Wednesday, August 17, 2016

When The Barn Is Empty

One by one and pen by pen, barns are emptying out across America.

Auctioneers tap the gavel one last time at county fairs and the pot rolls away. First-time 4-Hers are consoled by parents and seasoned showmen still find it particularly tough to say goodbye. Perhaps because ten years passes much quickly than they ever imagined it could.

State fairgrounds clear out overnight as worn out show crews make their way across the next state line just before midnight. Junior shows or open shows, they chase a white line down the interstate to the next one.

Everyone, no matter the stock or the state, returns home to a similar scenario:

An empty barn.

When the barn is empty the pens will be cleaned out one last time. The last time, and consequently, the best time. For whatever reason, this is the time that no one – not even the family griper – complains about cleaning out pens. It’s not such a bad job when the barn is empty.

When the barn is empty the showbox gets emptied, too. Curled up ribbons, Capri Sun  straws, discarded show numbers, half empty aerosol cans, bottles and sprays, stale Combos and loose change: Each thing finds it’s place and the show box is shut up and moved to the corner when the barn is empty. It will be opened only once between now and next season – as the middle child searches high and low for his belt. 

When the barn is empty the alarm clock doesn’t go off nearly as early. Show kids feel rested…
….for a day. After that, they feel strangely unfulfilled when remembering that the barn is empty.

When the barn is empty show moms realize that they are finally basking in the light at the end of the tunnel. And for some reason, that light isn’t nearly as bright as it seemed two weeks ago when she wished so badly that the barn was empty.

When the barn is empty the aisle gets swept with no concern for chips or straw cluttering the way. Every piece will be just where it should be – for once. And sadly it will stay that way, no hooves dragging pieces in every direction, when the barn is empty.

When the barn is empty, it’s only then that someone can appreciate routine. Starting your day with great purpose at a certain time, ending your day doing what you enjoy at the same place every evening. There is a certain comfort in routine. A comfort you may not recognize until the barn is empty.

When the barn is empty favorite songs on the radio are replaced by talking teachers, blowers are traded in for bookbags and registration papers are replaced by syllabi. School starts in no time once the barn is empty. 

When the barn is empty dads have a hard time finding a modified to-do list for the kids. No rinsing. No feeding. No Leading. He’ll tell them to organize that and clean up this - and they will. He’ll reiterate that “it better stay that way!” - and it will. He’ll say, “don’t leave that wash rack water running all day!” – and they won’t. Daily instruction is different when the barn is empty.

When the barn is empty, the forks and shovels will finally be put exactly where they’re supposed to go. And they’ll stay there. The halters will be cleaned up, hung up and left to do nothing but collect cobwebs. And they’ll stay exactly as they should when the barn is empty.

When the barn is empty the fans are switched off, unplugged and slowly the blades cycle one….last………..time…………………dragging out goodbye.

When the barn is empty the lights are flipped off, with nothing but the sun lighting a path from one corner to the other. There is a strange loneliness in the darkness when the barn is empty.

When the barn is empty and the door slides shut one last time, it’s sealed like a time capsule commemorating competition, disappointment, passion, and pride; high hopes for the next great one, memories of the one that just passed through. If you do it right, you’ll have more than just ribbons and trophies to carry on that memory long after the barn is empty.

Rest easy and rest while you can. Because the thing about an empty barn - no matter what feeling moves through the hollow pens - is that it doesn't last long. 


  1. This is amazing, thank you so much!

  2. Fine poetry and so true! Memories.

  3. This is so true to so many.
    Thank you for putting our thoughts into words.

  4. Beautiful pictures of real 4-H and the agricultural core so critical to our country!

  5. This is incredible writing! You caused me to think about all the many years I put into projects I worked on. The feelings and activities totally relate even though they had nothing to do with animals or 4-H. Thank you for this beautiful piece and I hope you keep writing!!!