We all have special memories of our childhood.Please allow me to share some of mine with you.
THE OLD RED BARN
Thoughts of childhood days on the farm in
rural, southern Ontario often come to mind.
On a cold winter’s day, I would push open the wooden door of the old, red barn and
bask in the coziness of its dim interior. Pungent smells greeted me. As I made my way down
the aisle, I would stop every few stalls and greet my animal friends.
The black and white Holstein cows stood, twenty-eight in number, along the corridor. Some
were ornery creatures, some meek and mild. Much like humans, each had her own distinct
personality and each had been given a name. I can’t recall all of their names.
Grandpa bought and sold cows frequently. But there are a special few that remain as vivid
in my mind today as they were forty years ago.
My favorite was Betty, the best milk producer of the dairy herd. Like most cows, she had
big brown eyes and long lashes. She had distinctive black markings on a white background -
unusual markings in large splotches down her sides and rump. On her forehead, was a large
black spot with a white star in the center.
Whenever I entered the barn, Betty would give a low moo, as if saying hello. As I
approached, she’d turn her head, watching my every move. I would step in beside her
and scratch her forelock. She would close her eyes and rub against me; delighted someone
was giving her attention.
Behind the cow stalls, old Oscar, the Holstein bull stood next to the window to the horse
barn. Now Oscar could be an ornery and temperamental creature, but he had a soft spot for
this wee girl. Often, I would go into the horse barn and let myself into Oscar’s
stall. He would turn his head, blow through his nose and snort. He never moved. This was
somewhat miraculous as when the men tried to move him he would snort, kick and shake his
head angrily. I have seen him lift my uncle off his feet while trying to lead Oscar to the
creek for water. Today, I look back on my foolishness and wonder why I wasn’t killed.
Possibly Oscar understood that I was only a child. Or possibly there was a soft side to
his nature not understood by adults.
The calf pen was always a delight to visit. I loved to pet the calves and take them their
daily pail of milk after they were weaned. They would suck the milk through their noses
and when finished, butt the pail urging it to produce more, just as they had their mothers
while they were suckling. One day, a calf pulled the pail from my hands pushed her head
into it and it became stuck, the bail clinging to her ears. I chuckle remembering the time
I had retrieving that pail.
At the back of the barn was the pigpen. Usually there were three to four sows housed here.
One of my favorite things was watching the mother pig suckling somewhere from eight to ten
piglets. She’d lie on her side, eyes closed, while her babies squealed and fought
over a teat.
The only thing I didn’t like about the barn was the silo. Each Fall, the corn was
harvested, put through the corn chopper and blown into the forty-foot silo. This would
provide ensilage for the cattle during the harsh Ontario winter.
One cool November day, my uncle asked me to go up into the silo and throw down the
ensilage. I agreed. When the task was completed, I stepped to the entrance to descend the
ladder. As I looked out, the ground swirled. Fear slithered along my spine. I stood,
paralyzed. There was no way I could get down. I waited, rather impatiently, until my uncle
came to my rescue. I never entered that silo again.
The haymow was one of my favorite places. When I was very young, the hay was cut, thrown
onto a wagon with racks, taken to the barn and pitched into the upper level of the barn by
hand. In later years, it was baled. I remember helping stack the bales in the mow. Even
today, the fragrance of freshly mown hay carries me back over the years to the haymow of
the old, red barn.
The straw stack behind the barn was a delight to us children. When playing
hide-and-go-seek, we would wiggle into the prickly straw and cover ourselves. This was the
best hiding place of all. When found, we would emerge, straw clinging to our clothes and
hair. If Grandpa found us burrowing into the straw stack, we would get a sound scolding.
This never stopped us from returning to our refuge time after time.
One memory that I look back on with fondness involved my favorite cow, Betty. It was a
dark, rainy day. When I entered the barn, instead of the usual low, gentle moo, Betty was
bawling ferociously. I approached slowly, wondering what on earth could be wrong. One
glance told me that Betty was in trouble. She was in hard labor and her calf was arriving
in a breach position.
I burst through the door of the house and in short, panting gasps told my uncle what was
happening. We hurried to the barn and with some hard work, shared by human and animal, a
healthy young heifer was born.
That was my first glimpse of the birthing process. What a thrill to watch a new life enter
the world. The calf stood on shaky legs. Betty heaved to her feet and coaxed the calf to
suckle. An awesome experience for a small girl of ten.
Recently, I took a drive to the rural community where I grew up. I stopped my car on the
gravel road and sat, looking at that old, red barn. Yes, it’s still standing, though
the red paint has faded and it is somewhat in disrepair. But for a few moments, the sounds
and smells of that cozy structure whirled through my mind. I will never forget the good
times I spent in that old, red barn.
Copyright©1999 - Mary Alward
I sat at my window watching the
first snowflakes of the year drift slowly to the ground in the glow of the streetlights.
