The Old Barn
Charlotte Johnson, a kind and loving mother of two, looked at the old barn and realized it would soon fall down. It was in a terrible state of repair. Its wooden foundation had long since rotted away, and the building now leaned unsteadily to one side. The boards, many of them sun-bleached, were loose and old. Several of them hung by only a single nail. Occasionally one of the dangling boards would mutter in protest, and then clatter noisily against its neighbors as it was set in motion by the wind. The barn was the only remaining building on what had once been a wealthy dairy farm in upstate Pickering.
That farm had originally consisted of more than a thousand acres, but now only a single acre of it remained. A neighbor had purchased the rest of the property long ago. He was a very close friend of Charlotte. Because he considered the barn a liability, he had never purchased it. No one else wanted it either, and several years after the owner died, the city foreclosed on it because of unpaid taxes. That was long ago, and the city had been trying to sell it ever since. She stepped off the gravel road and waded through the knee-deep weeds as she walked toward the crumbling building. She wanted a closer look at it.
It had a history few people knew about. She had lived in this area all her life, and had seen the old structure many times, but it meant nothing to her, that is, until yesterday. As she went inside, she found that most of the interior was still intact, although everything seemed extremely delicate. She looked around, wondering what it was like to be there in the past, thinking about life in general. She climbed to the hayloft and spent several minutes there. As she studied it, she realized that she must be careful where she stepped. It, too, was rotting away. The floor looked very unsafe.
Softly, she bent down and touched it with her hand. It was quiet. Only the whistling of the wind as it forced its way through the cracks in the rotting walls broke the eerie silence. She became frustrated that the barn would not tell her more, frowned, and went outside. As she walked around the building she stopped several times and laid her hand against it. She wished she could somehow communicate with it. If she could do that, she might learn all the secrets of its past. But she knew the barn could never speak to her, and for a moment she deeply regretted that. In sadness she shrugged off the feeling and walked on.
At the northwest corner of the building she stopped again. There she kicked at the loose and sandy earth. It moved freely under the impact of her boot, and as she pushed the soil away she uncovered a rusty piece of steel a few inches below the surface. She looked closely at it. It was the cover of a steel box. She smiled, spread the dirt back over it then laid her hands against the barn again and pressed her body close to it. Deep emotions flowed within her. Touching the barn made her feel close to the man who had buried the box she just uncovered, but she wasn”t close enough.
She could see him in her mind, but she could not touch him, nor could she hear him speak. That troubled her, so she turned away and walked back to the road. “What is the asking price for the property? ” she asked the police officer who waited there. “We”ve set a price of ten thousand dollars on it,” the police officer said. “That”s what we feel we have in it. That includes the back owed taxes and other miscellaneous costs that have accrued over the years. However, we will consider any offer you might wish to make. ” Charlotte wondered if she should offer less. Perhaps the city would even accept half that amount.
No, haggling over the price might take a great deal of time, she thought. She couldn”t risk delaying the transaction. She must have possession of the property immediately. “That”s all the money I have,” she told the police officer, “but I”ll write a check for that amount right now. When can I sign the papers? ” “They will be ready by ten o”clock tomorrow morning,” said the police officer. Charlotte wrote out the check and said, with a feeling of closure “I’ll be there at ten then, thank you. ” As the police officer drove away, she reached into her purse and removed the letter that had been delivered to her yesterday.
Across the back of the soiled and stained letter, some postal employee had scribbled a note. The note apologized for the long delay in delivering the letter and said that it had been lost for many years. It had somehow fallen behind a counter in an old post office in Utica and hadn”t been found until recently when the building was being remodeled. She read the letter for the hundredth time. It was dated July 21, 1934, and it was addressed to her grandmother. Although she hadn”t known his name until she”d read the letter, the man who wrote it was apparently her grandfather.
Her grandmother had always refused to talk about him. In the letter, her grandfather told her grandmother that he had enjoyed the week he”d spent here and that he”d never forget the evening they”d spent together in the hayloft of the barn. He thanked her for the memory of that. He went on to say that he”d recently learned that she was pregnant. He apologized, and then said he would never see her again. He wished he could, he said, but events were rapidly overtaking him. His future was now beyond his control. He had recently broken out of prison, and was certain that he would be taken down, dead or alive.
The third paragraph told her that a steel box could be found buried near the northwest corner of the barn. He had buried it there late one night, he claimed. In it she would find more than one million dollars. The money was hers, he wrote. It was to be used to support and educate their child. Charlotte thought about it all. It had been a remarkable chain of events that led her here. She held the letter to her heart and wondered about her grandfather, and what kind of a man he was. He was noble for providing her grandmother with money, however, he was cowardly for stealing it.
A tear came to her eye, and she put the letter back into her pocket. Before she came here, she thought about just taking the money and not buying the property, but the thought quickly left her mind. She knew she could afford it, and she knew that the barn and surrounding area had a great personal significance to her, and always would. She would definitely save the letter, she told herself as she got into her car and drove away. When her two children were old enough to understand, she would show it to them. They would probably want to know something about their great-grandfather.