I will always have childhood memories of the big, old, broken-down farm barn on our farm when I was a little girl. We had a big family; Daddy Clarence, Mom Pauline, and six children, or “kids,” as our parents referred to us. My brother, Ronnie, was the oldest, then me, Nancy, Kathie, Mike and Tommy. Two more kids, Ricky and Terri, were born after we moved to a different house, one without our big, wonderful barn. They missed great adventures in that old barn; adventures I will never forget.
Our barn, which sat at the base of Powder House Hill in Deer Lodge, Montana, was huge with a big hayloft, a storage room, a couple of animal stalls and an area above the storage room, which we called our clubhouse. The barn had lots of windows, a big door in the side and one in the hay loft – it was a wonderful place to play.
Some days our imaginations led us to the Big Top as we pretended we were in a circus. A pole set across one corner of the barn was the high wire, even though it was only a few feet off the ground. We carried an old tree branch as our balance pole. We imagined lions, elephants and other exotic animals in our circus. We were clowns, acrobats, animal trainers, animals, and, of course, aerialists. We played for hours, taking turns on the “high wire,” our favorite act. The next day, the circus was gone, and we were cowboys and Indians. We had lots of chicken feathers for our Indian headdresses, and sticks were used as knives and spears. Sticks were also used for rifles and pistols for the cowboys. It’s amazing how an old knotted tree branch can become whatever you want in your imagination.
Another favorite game was Tarzan of the Apes. Our rope, tied to the ceiling beam, was a jungle vine. We liked to swing down from the loft, pretending it was a tall tree and that we were escaping from wild jungle animals. We would give a blood-curdling scream, just like Tarzan and Jane, jump off the loft and swing to the floor below. The little ones pretended they were monkeys. The older siblings helped them swing on the vine, too. That simple rope kept us entertained for hours.
Later, we would go in the house, and I would fix a snack of saltines and peanut butter and jelly and a big pitcher of Kool-aid. There was never a crumb left. Then Mom would say, “Go outside and get the stink off,” and we’d head back out to the barn for another adventure.
Filled with hiding place, the barn was a great place to play hide-and-seek. Sometimes the hiding places were too good. We would get bored waiting for the person who was “It” to come and find us, so we would take a chance and sneak out and try to get back to base before we got caught. You did not want to hear, “One, two, three on Ardie.” Then you knew you had to be “It” the next time. We enjoyed playing Follow the Leader, too. We would go in one window and out the door, or under the ladder and on top of all the assorted boxes and other junk in the barn. Then it was up the ladder to the loft and down the rope to the floor. Then, we would climb out another window, run behind the barn and come in a different window. After that, we would fall into the hay to catch our breath, before we would choose a new leader and start all over again.
The thing Nancy and I liked best about the roof of the storage room was that it was so difficult to get into. We had to climb through the outside window in the back of the barn, then swing our foot over to a piece of wood on the wall. Then we would swing our hands and the other leg over and climb up onto our clubhouse.
Once in the clubhouse, the meeting was called to order. It was all very official. One of the major decisions we always had to make was what to do with the few pennies worth of dues we collected. Of course, it was always unanimous that the money would be spent on a movie or candy. You could buy quite an assortment of candy for little money in those days. Everyone got a good share. My favorites were the marshmallow ice cream cones. It makes my mouth water just to think about them. Other favorites were button candies you had to bite off of long strips of white paper, black licorice pipes, suckers, bubble gum and jawbreakers, just to name a few.
Many afternoons we played until it was too dark to see inside the barn, or until Mom called us in with a “Come and eat!” Mom always had a great supper waiting for us at the end of the day. We would have stew, chicken and dumplings, pot roast, fried rabbit, chicken (my favorite), or some other delicious meal. After we ate, Mom would put the older girls’ hair up in ringlets for the next day, and we would all go to bed tired and happy, to dream about the adventures we had shared and possibly to think up a new one for tomorrow.
Ardie Wisner remembers her mother looking forward to every new copy of Grit, and the family continues to use recipes from long-ago issues. Ardie now lives in Spokane Valley, Washington, with her husband, Frank. They have four children and five grandchildren.