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APHA

Memory Machines

By Billy Smith

What goes on in and around a barn—unlike Vegas—usually gets told widely and generously embellished with the passing of time. Barns are memory machines. Social media has made the telling even more vivid, like a frigid dunk in a pasture watering tank. Barns are sacrosanctstorytellers.

Most barn tales include critters, and I can’t imagine life without them. The presence of beastiesfrom time-to-time is God’s way of reminding us that we harbor only minimal control over nature.Nature’s critters are wiser than we think, craftier than we’d like, possessing something that I’d like to think is an indomitable sense of humor often at our expense. Like the friend of a friend who tossed a feed bag onto an upper barn shelf only to disturb a slumbering raccoon that believed the only recompense was to leap on the assaulter’s face, mugging him as if he knew cameras were rolling. A set of precautionary rabies shots later, the barn encounter became one of folklore rather than tragedy.

Crucially, my son once demonstrated his marksmanship in an outbuilding by plugging a field mouse nestled in the barn’s corner with his sidekick Red Ryder BB gun. So proud of this feat, he felt compelled to snatched the mouse by the tail, running delightfully toward my wife, Ms. Mindy, shouting, “I got him in the eye.” Ms. Mindy did not fully appreciate this particular approach of eyeball-to-missing-eyeball communication.

In that very same barn, my son witnessed why pigs and horses aren’t generally pals. Mind you, I’ve seen pigs herded by horseback drovers and others who hunt swine from horseback—I wouldn’t recommend either one, but it happens. You’re always safe to assume that pigs and horses were meant a wide berth. I remember the eye-bugging expression of one of our old gelding’s when an overweight Duroc bolted from a nearby sty and into the gelding’s stall,indulging his curiosity over what mysteries were held by our crimson barn. He quickly found a nice corner of the stall, causing the equine occupant to bound upward in a lyrical crow hop, ignoring the fact that he had an easy escape. The pig wasn’t budging. Panic ensued.

Barns can, however, be the backdrop of great discovery. In my case, the many times my brother and I relied on Pointer the Cat, a semi-wild, overly fed calico that could focus so intently on hiding vermin that we learned to track his crazed stare to the nearest critter, usually on the floor of the hay barn. Hence he earned the reputation of the only feline Pointer in the known world. Pointer’s reward was whatever was at the end of our well-placed .144 pellet—a symbiotic relation of the strangest order. It made the hay barn a legendary hunting post and left the Pointer so overweight that pointing and eating became pretty much his only skills.

Then there was the call from a neighbor, excitedly informing me that another neighbor’s newborn longhorn calf had gotten out of the pasture and couldn’t get back to his mother. I trekked next door, pinned the calf to the wall of the barn, grabbed him by the ear and scoopedhim up, then walked to the pasture gate with the full intention of reintroducing the youngling to his nervous momma. Along the way, the baby calf decided to relieve himself at my expense, which I halfway expected—if you dare pick up a calf, that risk always looms. As I felt the warmth of his offering drench the front of my jeans, it was then that I regretted the day I laughed at my father when he entered the front door similarly coated after a stray calf he had draped across his saddle had left him ample essence. Time has a way of forcing reflection.

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