When my oldest daughter returns to college, her warm upstairs bedroom becomes my office. From her window, I have the perfect view of what my next door neighbor – formerly Director of Maine Preservation – would call typical Maine vernacular architecture of the 19th century. The square box of the earliest part of the house extends back to the kitchen/bedroom, which leads to what is now our family room which connects to… the barn.
Having a barn is a very Maine thing. I suspect many of my fellow MCW bloggers live in homes with barns. Our barns are white or weathered. (Sometimes somebody From Away moves in down the road and they paint their barn red. Puh-leeze. Where do you think you are? Iowa?) Our barns are attached. (So you don’t have to walk out in the snow and cold to feed the animals/fetch the wood/use the privy.) Our barns are roofed in asphalt shingles or galvanized tin or sometimes that new-fangled colored stuff. What is that? Pressed plastic? Secretly, we envy Vermonters their colorful slate barn roofs, but we pretend it would be too much work to keep up.
What do we do with our barns? To start with, if you like to hold on to things (and Mainers are the ultimate practitioners of the art of keeping junk around in case it proves useful someday) a barn is the best place to do it. Still have that camping gear from 1963? Three lawn mowers that don’t run, but maybe they just need a little work? Good cardboard boxes? Ugly furniture? Your neighbors will never know you could audition for a spot on Hoarders if you keep the doors shut.
Barns make great play areas. When my children were little, my husband hung a swing on one of the rafters right in the center aisle. Perfect for both rainy days and avoiding sunburn. When they got older, the kids made a club house in one of the large box stables, furnished with some of the aforementioned ugly furniture. (What? I was right to save it! The kids used it!) There’s even a boy’s hang-out up in one of the lofts, complete with a couple ratty old bean bag chairs and a stack of girly magazines they snuck out of the transfer station. Isn’t it nice to see there’s still room for old-fashioned fun in the internet age?
My next door neighbor has that popular accessory, a barn cat, who won’t let anyone near her but who will accept regular food and water in a heated bowl. Emma, as she’s called, dropped several litters in their stables until she was Tender-Trapped and taken to the vets for shots and fixing. Now she contributes rodent removal, rather than kittens, to the neighborhood. Emma’s hunting is very useful for our neighbors who use their barn as a, well, barn, storing hay and oats and horses and tack. Where do they keep their junk with animals taking up all the space? Maybe the attic?
There’s a couple in our town who are Very Fancy, and who have an annual party in their barn. They have Turkish rugs over the wide, uneven board floors, chandeliers hanging from the rafters, and good quality antiques forming little rooms in what were once bedding stalls. It’s very impressive and vaguely disturbing, in that it makes you wonder, Should I be doing this with my barn? Do I really need to keep all those busted lawn chairs? It’s been eight years and I still haven’t repaired them. And maybe I could recycle the old tires? But next Saturday, when your brother-in-law asks you to store the 250-pound almost-new chest of Snap-on tools he got through Uncle Henry’s, you’ll realize you like your barn just the way it is. Close the doors, though, so the neighbors don’t have to see.