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Ole Yurho reflects on the barn

From his easy chair inside the old farmhouse, Ole Yurho listened to the wild geese honking their way back north overhead. It was spring again, and he heard them, and he thought of many things.

His age, he thought about that a lot, because it seemed to be the blame for most of the other things he had on his mind. He ran fingers through straight white hair that seemed to be the only healthy part of his body, now that he was coming up on his 81st birthday.

He thought of all the springs when, at this time of the year, he would have been getting the grain drill ready, checking the corn planter, watching soil temperature. But those fields that needed those things were all rented out now to a young neighbor.

He thought about his father, dead and gone now more than 20 years, and of how adept he had been with horses, and of how inept he had been with that first 10-20 steel-wheeled McCormick-Dering tractor. Ole smiled, and remembered his father's discomfiture at having to get his help to disentangle the tractor and harrow from the fence at the end of the field. "I just kept hollering 'Whoa!'" he had said, "but it wouldn't listen." The self-effacing smile on his dad's face had said, "Just wait, someday you'll be an old fart, too."

His dad's barn, well, his barn now, true, popped into his mind, and he looked out the living room window just to see it again. He felt the same calm it brought each time he looked at it, even after all these years. It would always be his dad's barn, even though he himself had milked cows in it for more than 40 years. What to do with that barn occupied more thinking time than anything else. Even with his eyes closed, he saw the numbers "1929" painted high on the gable end. They were proud numbers. He himself had been 12 the summer his dad and his grandpa, along with the best carpenters around, had put it up.

Ole remembered the hustle and bustle in the barnyard as everyone had tackled the countless jobs that had to be done to build it. He saw again his grandpa's effortless swings of a 10-pound sledgehammer as he broke rocks for the foundation, rocks that he and his dad had stoneboated in from the 40 north of the house, out of the big rock pile out there.

He saw his dad and grandpa as they took turns at the end of a bucksaw, cutting rafters, something they jokingly said he was "too wet behind the ears to do."

And he smelled the fresh, pungent pitchy aroma of the white pine rafters as the carpenters formed them into huge ribs that seemed to arch clear to the sky. "Higher than any of the neighbor's barns," grandpa had said.

He remembered enviously standing down on the ground as everyone but him nailed cedar shingles to the roof, something he had tried, but they split under his young eager hands.

Then they were milking cows in the new barn, the first time, all three of them. Three Yurhos, too pleased to even speak. "This'll all be yours someday," both of them had said to him. He had thought his shirt buttons would burst.

He opened his eyes, and saw this month's Social Security check lying on the table beside him. He looked out the window once again and saw the roof of dad's barn, saw the faded shingles, and the patched spots where shingles had gone missing, and the places where there were now no shingles at all.

He wondered about the wisdom of using up his small savings to reroof the barn, which, to be honest, no one wanted, because its size and style were impractical these days. He thought about his two sons, who were successful in their careers, and of how it might have been different, had they wanted to farm.

His wife Hilda entered the room. "You're thinking about that darned old barn again, aren't you?" She slowly stooped to neaten the magazines on his table, and then left the room.

He leaned back his head once again, closed his eyes. What a wonderful barn that had been, in its day. The talk of the neighborhood. Those three Yurhos, the neighbors had said. Yours someday, grandpa had said. Whoa three times ... Dad had said.

Overhead, on springtime wings, the geese called to each other.