Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Old Barn ... New Barn
One night in the summer before 7th grade, my mother sent me to pick up my two sisters at the barn that was about a half mile from our house. You had to walk through an old vacant estate to get there, and she didn't want them walking back through that area alone. My sisters rode horses at this barn, and hung out with their friends there. I complained about the task but then set at it, and showed up at the barn. And there, to my amazement, were a bevy of cute 13 and 14 year old girls - not one guy in sight, except ancient Mr. T, who managed the place. All the girls were in jeans, and all smelled slightly of horse manure, but they were all cuties. Like puppies or kittens ... all cute in their own way. I walked home with my sisters, but then had to tell my buddies in the neighborhood of this discovery of mine.
"How many are there?" "There must be 15 or 20 of them. Really. All cute."
The next day, we all trooped down to the barn to pick up the girls. And pick them up we did. Within weeks we had paired off, my guy friends and my sisters' girl friends, and some were going steady, and the more forward of the group were having make-out sessions up in the hayloft. There were barn parties that fall and winter, including one at a cabin in the woods, and many of us smoked our first cigarettes there. Not a good thing in hindsight, but we were starting to experience the grown up activities.
A year or so after that first encounter, the girls all moved their horses to the New Barn - at the Strawbridge Estate on Mill Road in Radnor. The boys were still hanging out there during that summer. We watched the girls ride more than ride ourselves, but sometimes we would go on trail rides with them, or they would chase us around in the fields on horseback, or we would rile up the cows in the adjoining field, or hang out in other places on the estate while the girls rode. Sometimes we'd hang out in the tack room and shoot the breeze. Occasionally they would get us to muck stalls with them, or move hay bales, or do some of the other work required at the barn. The Strawbridge mansion was vacant then, but we found an open window on the first floor, and so we would go inside, play hide and seek, explore each room, and on at least one occasion we ordered pizza for delivery, and then pretended we were Main Line Blue Bloods when the pizza man came: "Daddy, the pizza man is here" in what passed for a Main Line accent.
After that summer, I think the "boys going to the barn" phase finally ended. The girls continued to ride; some still do. However, while none of the "steadies" lasted that long (and I still have the ID bracelet that I gave to my steady then), those friendships endure. My sisters still stay in touch with the "Barn Girls", and at our annual Turkey Bowl gathering, many of the original group from 7th grade still gather.
Today, I went out out for a run at lunch, in the neighborhood across the street from my office. It's a residential development, and I usually don't go there, but I wanted to change it up today. House after house, a long rolling hill, curved around, I saw a creek running through an open space area behind the homes, and then came to an intersection ... and stopped in my tracks. There on the far hillside, through the trees, was the Strawbridge Mansion. Not a surprise to me - I knew it was still there ... but now I was getting the view from what used to be the fields where we used to hang out. I remembered that when you left the paddock, you crossed over a bridge and a little creek, and the path to the field hugged the hillside along the creek, which flowed down into a larger creek in the meadow. I could see the small creek now, and could imagine the path along it, with the Mansion and the barn in the foreground. It was the only location in the whole run where I could actually see what I used to see here. The little guest house that sat below the mansion, where the boys would hang out and smoke, was gone. The rusty iron fencing - gone. The creek disappeared into a culvert under the road and re-emerged in the backyard of the local MacMansion. It still flowed down and into what was the meadow where the ring was (see photo)... but the ring was gone. The meadow gone. Horses gone. Girls gone. The world of 1968 gone. Except in my head, where all of these memories were suddenly unleashed by the proximity to place. It was a nice visit back to 1968, brought about by the winter view of the mansion visible through the trees. When summer comes, that view disappears. I really hadn't seen that view since 1968.
As I ran back to the office, this rhyme popped into my head:
Curiosity killed the cat.
Some day it may kill me.
But till it does I'll look around
And see what I can see.
It sounds like something by Ogden Nash. Not sure if it's his or mine. But it perfectly described what I was feeling on my run and the spontaneous visit to 1968.
So what's good with the world: sisters ... who have friends who are Babes. Memories that can be stored up for so long, and suddenly unleashed by a sight, or a smell or a song. Breaking up the routine and being rewarded with the unexpected.