Grandpa’s Old Barn
The old red barn was one of their favorite places to play and explore. Something new surfaced every time they spent an afternoon in the loft. They often found themselves playing pirates or gladiators or jet pilots. Fantasies sparked by the things Grandpa had left behind. Swords, chain mail, armor, and hand-made fighter planes were among the unique curiosities he had amassed during his life. Each item was carefully selected for preservation during his later days when he most tightly embraced minimizing and became one of the new band of stoics. Grandma thought the old barn was weak and dangerous as it leaned a bit east from long winters enduring westerly winds, but she couldn't keep them out of the loft.
"Hey, Oliver. Over here. And be quiet."
"What did you find, Theodore?"
"Grandpa's books and some of his old notebooks. See this blue one? Wow, it's the original copy of his stoic diary. Be careful with the pages. If Dad ever comes up here again and finds the pages torn, he'll know it was us."
"Don't get us in trouble, Theodore! Put that one back and hand me the red one."
"Okay, here it is. What's in it, Oliver?"
"It has a bunch of old stories about settlers from England and France and how they first met our Native American ancestors. It tells about the Pennsylvania Dutch connection to the old Germanic lines, too. That old bit and bridle in the horse stall below came from there."
"Look, there's another notebook stuck under the books at the bottom, Oliver."
“That small black one, Theodore? What’s in it?"
“Look at this! It's a red dragon wearing a blue saddle blanket with a white X. It's got some old family lore about settlers from Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. There's another drawing. It looks like this old barn and the woods behind, doesn't it?"
"It sure does! And look at the next drawing! The dragon is burying something out there. See the trail? It goes down the hill and up the ravine to a spot under the old oak tree and there's the red dragon covering something in a freshly dug hole."
"Do you think it's real, Oliver? Do you think Grandpa left this behind to show us where he left something important buried? Or is it another adventure quest he’d planned for us?"
"I hope so on all counts, Theodore! Grab the backpack with our lunch and let's go eat on the big limb and see if we can spot anything from up there. We’ll look at the notebook again while we’re up there."
The old black oak tree, a witness tree that had been on the northwest corner of the property for over 200 years, outlasted many generations. They climbed the old wooden ladder left behind by Great-Uncle Virgil to the huge oak's lowest limb. He’d done some deer hunting there through the years. That limb was bigger around than the trunks of the other trees in those woods and made a great platform for them to look for wild critters, eat lunch, and dream of fantastical adventures in far-away lands and on mysterious planets. Today, however, a new story was unfolding. The secret of the red dragon and the drawings in Grandpa's small black notebook.
“I’m hungry. Oliver, you climb up first and I’ll tie the backpack to the rope so you can haul it up to the limb.”
“Okay. I hope Grandma put some of those cookies with icing in there!”
“Let’s see what we have. Cool! We got treats! Orange pop and cookies! We have the best Grandma ever!”
“Yes, but she always says eat the good stuff first. Here’s your sandwich and some apple slices. Wash that down with water from the canteen. Isn’t that Grandpa’s old one?”
“It is his old one. See, it’s got ‘Eist moran agus can beagan’ engraved on it. Do you remember what that means, Oliver?”
“Dad said it means keep your mouth shut and your ears open.”
“Ha ha. That’s right! Grandpa once told me it means “Hear much and say little” in Irish Gaelic. He said it’s wisdom from the old country.”
“The apple slices are gone, time for cookies! You open the pop, Theodore, and I’ll get the cookies.”
“I sure love weekends out here. I wish we could stay forever. Split the last cookie with me.”
“Okay. Now, let’s look at the drawings in the notebook.”
The small black notebook had several drawings that seemed to tell a story about a secret treasure somewhere on the farm. It had been hidden in Grandpa’s things in the loft of the old red barn for a few years. He had planned to have Grandma give it to the boys one day and tell them to follow the clues and find it. He knew his heart was failing and wanted them to have another adventure in his memory. Unfortunately, he passed before he told her about the notebook. Their Grandma and Dad put the boxes of stuff he had been working on, including the notebook, in the barn after that and no one knew the secret. It was made like some of the other maps and drawings with clues he’d created for them, so there was a good chance they’d know what to do with it.
“Here is it, Oliver. The red dragon by the tree and something buried on that side of it. Look around and see if you can tell where something might be.”
“I don’t know, Theodore. The leaves are covering almost everything. Maybe we need to kick around and move some leaves. We have the camp shovel in the backpack, so we can dig around down there, too.”
