The Barn Raising
So in short order, we were ready to give the Ogilvies a barn-raising.
I wasn’t sure just what it would entail, but the first requirement seemed to be an early arrival. Horses and carts started converging on the Ogilvie place before the sun was even up. Lee was in charge of a building crew and I was impressed by the way the men of the neighboring farms deferred to him. His broken and misshapen body wouldn’t have gotten him much respect where I was raised, but here it seemed everyone knew him well enough to know he was strong and had brains.
While Lee worked with the Ogilvie foreman to organize building crews, I was directed to put my horse up and help the other women mind the babies, cook food and keep pitchers full of water for the children to take to thirsty workers. It wasn’t my line of work at all, but I let the Ogilvie women give me orders for awhile and tried not to be impatient. But finally I got a free moment and approached our horse trainer Erica, who had retrieved a wayward toddler and seemed as annoyed to be stuck with the women as I was.
“Is this really the only thing women are allowed to do at a barn-raising?” I asked. “We’re stronger and smarter than this.”
Erica looked around. “It’s true there’s enough baby-lovers here that they don’t need us.”
“You don’t like babies, either?”
She shook her head. “I’ve got nothing against them. It’s just I’d rather spend my time with people who can talk some sense.”
“And with kids, that doesn’t happen until they’re at least six, and usually later,” I agreed. “So maybe we can keep the older children occupied. Let’s give them riding lessons or something.”
“The older children are helping with the barn, remember?”
I did remember. The boys were in charge of delivering tools, and the girls were in charge of handing around pitchers of water. “Well there must be something else we can do.”
Erica got a devilish gleam in her eye. “Stay right here. I’ve got an idea.”
She went away and I busied myself trying to keep one of the Ogilivie children from putting bugs in his mouth. What a weird kid. After a bit, Erica returned with a baby on her hip and an innocent look in her eyes. I was immediately suspicious.
“What did you do?”
A serious-looking matron from the small Sunny Hill farm was approaching, so Erica didn’t answer my real question and instead jerked her chin at the baby. “I thought you’d like to meet Wendy. She’s the daughter of the Ogilvie foreman.” Erica lowered her voice. “But there’s a rumor that she’s really Sven’s daughter. He spent a lot of time over here last year while the foreman was going back and forth to Louisville to visit a sick brother.”
I looked at the child and didn’t see much resemblance to Sven or anyone else. But that hardly mattered, because a sudden whinnying and commotion from the paddock caught my attention. Erica moved fast, shoving the baby at the Sunny Hill woman with a curt, “Gotta check the horses!” Then she grabbed me by the sleeve and we took off running.
When we got to the paddock, the only problem was a few small boys running around, waving their arms at the horses. “Stop that,” I yelled. “That’s dangerous.”
“Oh, it’s okay,” Erica said. “I told them to do it. They’ve known these horses all their life.”
It still didn’t sound like good sense to me, but Erica climbed the fence and sat on the top rail with a pleased air about her. The boys had stopped running now and she called them over and told them to go back to the barn and help out. Once we were alone, I climbed up onto the fence and sat beside her.
“So how long before anyone misses us?”
“Oh,” she sighed, “We can milk this for at least an hour. Maybe even two.”
This sounded good to me, and we watched the horses in silence, with the sound of saws, hammers and the occasional shout of a worker in the distance. The horses had calmed down and were now cropping the grass as if nothing had happened.
“I hear you traveled a long way to get here,” Erica said after awhile.
“Nearly five months. I’m not sure how many miles. I got delayed a lot.”
“And you did it all by yourself?”
“More or less. Sometimes I had a traveling companion, but there wasn’t any one person I was with the whole time. So yes, a lot of the journey was alone.”
“You weren’t scared?”
“Yeah,” I said. “It was real scary out there sometimes. But no more scary than anything else I’ve been through. Things are bad where I’m from.”
“Things were bad here for awhile, too.” Erica looked away.
“So what made things get better? This place seems like heaven to me.”
“Things improved when we quit fighting each other and quit looking for someone to save us. Once we agreed to focus on helping ourselves and not worry about what anyone else was doing, the rest was easy. Now we just make sure we pay our taxes to the state and federal government, and keep out the troublemakers. Everything else we need, we do for ourselves.”
“I wish my people could do that back home,” I said. “But until Texas quits trying to annex us and Mexico quits trying to invade, I don’t think my country will have any peace.”
