave the land he loved.

I think he would have delighted in the view: the fields with their lavish golden canola plants swaying in a springtime breeze.

Things Change—Others Don’t Ever

These days and as far back as 1989, Kentucky farmers have ramped up production of canola in ways that have been economically beneficial for them. Probably it’s much prettier than the tobacco that would have been growing there in years gone by. Either way, the fields were gorgeous to me.

And the barns. Several of the original ones were still standing—red ones. The photo of two of them captured for me a beautiful memory of hearing milk squirt in the cans as Papa Joe milked the cows up at the red barn.  

There Is A Red Barn Memory

I’ve written a love story about it (Eastbound From Flagstaff), based on my father. It’s coming September 17, 2019. Many of its scenes did develop out of my memory. Fiction, yes, but its essence is truth. I thought you might enjoy this excerpt:

The red barn and silo stood off to the left. The butterscotch stone bungalow beckoned like a lighthouse in the distance.

Out by the gate, with a horse’s bridle in hand, Dad strolled toward the barn. Gray hair waved at the temples under the wide brim of his hat. He frowned against the glare of the sun. A boy walked in step.

I drew closer in the borrowed truck with Carver’s Grocery and Hardware lettered on the side and could see my father, standing like a statue in the brilliant daylight. A rough-hewn handsomeness bore well his fifty-three years. No longer evident in his soft brown eyes were the longings of a husband for his wife who would never return, or the father for his lost child. Filling the void left by Alan was the young redheaded lad at his side. Freckles, the size of the tip of my little finger, clustered on the bridge of the boy’s nose, and his ears looked like two wide-open doors on a Model T coming ’round the corner. 

“It’s Mr. Carver, Papa!” the boy shouted. “Ain’t it?”

  (Eastbound From Flagstaff) 


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