"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Barn stories--6 days 'til Christmas

"Stories of life," 5 x 7 watercolor card
Anytime you see a barn, no matter the size, shape, version, there are stories. The more you know of rural life, the more stories you know of families, farms, lives, loves, worries, work, decay and death.
They always catch my attention, even when they're not the huge iconic upper Midwest structures central to agriculture, in many ways the most important buildings on the farms.
Long ago, I was on a paint crew that spent the summers painting farm buildings in Iowa, annual tasks because of the winter weather. You didn't see many neglected or abandoned farms then.
In Oklahoma, and elsewhere, as rural populations have declined, you see more and more derelict barns, and more and more replaced with sterile metal buildings that lack the individuality, character, and memories of their living predecessors.
I know, there's a fanciful side to those images, just as I've always had of the Christmas story of the manger. As a kid, I always thought it was a stable, essentially a small barn. I could imagine a cold starry night, the warmth of hay and livestock, ripe with the odor of life.
I've learned that a manger could have been just a rack or trough for fodder, a feeder used to hold food for animals. 
For the record, the word comes from the French "manger" ("to eat"), from Latin "mandere" ("to chew"). That perhaps implies inside a barn or stable, but they could also be next to or perhaps in farmhouses, where poorer rural people shared quarters with their livestock. That's not far-fetched. Have you been to Maine where you'll see barns attached to farmhouses, because of the brutal winters?
Luke: "So it came to pass that Jesus was born in Bethlehem; and since there was nowhere for them to stay in the town, the infant was laid in a manger...." 
It's not my favorite Christmas carol, but the carol "Away in a Manger,'' added to my youthful images of this season:
"Away in a manger
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Lay down His sweet head
"The stars in the sky
Look down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay"
But no matter, fanciful or not, it seems deep down accurate a story of poor people resorting to bringing forth life, in a place redolent and ripe with the odors, the sights, the sounds, the touch of lives, adding to the stories of barns forever after.

Think for a minute about the memories Mary and Joseph had ever time they saw such a barn. And the stories they told their first child, and those thereafter...one that has lasted centuries. 
Thus a fanciful Christmas card.

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