By Tim Hayes
One week every summer, from age 9 to maybe 12 or 13, I stayed at my aunt and uncle’s house about four miles away as the crow flies – but at least four thousand light-years away when it came to the dynamics of that house versus mine.
I grew up with two younger sisters. That meant I got to enjoy the privileges of both being the oldest kid, and the only male. Pretty sweet, all in all. No rough-housing, very little competition, a nice peaceful existence. But at my aunt and uncle’s house, hoo boy, the makeup of the family couldn’t have been more different.
They had four sons, my cousins, and all within one or two years older or younger than me, so the testosterone there flowed freely and forcefully, 24 hours a day. And one week each year, I got pushed head-first into those flooding whitewaters and had to try and stay afloat. No safety vest, no life preserver, no water-wings even. Just jump right in, and good luck.
Growing up, I thought of those guys as my brothers. Still do. The times spent together as kids – playing pickup basketball in their driveway, walking to their municipal park for baseball games, shooting pool in their basement gameroom, even just shooting the breeze at night before going to sleep, all with a buzzy undercurrent of “I-dare-you” one-upsmanship – helped force me out of my protective shell and toughened up a place where I could better hold my own against other guys at school and elsewhere.
The challenges that came in living a week, around the clock, with four other young bucks, transformed into insights and skills that I still find myself using, all these years later.
As college, marriage, children, and careers took each of us down separate paths, in time we all returned to our hometown. Two of my cousins bought a tract of farmland, where they raised their families. Once a year, for more than a quarter-century now, they have hosted a family and friends reunion, complete with hayrides, food in abundance, even a Catholic Mass celebrated in the middle of an idyllic, sun-splashed field.
For years, the centerpiece of this daylong event had been the original barn on the property. Well-weathered wood provided the floor, walls, and slanted ceiling of this decades-old structure, big enough to host scores of guests and most of the over-laden buffet. Spending time with family members you love, especially when the time you have to spend together gets more scarce and precious with each passing year, gave that creaky old barn a special essence. It became the conduit for protecting and cherishing family connections, passing on revered family stories, and welcoming new members of the family by birth or marriage.
Massive wooden beams provided the underpinning and structural integrity that kept the barn standing through most of a century’s worth of winter winds and summer storms. Eventually, though, the barn needed updating. The wood encasing the sturdy frame had reached a point where it had to be replaced. The barn had served its purpose nobly and reliably for a lifetime.
Yet was it worth the effort, materials, and investment to bring it up to snuff – particularly since the two families had since moved into homes far atop the hill at the peak of their property, and nowhere near the roadside location of the barn?
Over the past year, one of my cousins out on the farm took it upon himself to dismantle the original structure, salvage those immense, intractable, irreplaceable wooden beams, and use them once again as the sturdy framework of a new barn built near his hilltop home. He did such a marvelous job, that this beautiful addition has already been reserved for two family weddings, and will continue to offer a unique venue for family gatherings for years to come.
Recognizing the deep value of those original timber beams and putting them to use once more enabled the barn to live on, even in a new form and for a new purpose.
It reminds me of how those four cousins of mine, those four brothers, instilled the core values of confidence and courage that still come into play today for me.
Surviving amid raging rapids of testosterone, even having grown up in a house where estrogen had the upper hand? Yeah, I can swim in that pool. Thanks, guys.
Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes