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Joy’s Reflections: As we cleaned out the barn and had a sale, we watched memories walk out the door.

Joy McClain

August 4, 2023

3 Min Read
 A golden charm positioned next to a pencil and metal pin on a leather background
DAD’S TREASURES: The tiny golden 4-H charm in the middle, earned for achieving the 100-bushel corn club, says a lot about the era Joe Dougherty lived in on his beloved farm. Joy McClain

My freedom to rummage around the barn always felt limited. There were certain devices and spaces — like the welder, various saws and the cabinet that held livestock supplies — that we understood were not to be touched.

Scrap pieces of lumber were not so sacred. I wasn’t very good at driving nails, and I still am not, but I attempted making wobbly boxes and birdhouses. With the passing of my mother, after Dad passed a few years ago, we all felt the time and the all-clear had come.

At first, I felt a little naughty sorting through every dark corner. Then it turned into an archaeological dig. Certain things were old and fascinating. Certain others were just old.

We carefully doled out family heirloom tools, covered wagon wheels and antique milk cans. We opted for a sale over an auction and watched as pieces of the farm were loaded into the backs of pickups. I found myself saying, “Sorry, Dad, we can’t keep it all.” It seemed like a bit of his blood, sweat and tears were being disbursed.

I couldn’t part with some items. Like his carpenter pencil. I can still see his big hands marking lumber with it. The old Pioneer seed corn thermos stayed too. I ran his iced tea and cookies to the field with it. The familiar smell of oil and dust ushered me back to my little girl self. The basketball hoop looked a bit lonely. Dad taught me to shoot a layup there.

I’ve always appreciated his resourcefulness and creativity. As things emptied out, it was easier to see how he fashioned from scratch a type of storage system for every nut, bolt, chain, blade, paint can and doodad imaginable. Coffee cans and glass baby food jars were full of hardware. It was the epitome of making do and not letting any scrap go, because one day, you might need it.

What seemed like a million fishing poles were donated to our county’s 4-H fishing club. Those rods had witnessed beautiful views hanging over boats on Canadian lakes. A freezer went to help with the FFA ice sales at the fair.

My own livestock tack box with rope handles that Dad made was dragged out of the loft. A doll highchair that was a homemade Christmas gift was discovered wedged between scaffolding, old animal traps and produce signs. I have no idea why it was there, but I can still see the brown curls of my doll that used to sit in it.

People came to do their own rummaging. Old farm friends stopped by. Maybe they had need to see it all one more time. There was talk of “I remember” and “your dad did it this way and “that goes to that implement.”

Little by little, space was gained, and the memories remained. My beloved and I are excited to fill the nooks and crannies with our own nuts and bolts, offering our own blood, sweat and tears, and beginning our own memory-making years.

McClain writes from Greenwood, Ind.

About the Author(s)

Joy McClain

Joy McClain writes from Greenwood, Ind.

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