“You should’ve stayed with the United States. They could’ve sent an army to help.”
I disagreed, but thought it best not to recite all the horrible things the feds had done to us. Besides, I needed to quit thinking about the past. The current United States government is different than the one of my childhood. Maybe if my country hadn’t seceded, things really would be better now. Who am I to say?
Erica and I sat out in the sunshine and talked horses for a couple hours, and when we figured we couldn’t stay away any longer without arousing suspicion, we returned to the other women and helped set out lunch for the workers.
We spent the afternoon watching the barn go up and keeping the smallest children out of trouble. It was amazing to see a barn get built so quickly. It was a small one, of a very simple design, but I was still impressed to see the posts go into the ground, then the reinforcing beams and joints, and finally the roof. There were several crews, and each had a specific job to do. They all seemed to know their business, and by early evening, there was enough of a barn for the Ogilvie hands to finish on their own over the course of the next week.
And there was enough for us to dance in.
By now we had set out great basins of water with towels and rags nearby for the men to wash up. We had a lovely picnic supper in the grass, and after we women had cleaned the dishes, a band started tuning up. Lanterns were lit, since of course there was no electricity in the barn. And amid jokes about how we were going to burn the barn down again, we filed inside and the band struck up some lively tunes on fiddle and banjo that put me in mind of the festival I attended with Charles in Missouri. I was about to become nostalgic, when there was a tap on my arm.
“Want to dance?”
Lee had cleaned himself up pretty well, for having spent all day working in the sun. I let him take me out on the floor with the others. He wasn’t graceful, but he was confident and energetic. He spun me to the country songs until I was half-dizzy, and then we switched partners with different couples until I found myself dancing with Sven. For such a tall, muscular man, he was light on his feet and had the grace of a born dancer. I caught the envious glances of some of the other women as he spun me around the floor. I had never been the sort of girl who got to dance with the most sought-after man in the room, and I’m afraid it sort of turned my head. I was disappointed when Lee claimed me again, and Sven moved off with Erica.
After about an hour, the band stopped and another took its place. This one played a different sort of music that I had never heard before. It was rich and vibrant, with a driving beat that seemed to beg for something more than being tamely held in a man’s arms or twirled around the floor. This was music that the whole body had to dance to, and the younger people were doing just that. I got a shot of corn whiskey for courage, and joined in, dancing with an abandon I hadn’t felt since childhood. It was more intoxicating than the whiskey, and by the third song, I was breathless and giddy, and the world had become bright, shiny, and infinitely wonderful.
And then the tempo slowed. A man belted out a song so rich and full of emotion that when Lee took me in his arms for a slow dance, I could’ve cried for the nostalgia of old places and old times. It was that kind of song. It made you feel like you were in love, even if you weren’t. It put me in mind of Robert, although I think Lee thought I was thinking of him, because when the song was over, he led me outside for a walk in the moonlight.
I was glad for the fresh air and the heady smell of jasmine, but soon realized my mistake. Lee held my hand and talked about nothing in particular at first, but he gradually turned the conversation to himself, his future in the community, and how he wanted someone to share it all with.
I pulled my hand out of his. “That’s all very nice,” I said. “But if you’re making me an offer, please don’t. I only just got here.”
“It’s been two months.”
“Like I said.”
He fell silent, and since we were near the paddock we went over to the fence and watched the horses for awhile with the moonlight shining down and the strains of that strange “jazz” music in the distance.
“You know, I didn’t mean—“
“I know. It’s okay.”
He moved a little closer. “How about just a kiss, then?”
I shook my head. Maybe if he had gone on and done it, I wouldn’t have minded, but there’s something unappealing about being asked. And besides, as much as I like Lee, I don’t like him for a boyfriend. I started walking back to the barn and the music. Lee didn’t follow.
I danced a little more that evening, since men from some of the other farms asked and I didn’t want to appear unfriendly and have people think I didn’t want to be part of the community. And I even got to dance with Sven again, although I couldn’t take much pleasure in it.
But I was glad when the dancing was finally over and we could hitch the wagons, saddle the horses and go back to North Wind. I didn’t see Lee in our group, and I rubbed Flecha down, feeling bad about the whole evening.
After I checked that the horses in my barn were bedded down properly, the doors bolted and the windows open to catch the evening breezes, I went to my room. On my pillow was a spray of night-blooming jasmine, smelling so sweet that the scent filled the room.
Yes, I cried. I’m such a girl sometimes.