Weeds: ‘Barn of Dreams’ for farm kids
Everybody I know grew up on a dairy farm. Okay, it just seems that way. Most of my farm kid buddies spent time with cows. We dairy kids had a certain subtle scent when we came to school after morning chores: “Eau de bovine.” Hundreds of farms in Brown County sold milk back then.
At some point, things from our youth become treasured as memories. Time in the barn with my dad was when we had the best conversations. I feel warm inside remembering the toasty barn on frigid winter nights. I wasn’t fond of cleaning calf pens, but less pleasant things get shoved to the bottom of the memory chest. Memories sort themselves as we age.
I was talking with Terry Helget about this phenomenon of dairy kids embracing recollections of our shared childhood. We were comparing remembrances of barns and calves and haying.
That is when I had the Greatest Idea Ever. I’m pretty sure a lightbulb went on over my head. I told Terry we’re going to open a Retirement Dairy Farm where aging baby boomers can come and relive their youth.
We’ll have 20 cows in stanchions with calf pens across the way. There’ll be an AC Ochs silo on one end, feed room on the other, a hay mow up above. Our customers’ hearts will skip a beat when they step inside and are suddenly young again.
I told Terry this is going to be big, really big. He was skeptical. That’ll change once I’ve shown him how this is going to make us a fortune.
Former dairy kids will be able to buy a season pass; they’ll be part of the Cow Club. Others can purchase a week-long pass for Cow Camp. We’ll leave spots open for those who want to come for the day. They’ll be able to buy a Cow Card at the driveway ticket booth.
Grown men and women will tear up when they lean on a cow for the first time in 50 years. A big ol’ Holstein is a wonderful creature, docile and huge, sort of a cross between a kitten and a brontosaurus. Throwing a strap over Bessy and attaching the milking machine, even with the risk of a tail-slap, is an extraordinary tactile experience.
Besides the bovines, other critters will be part of the experience. A farm dog will love you unconditionally and want nothing more than to follow you around. (You know, like your wife did before you got married.) The dog will be named Shep. My dad called every dog we ever had Shep, and that’s good enough for me. Barn cats will be near, ready for spilt milk and a back scratch.
There will be a barn radio up on a shelf behind the cows. Our Retirement Dairy Farm will have Dad-Reenactors who will tune it to old-time music on KNUJ. Our clients can try tuning in hipper fare like Steve Canon or rock ‘n roll on WDGY. “Dad” will come back and switch it back to KNUJ. He’ll tell you how the cows don’t like that modern stuff.
In season, though, “Dad” will let you listen to Herb Carneal and Halsey Hall announcing Twins games. Cows like baseball.
Of course, some things won’t be exactly as they were in those long-ago days. The gutter cleaner will actually work. We all spent hours fixing those with our dads, learning useful cuss words. We don’t need to duplicate that experience. Our gutter cleaner will work, and when the stanchions are scraped, fresh straw put down, and barn lime spread on the cement, our visitors will remember the absolute perfection that is a clean barn. This is just before a cow disrupts that with some type of excretion.
After a time, our guests will wander up to the haymow. With haybales to climb and build forts, they will instantly be a boy or girl again. The great thing about a haymow was the layer of hay that covered the floor, making it seem impossible to get hurt. There’ll be a basketball hoop up at one end where they can pretend to be George Mikan, Bill Russell, or Larry Bird, depending on whether they were a Fifties, Sixties, or Seventies kid.
Calf feeding will bring a cascade of senses rushing back. After getting warm water from the milk room, you’ll stir in the milk replacer with your hand, turning the powder chunks into a soupy mix. Then you let the calf suck your hand clean. This was the most exciting physical sensation you knew. (Remember, you’re a kid; this is long before sex.)
A cup that came in a bag of milk replacer will be hanging on top of the hydrant out in the yard where our clients can get a drink. The cup will be crusted in green gook. That is disgusting, but now scientists understand that was how our generation inoculated ourselves.
In the winter, there will be a line waiting to climb the silo chute to throw down silage. Being inside a warm, fermenting silo on a cold day is about as close as you’ll ever come to be in the womb. Silage itself is a wonderful goulash that looks and smells almost good enough to eat. Then you get to pitch this corn-hash to appreciative cows with large tongues.
In the summer, for an additional fee, patrons will be able to make hay. Men can choose to cut hay with a Farmall H or a John Deere B. They will drive out to the field shirtless because a tan is cool. The smell of fresh cut alfalfa will open the memory vault like a dam burst open. After they get sunburned, our Mom-Reenactor will rub Noxzema on their back while scolding them for being stupid.
When it comes time to bale, we’ll stack the bales three, four, or five high depending on our client’s oomph-ability. Around 3 o’clock, our “Mom” will bring out a lunch of bologna sandwiches on Wonder bread. Later, “Dad” will let you have a Hauenstein from a case of returnable bottles, even though you are a 13-year old kid on our farm.
I was explaining to Terry how great this is going to be. I recalled the scene in the movie Field of Dreams where Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones) tells Ray that he has to keep the ballfield. “People will come, Ray. They’ll turn up your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it. For it is money they have and peace they lack. It’ll be as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.”
Barn of Dreams, Terry! We are going to make so much money.