Family Frames  

Posted by Brock Booher

An old weathered barn on my parent’s farm struggles to remain standing. The tin roof is rusty and full of holes. The siding is pitted from the elements and graying from age. The beams are warped and sagging. Once a proud and capable structure, each day that passes makes it less useful, and more dilapidated. It has outlived its usefulness and moved beyond its days of storing hay and protecting livestock from the elements. Its days are numbered.

Every two years my siblings and their families converge on the family farm for family reunion. Our ten-sibling family is like a large gangly ten-legged octopus whose tentacles grow longer and stronger each year. We are a prolific bunch – a lot like the rabbits that escaped from their hutches years ago and took over my Granny’s garden.

As we gathered for our recent reunion, Dad informed us that the old barn would soon be demolished because it was considered unsafe. My three brothers and I decided to salvage some of the wood and make picture frames that each family could take home as a reunion memento.

What is ingrained in our nature that sends us back home again like salmon swimming upstream? What deep human need do we fulfill by dragging our spouse and children to some long forgotten place so that they can listen to stories of old family dramas and moments of fraternal joy? What compels us to seek out our roots? Are we individuals, or do we simply exist as a part of something bigger?

The barn gave us a wary eye as we approached with tools for removing boards. Afraid of falling through the floor, we gingerly snuck into the hay loft and looked for wood that could still be used – wood that, although weathered, still had integrity. We found a few floorboards not too warped or worn. We pulled a few boards from around the corncrib. The planks groaned and fretted as we pried out the nails and extracted the selected boards.

We have long since outgrown my parent’s house, and much to my mother’s dismay, we all stayed at a local hotel. She still wanted to feed us all, but we compromised on meals. She hired a cook to prepare food from the farm, and we all chipped in to pay his fee. Our compromise allowed my mother to fill her emotional need to feed us, and allowed us to visit more instead of preparing the next meal, or cleaning up after the last one.

As we plopped the boards onto the table saw and began ripping them to a standard width, my mind turned to the hours I had spent in the barn milking our cow, stacking hay, and shelling corn in an old hand-cranked sheller. My brother and I joked that if we got the right boards, the frames would carry the smell of the barn’s history right into the living room – kind of a “scratch-and-sniff” frame.

Picture time is always the most chaotic at family reunion. Imagine taming this multilegged monster long enough to get a picture of it – with a smile on its face. Invariably parents find themselves yelling for some wayward child that has decided that the zip line installed a few yards away looks more interesting. Without fail at least one well-dressed toddler will have a complete meltdown. Miraculously, we somehow manage to document our existence for posterity one more time. This year the old barn was prominently fixed in the background.

Although aged and worn, the old barn wood proved to be hard and unyielding. The miter saw complained a bit each time I asked it to cut through a board. The wood still maintained an iron-like integrity. Its twisted shape, old knotholes, and pitted saw marks gave each frame a unique look and personality. It was as if the barn, knowing its fate, had imparted some of its spirit to the frames and could speak to the beholder from the great beyond for old barns.

We ate until we were popping at the seams, and while the kids played at various activities organized by my sister, we sat and told more stories, caught up on news, bragged about embellished accomplishments, mourned the passing of loved ones, and complained about the government. New bonds were formed. Old bonds were strengthened. Like the tough old barn wood, we spoke of the marks life had left on us, yet we also had imparted a bit of our spirit into the frame of life.

We ended with fireworks. The old barn watched as the sky flashed a phosphorous red, white, and blue. It seemed to smile upon us as we sat and watched the crescendo. The old tired timbers let out a sigh with the explosion of the last mortar. The old barn has served well, and through its work, it has left a legacy. The grain of its wood will frame a large picture of a vibrant living organization called family.