“Let’s go. I want to find it before we have to go in.”
After several minutes of kicking leaves and prospecting, they take a minute to look at the notebook again. The red dragon is certainly burying something and there’s a line from it to the old tree they didn’t notice earlier.
“Theodore, look at this closer. There’s a line from the buried pot to the tree.”
“Yes, that’s it! See the old barbed-wire fence line that’s grown into the tree? It goes into the ground over there and the moss hasn’t all grown back. Somebody dug in that spot. Give me the shovel!”
Theodore digs around the strand of barbed wire coming from the tree and Oliver moves the dirt farther away to keep it from falling into the hole. Clink. The shovel hits something metal. The boys cheer and dig faster. Theodore drops the shovel and they both use their hands to push aside more dirt and pull the pot out of the hole, careful to not grab one of the barbs on the wire.
“We have it, Theodore! Grandpa’s old pot from the barn. Remember when he showed us how to throw cards and try to pitch them into the pot? I wondered what happened to it. The cards are still in the barn.”
“Let’s open it right here. Be careful and help me unwrap the wire so we can open the lid. Okay, that does it. On the count of three we open it. One, two, three!”
Inside the pot was a few pieces of paper taken from the back of the small black notebook.
“Hey, there’s nothing in it, Theodore. I thought Grandpa left us a buried treasure.”
“Wait a minute, there’s another drawing and map here. See? He liked to make us think, so it couldn’t be that easy.”
“Show me the drawing and let’s see what clues are in it. There’s a horse with that same blanket on its back, blue with a white X on it. The horse is wearing a bit and bridle and eating some oats. It must mean the stall in the barn. Let’s go!”
“I’ll bring the pot so we can wash it and throw cards in it again, Oliver. You bring the backpack and papers.”
“Here’s the stall. Let’s go in and look.”
“I don’t see anything. The dirt floor is still solid. Nothing buried here. The old bit and bridle are hanging over there. Maybe they are the clue we need.”
“I’ll check them, Theodore. Hey, look! This board under them is loose! Grab it and pull with me.”
The rusty nails creak and groan as they pull the board loose, revealing more papers from the back of the notebook.
“Another drawing with clues, Oliver. This is the best one yet. I’m sure Grandpa had it planned for some time and didn’t have a chance to tell us.”
“He did like to make these adventure games for us, Theodore. I miss him and his drawings. What’s on this one?”
“This one is the house.”
“Yes, and that one with it is the old coal stove in the basement. There’s the blue flag with the white X, too. It’s on all the drawings. Let’s go, Theodore!”
The boys go around through the ravine to the basement door to sneak into the house. That way, they can avoid disturbing Grandma upstairs and keep the adventure secret.
“Shhh. Don’t let anybody hear us.”
“Sure, but this old door always squeaks, Oliver. I’ll open it slowly. You help lift so it doesn’t drag. That’s it. Easy. There, we can squeeze in.”
“Turn on the light. There it is.”
The old coal furnace looked like the old black oak tree. A large trunk with dark arms stretching out and up. Dark and ominous yet truly a source of warmth and light.
“There’s the old wooden crate he used to stand on to reach the coal chute. Look at the lid of the crate. It’s the flag, Theodore!”
“Yes, that’s it, Oliver! We found it! Now, let’s see what’s inside.”
“There’s a latch. Got it. Wow! There must be a fortune in here!”
“No kidding! I’ve never seen this much money. We must tell Grandma. She can help us count it and she’ll know what to do with it. Grab that handle and we’ll take it upstairs to the porch. It’s too dusty to take into the house.”
A knock on the door and Grandma peeks through the screen to see.
“What have you boys got there?”
“Look, Grandma! Grandpa left us treasure! We found an old notebook in the barn with a drawing and then another under the old black oak tree and the last one in the horse stall. This crate was by the old coal furnace and look inside!”
“Oh my! He saved all that! You boys have had a big day.”
“Will you help us count it?”
“I sure will. Let’s put it in stacks and count them all. There, that does it. Your Dad is here. Go out there and tell him.”
In unison, the boys run to Dad. “Hey, Dad! Grandpa left $20,000 hidden for us to find! It was our last big adventure he planned for us and boy was it a big one!”
Copyright Durbin 2021
All Rights Reserved
About the author
Raised in rural east-central Illinois, I appreciate nature and the environment. I'm a father, grandfather, professional engineer, leader, researcher, coach, scouts leader, stoic, minimalist, costumer, historian, traveler, and writer.