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The barn’s role on our farm

The barn played an important role in the life and adventures of our family farm when I was a child in the 1930s and 1940s.  

Its primary purpose, of course, was to provide shelter for our two mules, two milk cows and two calves. The mules were housed in separate stables at night. During the growing and harvesting seasons, the cows were milked in a 10-foot-wide, open-ended hallway, and the calves were penned in a stable after nursing.  

The barn also provided three cribs and a loft for hay, corn and cotton byproduct storage and a west wing used for storage of a two-mule wagon as well as farm supplies and mule-pulled equipment. 

A hand-operated corn sheller occupied a reserved space just outside of the barn’s entrance. Shucking and shelling a basketful of corn for our 300 laying hens was a daily chore for my brothers and me.  

One of our first tasks was to empty a basketful of shucks from the day before on the barn lot. It was made difficult by the presence of a 6-foot rat snake in the crib.  

As soon as two of us would lift the basket, we could tell by its weight if the snake was inside. That being the case, we’d have to watch as the snake was dumped on the ground and slithered its way back inside. Our orders were to leave the snake alone and let it get back to its job of killing and eating rats.  

The barn also provided us boys and our playmates with hours of coldweather fun, chasing each other in the maze of tunnels we dug through the hayloft. When the “catch me” game got boring, we’d switch to a “corn cob battle” and keep it up until someone got smashed in the head with a wet corncob.  

Our mother didn’t hesitate to call “game over when she was confronted by a complainer with the imprint of a corncob on the side of his face.  

Much to our displeasure, my brothers and I could expect to be called on to muck out the mule stables in cold winter weather and spread the stinky manure over a field that grew cotton the year before. We couldn’t question the value of using the manure as a growth booster for the next year’s corn crop, but we certainly felt the cost to us in terms of sore muscles and frostbitten toes and fingers.