Bill walked so darn fast to the barn I could barely keep up to him. His head bent to one side, he walked with one arm straight, the other swinging in marching time to his stiff legs.
I suspect that one arm straight was the one he carried the pail with, pails of chop for cows and pigs, and later bread crust and milk for the barn cats. He carried liver and other innards to the house before he could afford to pay someone else to do the butchering.
Skip could keep up with Bill. Skip was a locomotive of a dog, a miniature 4 legged machine of a canine that chugged along at Bill’s heels no matter where he was headed to, or coming from. He could keep up to Bill.
The barn was a safe place, a quiet place. It was surprisingly warm in there. When it was biting thirty below and blowing ice crystals just south of horizontal, you could shoulder that big wooden door on rollers a bit to the right just enough to squeeze inside. It was a refuge.
The milk cow used to stand in that stall there. Blackie was her name. For 20 some years she generated milk, butter, and chores. Chores that needed to be done twice a day like two-click clockwork. Blackie needed to be fed hay and chop in the winter, her stall mucked out regularly. And in the summer she needed to be let out to pasture, and in the evening invariably chased out of the slough back to the barn to be relieved of her bulging, sometimes dragging bag of buttermilk. She generated heat too, she was part of the reason the barn was warm.
In the early days the barn had pigs in it, at least in part of it. The big sow would deliver a stall full of squealing pink. I remember seeing an exhausted sow on her side with a dozen tiny pink snouts twitching at her belly, humming num num num num num in unison. If you looked close you could see rivulets of rich pig milk running along their tiny mouths.
In the later years Bill collected geriatric horses. It was like evangelical work, saving horses at the auction from certain destruction, of glue and dog food. These old horses retired at Bill’s, some in the barn, some in the pasture, but all of them in the comfortable care of Bill. They even died well. They were put to rest in proper horse graves made with a green John Deere front-end loader and covered up with good Saskatchewan soil. He could not bear the vicious inevitable of coyotes and crows. So he buried his happy geriatric horses when they came to the end of their comfortable retirement.
In the front corner of the barn was a little girl’s swing made of jute rope and well worn plank, a place where a little girl could swing while her Dad milked the cow, fed the pigs and spread a bit of straw for bedding, and hay for feed. It was across from the box stall where new at-risk calves were hand fed from a galvanized pail, a place where he could find a bale of hay, light a cigarette and smile quietly.
When the extended family would inundate the quiet farmhouse with happy kids and rambunctious Grandkids for an Easter or Thanksgiving celebration with mounds of turkey, or fine roast pork, after dinner Bill would go to the barn. He loved the house full of kids, and grand kids, but he needed the quiet of the barn, and you could find him by shouldering that wooden door right, and letting your eyes adjust to the twilight of the barn. There he was comfortably seated on a bale of hay, with his crooked smile in the quiet.
I can barely keep up to Bill’s daughter. She walks with one arm straight, and one arm swinging, like she is holding an imaginary pail of chop. She’s a grandma herself now.
We both long for that quiet bale.