A Night at the Barn
Out by the field, just into the trees bare with early winter, stood a barn that no one owned. The grayness of the old, warped timbers spoke of its age, and the gravel on the road which fronted it seemed rarely used. If buildings had the magical ability of speech, it would tell of better days when it was the central focus of the small community, livestock to be auctioned tromping the amber hay within. Voices and bidding reached the wooden rafters in the peak, and a small fortune exchanged hands. But these days had faded into the abyss of obscurity, and it stood as a forgotten monument to what some would call better days.
It was deep in the middle of Texas where the woods had yet to yield to the drier badlands, and the ground was still fecund with nutrition. Businesses had sprung up here and there, but time had diminished them, and the locality was dwarfed by the larger cities of greater Dallas/Fort Worth farther north and San Antonio to the south. The Guadalupe River wound green and swiftly below rocky bluffs and among trees that bent to its water, and in the summer it was alive with the young at heart, bobbing down on tubes to wherever it went. It was a place of gaiety and warmth.
But the barn stood disconsolate within the trees, until one day a young farmer strode down the tan of the gravel road which bypassed it. His Brogans crunched the small pebbles underfoot, and the trees were barren of birds. The lowing of distant cattle and cars passing on a distant highway were the only sounds besides his walking that reached his ears. He passed into the trees and suddenly the lonely barn loomed before him. He paused and studied it briefly.
Why should it be a relic of the past? He thought. Sure, it had lost its importance when the cattle trade had grown and moved north to Fort Worth, but that was no reason for it to be so lonely anymore. His idea blossomed, and he ruminated upon it in his mind. Now the question was did he have the time? He passed beneath the tall doors which was the entrance into its dimly lit interior. He could all but hear the ghosts of those it had seen, and for a reason he could not ascertain, he felt glad. He studied the shafts of sunlight which pierced the rotting roof, saw the motes of dust dancing within them, and soon departed to his home.
Over the next few weeks, he gathered his closest friends who had the time to aid him, and soon the old barn was once again alive with toiling humanity. A new roof replaced the one which had admitted the sunlight, and the old stalls were removed and a new floor of blond wood sprung into existence. Electrical lights were suspended from the peak beam of the ceiling to a height of ten feet above the floor, and the darkness became light. He and those who were helping with this genesis sat on the last day of its creation, drinking Lone Star beer, and toasting to no one.
“You have the first plans for this thing?” one asked the man who had originally had the brainstorm.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said. He was a man of perhaps of middle standing about town. His name was Brad, and his father had been a cattleman of some wealth in the region, hence his money. “I’m gone have some flyers printed up for a barn dance coming up soon. I made arrangements for a square dance band coning up soon, and a few other things like refreshments.”
“Think we’ll make money?” a second man asked.
“Maybe so, maybe not,” Brad answered, “but that wasn’t the point of the restoration. Was just simply a shame that this thing would waste away in the woods here. This town needs to remember it.”
“You’d like to see it become a town showplace again?”
“Something like that.” Brad nodded, chewing on a stray length of straw he had found. His black Stetson bobbed up and down with his nodding head. “Money’s no big deal.”
Then came the night of the opening. Many turned out, for flyers had been passed throughout the town and stapled to the telephone poles which lined the streets. The music was loud and bold, fiddles bowed, and figures whirled. Punch and golden beer flowed freely, and a good time was enjoyed by all. What’s more, it was the beginning of the Christmas season, and hearts were giddy.
The old barn had been restored to life, and Brad’s shoulders were sore from all of the hearty slaps he had endured. It was no longer an abandoned thing that was in solitude in the woods. If it would have been alive, it would have rejoiced in what occurred within it now. The shuffling cattle had been replaced with the arabesques of dancing joy and the long whines of the stringed instruments. It was a new experience, but it was welcomed and revered. Brad had furthered plans for Christmas Eve, and they came to fruition with the success of the first dance.
Christmas Eve came bright and clear with the brilliance of a setting sun. Solstice stars winked into the purpling sky overhead, and Brad and his friends lit the lanterns on the front of the barn. The slim crescent of a noon skirted the waning light of the horizon. The wooden floor had been strewn with a thick layer of straw, and long benches had been fashioned for the visitors. It filled soon, those in attendance holding cups of red punch, and then the lights dimmed. A long line of children strode in, wearing robes of purest white, festooned with bows of crimson velvet. They arrayed themselves in the manner of a choir, and their mouths opened with Christmas hymns and the sweet sounds filled the old barn. They were accompanied by a pianist in the narrow loft which remained, and all memories of a grim world fled. They did this for perhaps an hour, before they filtered out to the sides of the barn, amidst much applause.
They were replaced by other children in robes of many colors, and a rude manger of clay was placed on the floor. Around this the children formed a semi-circle, some kneeing as others stood. A single spot of blue shown down upon the manger where rested an ersatz infant of fiberglass. Then came a Nativity play, stuttered and unsure in its delivery but awash with the sincerity of youth. The crowd cooed its appreciation. The miracle of the barn’s rebirth was crowned by what it harbored.
Then finally there came a rotund figure in burgundy and white through the back door, shouldering a great sack. To each child in the play and those in the choir he gave a gift from within the sack. “Place this beneath your tree for the morning,” he told each child, then disappeared though the door from whence he came and into the dark mystery of the great night.
“Nice touch,” one of Brad’s friends whispered to him as the crowd applauded, coming to its feet.
“No one I know,” he returned, “and I hardly arranged it, but it was good. Maybe it was Henry from the tack store.” The old barn, itself a miracle, was silent as always, but would for years to come would host an event on Christmas Eve. But only for the first one did the Santa figure come, never to return.