This past month, my mother informed me and my siblings that the barn on her property was to be torn down. She was informed by her homeowners insurance company that the barn was way past being a safe structure at this point and should be taken down or she would not be eligible for homeowners insurance. Needless to say, this barn has been in rough shape structurally for years. I’m not even sure how old the barn is or if it predates the house my brother and sister and I grew up in. It has the look of a classic Colonial barn – strong wooden columns, wooden shingles on the exterior, antique looking floorboards, etc. After portions of the roof and floor collapsed, my mother had most of the barn boarded up. She transferred tools, deck furniture, and anything else she would need to an adjacent shed next to the main barn structure. Due to its age and the typical New England weather ups and downs, the barn is certainly on its last legs.
I have so many fond memories of the barn with the big red door. First off, I remember the big red barn door. This big red door is a massive size door and is on a sliding track. The wheels of the track are brass I believe and very cool looking. I used to love to just open and close the door just to look and listen its classic yet simple mechanism. It had a large hoop for a door handle and man, was that door heavy to move. Above the big red door, my father had mounted a piece of driftwood when I was a young lad. He had stenciled in the name “Roby” and it remains in just about the same spot. I like to think that despite blizzards, hurricanes, and whatever else New England weather had to offer, that piece of driftwood never budged. I used to throw ball after ball against the big red barn door. I even drew in the strike zone and would throw my arsenal of pitches at it for hours. Years later, my sons and my cousins would all do the same.
There are two levels inside the barn. The main section of the first floor was used for my brother’s fishing poles, my father’s California longboard, various skis and ski poles, antique tools, and tons of sporting goods. We must have had a ball for every sport. We had tennis racquets, baseball bats, golf clubs, badminton sets, bowling balls, bowling pins, snorkels, fins, masks, and tricycles and bicycles. There was a workbench for projects such as transmission rebuilds, our own raft made out of milk cartons (similar to the one at the NK Town Beach), various school projects, and a lot more I can’t divulge. I do remember a vice on that workbench that we put to good use over the years. The back section of the first floor was laid out with a few stalls where my brother and I found more antique tools, motors, some really heavy stone wheels, and the storm windows for our house. This back section led to, at one point, a chicken coop.
The upstairs of the barn is where a lot of action happened. It is set up like a stage with one section of the floor higher than the other. There is a side door on the lower level of the top floor. Right next to the door, there is a trap door. At the front of the upstairs, there is a window with a door that opened up to view my mother’s house. There are exposed wooden beams that ran the width of the upstairs. My brother and I once constructed a pulldown pulley system thanks to parts from Wickford Lumber and one of those heavy stone wheels. It wasn’t quite up to health club standards but it was our creation and we loved it. In addition to the pulley system, we had a makeshift firing range for our pellet and bb guns as well as my brother’s compound bow. We used dishes, some albums from various artists, coffee cups, etc as targets and always had a blast. The upstairs became a storage depot for a wide range of stuff as well as stuff belonging to one of our friends that went off to serve our country. Due to the instability of the stairs leading up to the second floor as well as a number of other safety red flags, I could only view from the bottom stairs what is still up there. I know for a fact that a certain batch of Johnny Mathis and Barbara Streisand albums were misplaced years before any target practice by myself, my brother or any of our friends took place. There was no insulation in this or any part of the barn so we froze in the winter and baked in the summer, always with a huge smile on our faces.
The exterior of the barn has a very interesting look. There is a crooked weathervane with a cow telling us which way the wind is blowing. There are wooden shingles on the sides of the barn that when hit at the right spot will break off the barn. The roof was easy to access with just a small ladder and provided a great view of my mother’s land and Ten Rod Road. This roof was also a great training aid for me, as I threw ball after ball up there and would sprint left and right to catch it before it hit the ground. In front of the barn, there was of course the big red barn door as well as a small barn door, that was repainted red from its original color to match. There is a large ceramic flower pot that housed flowers that I tried desperately to miss as I was attempting to strike out Reggie Jackson and Kirby Puckett. To me, it was just a really interesting structure to look at every time I arrived home from school or even in the years to follow when I would return home from wherever I lived.
I guess in a lot of ways the barn with the big red door is part of our family. It wasn’t used in the way most barns were used in the Colonial days. It was used more like a playroom than a barn to be truthful. I will certainly miss its character, its unique features like the big red door and the impressive wooden beams, and its place in my evolution as a baseball player. I know my family joins me in saying a tearful goodbye.