Mary, she with deep roots in Highland County, married Jim Spahr of Greene County, whose lineage also traces back a long way. And Mary quickly pointed out that they have an old barn – with family history – that’s falling apart. And another one. And another one. So, with fast planning and a few phone calls, Mary arranged a barn tour.
Last Sunday I left Cincinnati in darkness and by the time I exited I-71 onto Route 72, I began to see the barns. A red one, then a white one, then a gray one. Corn fields. Soybeans. To make me feel welcome, a full moon showed its face on my left as the orange sun began its ascent over pastures on my right. It was good to be in Ohio farmland.
Since eight o’clock was pretty early, Mary's husband Jim showed me their own barn which was surrounded by Jacob sheep, an ancient breed from the U.K., making me miss my Scottish traveling. Then we saw another old family barn, tracing back to the mid-1800s, and finally Jim’s brother’s barn. Now it was Mary’s turn.
With her son Eric at the wheel, I sat in the front seat and Mary sat in the rear. Eric, a quiet 32-year-old mechanical engineer, drove the family SUV with ease. Sort of. Mary, nervous in her perch in the back seat - where she doesn't often sit - quickly pointed out stop signs and other traffic concerns. Eric, a patient soul, took her advice as gracefully as anyone I’ve seen. After all, his driving advisor picked up her official “back seat driver’s license” when she was 15 at the Highland County fair many years ago. She took her responsibilities seriously. She’s the first person I’ve met with such an official license. Maybe she’ll find it and show it to me the next time I visit. Anyway, as far as entertainment goes, the car ride was pretty entertaining.
I also fielded a lot of Mary’s questions, which wasn’t difficult since I had heard most of them before. We talked about the barns, family histories, the 4-H, a fundraiser, about the date, about an auctioneer. But, Mary wondered, what if he’s booked on that date? I suggested that this task would be easy for the loquacious Mary, a dead ringer for Reba McEntire – in looks and accent.
But she declined. Too shy, she said. Mary’s wheels turned quickly.
Another highlight of the tour was meeting Kathyrn Kirn, who cheerfully acknowledged that she was 71. Maybe. In the 1950s Kathryrn graduated from the East Coast’s Swarthmore College, a small ivy-league type liberal arts institution where money talks – its endowment is nearly two billion, and she’s had quite a life, some of which we heard that day. When we arrived, we found her painting her second barn with a hired hand since she wanted it to look good for my photos. I explained it didn’t matter: I like barns with that rustic edge – missing boards, a sagging roof, worn out siding. She rattled off her family history so rapidly that I couldn’t keep track of which grandfather did what, which relative lived where, etc. So I asked her to email it to me. I expected I’d hear from her in a few weeks. Wrong. After coming here from her home in Columbus – probably an hour’s drive – and painting the barn all day on a warm afternoon and talking with a potential renter, she drove home, wrote a few paragraphs pertinent to her two barns, and sent it to me at two-thirty the next morning. Energy unlimited!
By five o’clock we had seen ten barns, taken photos, and picked up barn wood from some of them. It was a good start, but only a start; I’ll return for more barns, including some historic ones in Yellow Springs, an area that Mary said is the only liberal place in the county. I’m happy that Mary spotted my error. Greene County barns, here we come!