Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at at time.

Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at a time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Old tin barns and older memories shaped the Lone Star State, our nation

Once upon a time in Texas, you couldn’t drive anywhere without seeing barns built from corrugated tin. Texas has never been known for having picturesque red barns built in the Dutch revival style of architecture. Not many Texas farmers had that kind of money. Corrugated tin, however, was affordable back when these barns were built and there wasn’t much in the way of construction “code” to which they had to be built. The architecture was creative, but functional.

I remember corrugated tin barns from my childhood. You could see ‘em from the highways or the back roads all over Texas, and there was almost always a windmill standing next to it. My father and his father built one on their farm in Greenville when Daddy was in high school, so I remember not only what the barns looked like on the outside, but how they were built on the inside. I remember stock troughs and runs and feed storage. The floors were dirt and the barns smelled of sweet feed, hay, animal sweat, wormer, machine oil and manure. I remember that electricity was optional.

I remember cold mornings, sitting on the back of a Hereford bull as he ate. I remember the steam rising from the noses and mouths of the cattle and how the frost clung to their coats.

I remember hot summers and the bugs. There were lots of cicadas, June bugs, dragonflies, butterflies and just plain flies flying in and out of the barn.

Milkweed and sunflowers grew all around the barn for as long as the cows would let ‘em. Calves, lots of them, were born in that barn, as well as kittens. There was nothing sweeter than seeing the farm cat’s new litter of kittens crawling out of hiding for the first time and playing in that barn. It was an awesome place to be a child.

Texas isn’t like this anymore.

The Lone Star State has one of the fastest growing urban populations in the United States. Our rural areas are disappearing at a rapid clip. We are losing our agrarian identity.

Of the seven cousins born of that Casstevens family, only Amy, Jason and I remember the barn or the farm. Rachel might remember some; she was born while her parents lived there for a time, but I’m pretty sure her memories aren’t as clear as mine and Amy’s. I’m certain that there are at least two generations of Texans who have grown up minus the farm experience. For that, I’m very sad. The family farm and Texas are two things that should never exclude each other.

I shouldn’t romanticize the farm experience; it’s not romantic. It’s hard. It’s brutal. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

I remember when cows got sick and died. In my memories as a child, I remember my father on a tractor hauling a cow carcass out to be burned because the farm didn’t have equipment big enough to dig a hole for her. Burial was not an option anyway for the sake of health and safety. That’s not a pretty sight.

I remember finding calves that had been shot by someone hunting illegally on our property. I remember a cow that had a real hard time giving birth. The calf was stillborn and the cow died shortly afterward. And folks, there’s a reason you don’t name the baby pigs. With a large amount of livestock, a farmer has to worry a lot about disease. Rabies, worms, ticks, fleas, hornets, and snakes figure large in the picture. And then there are the predators. Coyotes, foxes, owls and hawks take their toll. Farming is hard work and it will kill you sooner than an ulcer developed by office politics and a sedentary lifestyle. As a hobby, it’s all-consuming; as a profession, it will leave you broke and exhausted.

And so, the tin barn continues to disappear from the Texas landscape. It is the way of things; the way of evolution, I suppose. Years ago, I had a non-Texan student in my mass communication class that I taught at an area institution of higher learning. The woman, oddly enough from a state known for its farming, made an insulting remark about “agricultural types” and how backward Texans were, so I rose to the occasion with my usual aplomb. I told her that without those “agricultural types,” there wouldn’t be food on her table of either the meat or vegetable variety. I asked her if she sincerely thought meat arrived in neat plastic-wrapped packages from the grocery store, or if she thought a cadre of elves not only dabbled in baking cookies but picking vegetables as well. I gave her a terse lecture about how farming shaped this nation and that Egypt was once the bread basket of the Roman Empire. Farming had even touched mass communication. The term “broadcast” synonymous with television and radio is a farming term for casting seed.

“Farmers have molded nations throughout the centuries, my dear, and don’t you forget it!” I finished, standing high on my soapbox. It was from a long line of farmers that her professor had come and I was not going to let her forget it. I don’t want you to forget it either.

Take a look around sometime as you drive our Texas highways. Look for an old tin barn. Look to see the remnants of a windmill next to it. Look for them and find them if you can. They’re going the way of our drive-in theaters, feed stores and, I’m sorry to say, our values.

We remember to thank Soldiers for their service and we should. We should also remember our American farmers, regardless of the state, and thank them too.

Remember that the next time you see an old tin barn.

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