I don't know what I'm looking for in the old barn. One corner is a bicycle graveyard, so international with its Olmo and Fuji road bikes from the late 80's, so heartbreaking to see cannibalized children's first two-wheelers, Batman stickers and training wheels, still half-hanging on, as if a father could freeze frame that Christmas Eve he spent assembling his son's first bike, or a sparkling pink Barbie 16-inch-wheeler with glitter-seat, a daughter's name Sarah in gold, faded handlebar streamers in pink and purple. This is a place of worship, a time machine from war to peace to life to war again.
I enter it only with my ten-year-old grandson, who does not question my choice of a slightly chipped KRAFT-BLUE Homer Laughlin 1930's creamer, nor my fascination with a rusty 525M Perfection Kerosene heater, or a book in German, copyright 1933, inscribed "Dir liebe Rosa, Ostern 1942, Tante Lena". I also enter it with my son-in-law, whose parents found each other somewhere in Canada after harrowing escapes from Hitler's brainwashing. In order to take the kerosene heater for my rust garden, I politely turn down the offer of a stainless steel bedpan cleaner which still works, but take parts of the cow-milking machine with the half promise I will care for it. Mostly, I go to this barn of memories alone.
All of this is symbolic, on some level. I learned how to milk cows using this device from my son-in-law's father. I learned how to shoulder cows at 17, in my patched and metal-studded bell bottomed blue jeans, my yellow shirt with a large star on the front, bra-less, and wearing construction worker boots that eventually smelled to high German heaven. One requirement of living and working there was that I attend church, which at the time was unheated and everything was said, read, and sung in German. I was there when my son-in-law was not baptized, but dedicated to the Lord. Little did any of us know what time would bring, as he screamed in his mother's arms.
Coming from a Roman Catholic background, I was accustomed to church attendance not making much sense, although I can still recite most prayers and congregational responses in Latin. And oddly, it was I who insisted my father be buried holding his altar boy prayer book, so Latin-tattered and small in his large, dead hands. In his mathematician's mind, Latin made sense, as did Gaelic from his parents, and Japanese from his World War II counter-intelligence training.
Today I will go back to the barn again, as a grandmother, my ten-year-old accomplice off for a hockey weekend, my daughter and her husband with him. My sons will accompany me and I will sneak off to the barn alone, bringing back not only relics from my past but carefully chosen items from the accumulation of unwanted memories, boxes of rust, carefully sorted and saved because not that long ago so much was lost. So much was lost.