My good friend, John Bradley, who was a University of Tennessee no-till specialist when I first met him at a Milan, Tenn., no-till field day many years ago—while I was still plying this trade in the Southeast—now spends more time on his home farm in Collierville, Tenn.
We’re Facebook friends, and a day or so ago I was taken by a photo he posted of an old barn on the farm that’s been in his family for more than 100 years. It’s one of those barns you see too rarely these days, weathered boards, tin roof, timbers that, even at 100 years, likely will outlast me.
In several back-and-forth comments on Facebook, I mentioned to John that his barn reminded me of similar structures on my grandfather’s place in Anderson County, S.C. He asked me to post a picture. I don’t have one, sadly, but I did tell John about the painting of my grandfather’s cow barn that hangs on my wall here in Texas. I also told him that the painting has an interesting story behind it but a tale a bit too long to type out with my thumbs on the iPhone I was using at the time.
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So here’s the story.
In the early 1970s, I was fresh out of college, newly married and working as a reporter for a weekly newspaper in Williamston, S.C. One fall Saturday my wife and I drove to Anderson, the county seat, to walk through an arts festival in the park. As we made the tour, just looking, a painting of an old barn caught my eye. Something about it looked familiar. I looked closer and realized it was my grandfather’s cow barn. Pop had been gone for about seven or eight years by then so the barn, even in the painting, showed a bit of neglect. I don’t imagine a cow had been milked there for 15 years.
I checked the price tag—$100. Even then, that was a fair price for an original piece of art. BUT, my wife was a school teacher, and reporters for weekly newspapers learned a lot about the trade but financial considerations were limited. I wanted the painting, but we couldn’t afford it. We walked away.
A week or so later I mentioned the painting to my aunt Trudy, who still lived with my grandmother and another aunt on the farm. She knew the artist and was around much of the time while she was painting. (Trudy was a fairly accomplished artist herself.) We thought we might be able to make a deal.
We didn’t. Either the day of the arts festival or sometime later, the artist sold the painting. I was disappointed but resigned.
So imagine my surprise Christmas morning when I opened a rectangular, flat gift from my wife that I suspected was a family portrait. It was the barn. She and my aunt had tracked the painting down, and I think also pooled some resources, and bought it for me.
It’s now in a different frame but has hung on my wall in Williamston, S.C., Atlanta and Athens, Ga., Kansas City, Kan., and Denton, Texas. Every time I look at it I remember my grandparents straddling short stools to milk two jersey cows. I remember the sweet smell of the ground feed, the ping of fresh milk hitting the bottom of a metal bucket and how much trouble folks went to get this painting for me.
I love old barns.