I wrote the following account last winter after our friend Roe Russell's funeral. I introduced him and his family in the last story I posted. Keep reading to the end. You'll find a surprise.
When I was a young girl, I thought it would be wonderful to live on a farm. Some of my cousins had farms and I truly envied them. I used to dream of marrying a farmer one day, living the idyllic life surrounded by rolling green hills and horses frolicking in the pasture. I didn't marry a farmer, however. I married a preacher boy. And rather than living in a big white farmhouse surrounded by freshly plowed fields, I was living in a little white parsonage with hardly a yard.
Perhaps that's why I was so drawn to the Russell's barn. It's a good thing I was, because there was little to do in the tiny community of North Rome. When company came we would naturally start figuring what we could do for recreation. Back then we didn't have personal computers or video games. Videocassette recorders hadn't even been invented and DVD players were still in the somewhat distant future. We had only two or three television stations that came in, even with an antenna on the roof. It didn't take us long, however, to figure out that we had two very special things going for us: We had one of the best creeks in Northeast Pennsylvania and we had Roe Russell's barn.
We had lots of company in those early years of our marriage. I remember our first Easter with Larry's entire family. Even the married ones showed up with their families, and they all stayed in our little house that had two bedrooms and one bathroom. I recently walked through that same parsonage. It's now twice the size with two or three baths, several bedrooms and a family room. How easy it would have been to kick our feet up in such a spacious house, even with my in-laws there.
I don't know that our guests were nearly as excited about the barn as we were. But whenever we would load up the cars and head over, everyone seemed eager to go. Looking back, I'm not sure what the attraction was. After all, it was just a barn. Granted, Roe had one of the bigger milking operations in the county, and his cows were some of the best. There was a wheel hanging on the barn wall charting when the heifers would go into heat, thus determining when they should be inseminated and with which bull, courtesy of Sire Power, the company that provided the services. I was absolutely fascinated with this whole idea of cows being artificially bred with "stuff" that cost hundreds of dollars a shot. The better the bull, the bigger his name, and the more you paid for his services. And if all went well, you got a better calf, better herd, better production or something like that. I was so fascinated with this chart that whenever we hauled our out-of-towners over for a visit, the wheel was always a part of the grand tour. Better yet, if Mary was nearby feeding the calves, she would patiently explain again and again how the whole thing worked.
The barn is gone now. The day came when Roe could no longer keep the farm going and the equipment and livestock were auctioned off. It was several years later when we returned for a visit and saw that the barn had been taken down. The landscape seemed off, like a picture that hangs not quite center. It leaves you with an unsettled feeling, like something's not quite right.
Mary and I were talking about the barn right after Roe's funeral. Funny how funerals bring up the past, things you haven't thought of in a very long time. We reminisced and laughed as we recounted all the many visitors who had filed through that place. And then she told me something I had never known. "You know," she said. "We had a famous actor come to our barn." I looked at her curiously. "Bill Steiner brought him but I can't remember his name." Bill Steiner was a seasoned cinematographer who lived on the hill above Roe and Mary with his wife Shirley. He knew a lot of people in show business. Mary continued. "He was in that movie 'Rain Man.'" My mind began to turn. Was it possible that Bill Steiner had brought Dustin Hoffman to see Roe's barn? I said his name, not quite believing. "Yes, that's him," she responded. "Roe was pretty excited."
The story simply reminded me that Roe's barn was just as extraordinary as I had always believed it to be. If Bill found it special enough to bring around an Oscar-winning actor, then truly it must have been a magical place all along. How else could it have called us back time and again? And though it no longer stands, all physical evidence gone, I see it still, forever etched in my memory.