A photo of the old red barn, taken during the summer of 1995. It held up well over the years.
The Old Red Barn
By Richard Mabey Jr.
The old Mabey Homestead stood upon a two-acre land site. The back acre, which was the northern most portion of the lot, was known as “Earl’s Meadow.” It was so named because this was the acre where upon my great uncle, Earl Mabey, had planed to build a home when he came home from the First World War. Sadly, Great Uncle Earl was killed in battle.
In late June of 1972, I finished my first year of college. I was 18 years old. I also had been working part-time in the frozen food department of a grocery store at the time, while attending college. In early July, I took a one-week vacation from the grocery store job. My dad also took a one-week vacation at the same time. Our plan was to build a barn in the northern most section of Earl’s Meadow. I am proud to say that we succeeded.
We built the barn doors with two by fours. We built the sides of the barn with plank boards that were about two inches thick and were about six inches wide. We built the framing of the barn with two by fours. We used black tar paper for the roof.
At the time, I so welcomed the opportunity to build this barn with my dad. We built the entire barn without the use of any power tools at all. We cut all the boards with a hand saw. We used two old wooden saw horses to cut the wood on. It was a lot of hard work. But in many ways, I was so glad to get out of the stuffy classrooms, the pretentious aura that circumvented around the college, and to do something constructive with my dad.
My father did not have a lot of formal education. He did attend Drew University, where he took a lot of courses on religion in order to become a Lay Leader in the United Methodist Church. Also, Dad took a lot of courses on youth training in order to fulfill his requirements to be a fully trained Scoutmaster. In many ways, my dad was one of the wisest men that I have ever known.
He taught me to measure twice before picking up the saw. He knew a lot about how to build the proper support for a structure, even if it was just a backyard barn. He taught me not to take the easy way out, to take the time to do things right. For all he taught me, I loved him very much.
During the week that we built this barn, Dad and I would get up with the sun. We would eat our breakfast at the kitchen table; a bowl of cereal, a glass of orange juice and a cup of tea. We would then get right to work.
I remember that my mom would bring out a welcomed pitcher of lemonade in the late morning. It was well appreciated, working in the heat of a New Jersey summer. Then at about half past twelve, we would go in and have lunch. Then, go right back to work. We would stay right at it till supper time, then close up shop for the day.
In one full week, Dad and I built a barn. We painted it too. I was so glad to have that time to work with Dad. There was so much on my mind. Things were going sour in my relationship with my beloved girlfriend, Penny. Also, I was tired of spending so much in the big freezer in the grocery store. It was beginning to affect my health. I was thinking seriously of looking for another job. Also, I began doubting if I had the stuff to be a writer.
Dad had a powerfully positive outlook on life. He had such a “can do” attitude. He would patiently listen to me rattle on about how things were going for me with Penny. Or, I would complain that I felt I got a bum deal from one of my professors on one of the term papers that I had written. Or, I would complain about having to have to spend so much time in the icy walk-in freezer at my job, especially when I had to do weekly inventory.
After listening to me ramble and ramble, Dad would look me in the eye and ask me, “what do you think?” And, then I would ramble on some more, while Dad measured a two by four.
I remember that we had an old rowboat, there by the place where we built the barn. It was right underneath the old apple tree. Dad would say, “let’s take a break.” Then we would sit down on the overturned old rowboat, grab an apple off the tree. We would look out to the peaceful quality of Earl’s Meadow as we chomped down our apples.
Today, living in this crazy new millennium, I often think how great it would be to just have one more day to spend building a barn with my dad. The barn we built may not have been perfect. But in my eyes, it was the best little barn on planet earth!