How peaceful and serene the world looked. Memories of other winters crept into my mind.
Winters that weren’t so easy - winters that caused many hardships.
As a child, I lived in a rural community in southern Ontario. Our house sat on a lot of
land in the corner of Grandpa’s farm. Living next door to Grandma and Grandpa was a
blessing for me and even today I am thankful for having the experiences that can only be
found on a farm.
I can remember one exceptionally cold winter. The sub-zero temperatures had lasted for
days. Mom bundled me up in my winter garb and let me go to Grandma’s. When I entered
the house, my uncle was there, pulling on his boots and heavy overalls.
“Want to come along?” he asked.
“Where?” I replied, wondering what adventure I would take part in today. Uncle
Willie always had something interesting to do.
“I have to take the cows to the creek to water them. We will be quite a while. Are
you dressed warm enough?”
After assuring him I was snug in my warm snowsuit, hat and gloves, we set off to the creek
to open the ice, an axe slung over Uncle Willie’s shoulder.
The steep hill in the lane was covered with ice. The cows would have to go down this hill,
so Uncle Willie stopped and began to cut through the ice with the axe to clear a path.
We continued on our way to the creek, where Uncle Willie cleared a path for the cows to
descend the bank. If they slipped on the ice and broke their stride, they would be
butchered and used for food. Not one thing on the farm was ever wasted. Everything had a
purpose whether it was to put food on the table, work the fields or produce young.
After Uncle Willie had cleared the creek bank, he began chopping a hole in the ice. This
was a lengthy procedure, as he had to make the hole big enough so that a number of cows
could drink at one time. The ice was six inches thick and by the time he was finished, my
fingers and toes were cold.
When we entered the barn, it was warm and cozy. The heat from the animals kept it at a
reasonable temperature. We stood around for a few minutes, stamping our feet and
blowing on our fingers to get them warm. Much too soon, Uncle Willie asked me to start
letting the cows out. Though I dreaded going back out into the cold, windy weather, the
stock must be watered immediately. Even now, after such a short time, they would have to
break the surface ice with their noses in order to get a drink.
The trip down the lane was uneventful but when we got to the creek bank, the more dominant
cows started bumping and hooking the more passive creatures. The fight was on. Each animal
wanted to be sure that they got their fill before the others were allowed onto the frozen
After all the cows had drunk their fill, they left the ice and headed back to the barn.
They had no more desire to be out in the elements than we did. Soon, they were all
securely tied in their stalls once more.
Uncle Willie told me I had better go to the house. He had to take old Oscar, the Holstein
bull to the creek for a drink.
“Can’t I watch,” I asked.
“Only if you promise to stay well back,” Uncle Willie told me. “Old Oscar
is an ornery cuss and if he happened to get away from me, no telling what would
“I promise,” I said.
I watched Uncle Willie take the staff and hook it in the ring that had been inserted
through Oscar’s nostrils. This was the only way to control an unpredictable bull. But
on that day, you would have thought old Oscar was a pussycat. He walked along slowly,
taking his time, looking at me and mooing softly. Uncle Willie couldn’t believe it.
“I wonder what’s up with him?” he said.
A smile crept onto my face. No one must ever know that I spent hours in the horse barn,
slipping through and old window, playing in Oscar’s stall. We were the best of
friends and now, Oscar was trying to give our secret away.
Oscar snorted and shook his head as his nose broke through the surface ice, protesting the
freezing temperature of the water. He drank his fill and turned, looking me in the eye. I
shook my head, hoping he wouldn’t try to approach me.
We returned to the barn without incident and Uncle Willie scratched his chin, a puzzled
look on his face. “I have never seen him so docile,” he said. “Hmmm! Maybe
old age is creeping up on him. Anyway, we have to get to the house and drag in buckets of
for Grandma. She has to melt it overnight in the copper boiler so she can do a washing
I knew what Grandma had to go through to do a wash. First, we’d carry the snow into
the house in pails and dump them into the copper boiler. When it was full, Uncle Willie
would lift it onto the old woodstove in the kitchen and there it would stay overnight. In
the morning, Grandma would put the clothes in it, one load at a time and boil them, then
carry them out to the line and pin them fast. Within minutes, they would be frozen stiff.
She would leave them there for a couple of hours, take them into the house, thaw them and
iron them with her flat irons that she heated on the stove.
“Just one more job,” Uncle Willie said, “And we are through. We have to
fill the woodbox.”
As we stepped into the yard, the fragrant smell of hardwood permeated the air. The chimney
was belching smoke. I stood and drank of the wonderful aroma. How invigorating it was. The
smell of home.
Today, no one has cookstoves or copper boilers but when I step outside in winter, I stop
and drink in the wonderful fragrance of chimney smoke that comes from my neighbor’s
chimney. I close my eyes for just a moment and I am home once more - home to
© 2000 by Mary Alward
GRAPHICS COPYRIGHT©2000 - C. S. BECKETT