“Want my advice?”
I stared at him.
“Tear it down.”
Another builder heard from.
They did not understand.
We kept our old alive.
From the dirt floors with
cow stalls to the upper
levels where hay was stacked,
the Barn had served.
Now with cows and hay gone,
it sagged sadly;
a home for fox, bats and birds.
The wind whipped through the spaces
where siding provided past protection.
Over the years rain, snow, ice and
fierce storms had rotted out beams and posts.
The old tin roof kept it breathing.
Chipped slats under the roof had turned
multicolored from years of weather and neglect.
Barn posts stood on earth,
no footings, no foundation.
A few lucky ones sat on rock.
Where the Barn was built into the hillside,
earth was winning the battle, pushing the Barn,
crumbling a side shored up with stone.
The Barn curved like an old lady,
stooped but surviving.
I could walk around inside by keeping to the edges,
displaying the dexterity of a cat.
Along came Al Dell, a builder.
“You know it could fall down any minute.”
“If it does, walk away and I’ll pay you for what you did.”
Of medium height and powerfully built,
Al was cheerful and serious.
He was like the Old Barn,
but much younger.
He was truthful and honest.
Could he succeed on what
others would not attempt?
“We won’t be able to get it straight.”
“I don’t want it straight, just structurally sound.”
“I gotta pick out the best corner and
take that to the top to stabilize it.”
“Whatever you think is best.”
The deal was made, time and materials.
His crew would be his sons, nephews and friends.
Al rented a backhoe and he and his son,
dug a trench around the barn.
Later the cement foundation was set.
Over two years the Barn slowly took shape.
No plans, no architectural renderings.
A decision was made to insulate the Barn,
all done from the outside of the posts and beams;
siding for inside walls, insulation and then outside siding.
Inside every post and beam showed its ancient splendor.
A friend donated one post which
ascended from bottom to tin roof.
Another friend gave two posts which
ran from main room to roof.
Marvelous posts, over two hundred years old,
lying in old barns, now beaming posts,
resurrected, intoxicated by their happiness,
they had been restored to use – to life.
Two large double windows were installed,
separated by post and beam,
overlooking the pond,
they were the Barn’s eyes and
my eyes would see through them.
Plywood was to replace the old tin roof.
“Well, what color do you want it painted?”
Al was exasperated by Barbara’s rejection of
all colors offered.
“I like the color of the old tin roof.”
“Why don’t you leave it?”
“I didn’t know that was an option.”
And so the old roof was hammered down,
patched where needed, R-board placed on top,
a new tin roof over all.
Lighting sconces highlighted the worn slats
painted to a beautiful patina by many
years of heat and frost, rain and ice.
Below, where cows once stood, the new cement
floor was faux painted a bright brick.
It housed a bath and kitchen whose
refrigerator would hold cows’ milk, now in bottles.
An antique wood stove supplied heat.
It was finished and the Barn rejoiced.
My family, Al and his young crew,
relatives, friends and neighbors came to
the party to honor the restoration and
rebirth of the Barn.
Breath was captured in my chest.
The old, beaten dairy Barn had become
my majestic castle.
Writer Robert G. Willner lives in Chatham, New York. He has been an attorney and president of a Columbia County drama company called StageWorks. He is the author of "If not now -- when? A MEMOIR IN POEM," published in 2008. Stay tuned for Part Two to see how the Old Barn was transformed into a magnificent new structure.