I did not grow up on a farm; I just thought I did. Our first horse was General, a large and elderly Paint that would barely walk no matter how hard you kicked him. My legs did not get far down his sides, and kicking him with all I had was probably a mere annoyance to him. But we loved him. We had a barn. I remember when it was built. There was a lengthy debate as to whether to build a barn or put in a swimming pool. Mom won. A nurse and mother of four young children and a neighborhood full of lots more of them, her worse nightmare was the possibility of looking out one day to see a child floating face down in her pool.
So a barn it was. And it was a beauty. I loved the gambrel roof, and the hayloft. We spent hours up there building forts with the hay bales, carefully avoiding the massive bees and horse flies that shared the space with us.
Then there was Beatrice, the pretty Holstein that my eldest brother, David raised and showed at the Goshen Fair. One year she and he did so well they made it to the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield. That was a very big deal. He washed and groomed and fussed over her tail, and we were enormously excited and proud. We all went up to see him walk her around the ring, and I’m sure somewhere he still has the ribbons they won that day.
Out in a cage were a few pheasants, and we had a couple of pigs. Every so often Dad would bring home a baby goat or lamb that needed to be bottle-fed. I still remember how soft they were and how they smelled, and the way they would suck on my fingers. Once they were grown Dad would “take them back to the farm they had come from to be with their brothers and sisters.” Sure. It turns out that was a euphemism for taking them to be slaughtered. Discovering this later in life was much more disenchanting than finding out there was no Santa Claus.
And in the barn we had a stall just for the bunnies. They were my favorite. I would sit in the stall and let them climb all over me. First we had two, then six, then twelve, and….well, you know this story. I lost count. Somehow Dad managed to thin them out, and eventually as we got older, they were replaced by a pair of German Short-Haired Pointers he used to hunt pheasants and partridge.
We always had a family of guinea pigs, a cage of gerbils, a turtle or two, and some goldfish and when Vincent came along he added a new twist – Iguanas, then Boa Constrictors. I remember the night he announced his big green Iguana had gotten out. I worried for a while that he might show up in my bed, but after several days we kind of forgot about him.
Mom drew the line at caged birds. They were dirty, she said. End of conversation. What she really wanted was a monkey. Now it was Dad’s turn for veto power. Monkeys, he knew, carried strange diseases. This was a different kind of dirty. He knew a Veterinarian that worked on exotic animals who had contracted something undiagnosable, and had died. So, no monkey. Instead there was a cute stuffed animal monkey hanging from the light over the kitchen table for as long as I can remember.
All those animals? Doesn’t that constitute a farm? I thought so. Years later I described the “farm” I had grown up on to a real farmer and he set me straight. “Sounds like you grew up on a Game Farm,” he said. Maybe he was right. Either way it was a menagerie, a joyful, constantly changing menagerie.
But now I need to write the end of this story. About the greedy developer that bought the pretty red ranch style house and veterinary office and torn it all down to make way for a dozen condo units.
About how he left the cheerful red barn standing to use as a sales building, as in later years it had been renovated as a perfect starter home for my brother and his young family, then just the place for my sister, Holly to hide out and finish her dissertation. The hayloft made a great bedroom and bathroom, and a large living room. Downstairs was a lovely kitchen that looked out on to the vegetable garden, and there was room for tools and mowers to be stored in a two car garage. Large wooden floorboards, a crab apple tree in the yard, and a back deck with a charcoal grill. It housed many happy times.
But not any more. Because only two units were ever built. Overpriced, poorly designed, and looking ridiculous stranded in the middle of a construction site, a sales building was never needed. Weeds have overtaken it. The red paint has chipped, crumbled, and the windows are weeping.
Before they tore down the house they gave it to the fire department to play with, They started fires in the bedrooms, and played search and rescue, burning down a lifetime of memories one room at a time. I need to go do a photo shoot. I need to take the picture none of my siblings can bear to take. Of the idiocy of it all. Of the mindlessness of greed and her offspring, extract and plunder.
I need a visit to Northwest Connecticut, to the foothills of the Berkshires, to this shrine of stupidity*. I need to take a camera, and a strong stomach.
And I probably need to do soon, it before they burn that gambrel roof to the ground.
*Stupidity can easily be proved the supreme Social Evil. Three factors combine to establish it as such. First and foremost, the number of stupid people is legion. Secondly, most of the power in business, finance, diplomacy and politics is in the hands of more or less stupid individuals. Finally, high abilities are often linked with serious stupidity. Walter Pitkin