I Was Raised in a Barn: the Front Forty

When my parents bought the Barn some land came with it: 180 acres, of which about sixty were pasture and the rest around the house and on the mountainside.  The property straddled the road: on one side was the mountain, the Barn and its outbuildings*, the garden, and the small orchard of apple and pear trees (and one lone cherry tree that never had cherries on it, ever, because the birds got there first).  On the other side of the road , extending maybe a quarter mile, was the meadow, gently rolling down to the Housatonic River. Some years my parents rented out the meadow to a farmer who would plant corn or some other crop there, but mostly it was just the meadow, home to porcupines, woodchucks, garter snakes, and other country livestock.  The hills were great for rolling down–if you didn’t mind getting scratched to bits on the way.  Mown straw is like individual little bits of razor.

When we were kids and the apples in the orchard were ripe, Dad would take us on a “fruit tasting,” going from tree to tree, sampling the apples and trying to decide which was the best.  We didn’t make much use of the apples beyond that: Dad would occasionally give a wine maker permission to collect them for apple wine or apple champagne, but otherwise, most of the apples fell and rotted and fermented.  This could be the occasion for some merriment: if one was up early enough, one could occasionally see deer which had come down the mountain, eaten to repletion of fermented apples, and were staggering back up the hill again, drunk off their antlers.  On one occasion I saw two deer leaning on each other as they made their way back home; I probably didn’t hear them singing “How dry I am,” but it seemed like a possibility.

And then there were the years when we had a war in the meadow.  I had friends who were members of the Society for Creative Anachronism who, once they saw the Barn, knew that an event had to take place there.  There was negotiation: my parents were unclear as to the desirability of having a war in the meadow.  But my SCA friends were old hands at this, and really, my parents were party animals.  A party where someone else would do all the arranging?  With a roast ox?  Bring it on.  And thus the War of the Roses was brought to Sheffield.

Above, you see my father in the outfit I made for him.  (The animal with him is Nellie Gorgeous di Alpo–that’s her SCA name–and Dad made her outfit.).  Mom, who was not in great health, made a couple of forays out to be “huzzahed” at, and otherwise stayed inside watching from the windows.  She had quite a view.  If memory serves, there were something like 200 people camped out in the meadow, with tents and pavillions, all in various sorts of medieval dress.  The Barony of Concordia of the Snows was the host organization, and on Sunday afternoon the assembled warriors had a massive Battle of Bosworth Field, Lancastrians against York.  I don’t remember who won, but I do remember that afterward (it was a very hot day, especially if you were wearing armor and whacking at opponents with rattan swords) a great number of the combatants ran down to the river, stripped, and jumped in.

Up to that point I was right with them; swimming sounded like a good idea.  But not in the Housatonic, which was notoriously polluted (it has since improved mightily).  Still, the sight of dozens of naked and half naked people in the river was arresting.  After the swimming was done, there was a Baronial Court session, at which my father and mother were given grants of arms; then the festivities wound down, the ox-pit was filled in, and the tents stowed.

For my father, the best part of the weekend was on Saturday.  Dad was a volunteer EMT–Emergency Medical Technician–for the town ambulance squad.  So on Saturday night, when someone came to me and told me that a woman who was camped way down the meadow near the river was having terrible abdominal pain, I knew who to go to.  Ran up the hill, summoned Dad, who plopped the green flasher on his car, packed up his kit, and drove down the meadow to the tent.  There, he assessed the case, and called the squad and told them he was bringing in a “hot appy”–that is, a very unhappy appendix.  He packed the woman off to the hospital, where the force of modern medicine was brought to bear, and all ended up happy.  Especially Dad.

The War of the Roses was repeated for several years–I think they got up to five–before it got too large for our little venue, and it moved elsewhere.  But every year Dad got to put on his Tudor-suit and play lord of the manor, a role that suited him very well.

*we had a woodshed.  It was a ramshackle structure that kept threatening to collapse, and to my knowledge no one ever went into it to prise out the rotten wood for burning.  For years the phrase “sent to the woodshed” made no sense to me, because really, why would you send someone to an outbuilding that was about to fall over?



About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


I Was Raised in a Barn: the Front Forty — 3 Comments

  1. AMazing! Not just the costume or the story, although those are amazing, too – but I envy you the fact that you could share some of your own interests with your father and have him really enjoy himself at the same time. This will never happen in my family.

  2. My father had a great heart and great enthusiasm for enjoying things. Especially parties. He would have loved to have been a real Lord of the Manor; how could he not love being one in the short term?