I was fourteen. All grown up. I had recently discovered that I had strong arms when I defeated a sixteen-year-old friend of my older brother in an arm wrestle so I had that new-found invincibility only found in teenage boys.
I had dropped out of school the previous summer barely limping through to a grudging pass from the eighth grade. My newfound freedom came at the price of milking a couple of cows every morning and evening as well as looking after some young stock on my father’s dairy farm. It was a two-cow dairy farm. We were no-account immigrants, and I understood that we were second-class citizens for having spent a generation outside the country. We were Mexicans. The fact that we were of the same Mennonite faith meant little to the locals who had not taken part in the migration of the first world war when my Grandfather followed my Grandmother’s family south for love. They were the landowners, and we were labourers. I had no real sense of victimhood in the matter, but it was a simple reality. I was just a Mexa.
I enjoyed a good workout in any case. We would buy a thousand hay bales and fill the hayloft for winter. In winter I would wheel countless wheelbarrows of manure out into a pile. Wrestling a wheelbarrow strengthens your arms. The farm had two barns so that summer we had repaired one and my dad had assigned me the task of tearing down the old red hip roof barn that had reached the end of usefulness. Since working off a ladder was slow progress I had started tearing boards off the lower walls.
One day we got a call from the old country. My last Grandpa had died. My parents hastily prepared for the trip back to Mexico leaving us kids at home to look after things. I continued my work but then had the brilliant idea of impressing my father by having the barn taken down when he returned after two weeks or so.
I ripped the boards off the entire north wall in a day or two and then pulled the studs out as well. The barn wasn’t bothered aside from the odd creak in the winter wind. I moved to the opposite end with determined vigour, not even bothering to stack the boards. I quickly removed that wall as well. The old barn pretended not to notice, but I decided it was bluffing as I moved on to the front of it and proceeded to tear the boards from that wall as well. I was a little concerned about the pile I was creating, efficiently boxing myself in tight to the fast disappearing wall. What I lacked in brains I made up for in focus.
With every board removed my nervousness increased, but slowly, one after another the boards fell under my pry-bars. The barn staggered occasionally and groaned more loudly now. The bravado it had displayed earlier was forgotten. The boards were all removed, and still, it stood! This outrage would not long be tolerated by young invincible me. I grabbed a sledgehammer and swung hard at the double stud on the corner. I loud crack and bits of wood flew in every direction. The old barn pretended nothing had happened and I quickly took out the next stud. I was stupid, but I could understand that when it fell, it was coming my way, so I stopped and cleared a path to run for my life when that event inevitably occurred. One stud after the other fell to my sledgehammer until I had reached the end of the wall to look up at a hayloft with the roof still intact suspended on a single wall and a lot of nothing. I was somewhat perplexed until I realised that it was resting upon a single beam supported by two pillars down the middle of the inside of the barn. Vexing. I understood I could not possibly chop the posts out and still manage to outrun the falling barn.
Now the support pillar nearest the single remaining wall that the upper story of the barn now rested upon was a six inch by six-inch stable log, but the one nearest the side that hung from the heavens was just two old two by four studs nailed together. They had been chewed on by various barn occupants of bygone days and so looked promisingly weak. I found a massive plank about ten feet in length and using it as a combination of spear and battering ram from the outside of the barn heaved it at the pillar with all the force I could.
I heard a loud crack as I ran fast and terrified! The expected crash of the barn falling didn’t come. Unbelievably it still stood. One wall and a single pillar supporting the beam that ran the width of it. I watched it sway in the wind, lacking the courage to go near it. I waited. It stood mockingly. Occasionally it teetered teasingly.
After half an hour or so I was battle ready and furious. I went to the woodpile to retrieve the axe. The barn was coming down! It would fall, naturally, away from the wall that still supported it. I reasoned that I could go in through the doorway, chop the last pillar down and duck back out before I got crushed to death. In case you, dear reader, have been sitting there thinking something like “Yeah we all did some stupid things as kids” I will now explain how superior my stupid was. The back door of the barn had long since been removed, but when we used the barn, we had two planks nailed across that door. One was at waist height, and the other lower down around my knees. With one or two blows I could have removed those planks. I did not! I climbed over them and positioned myself carefully. I swung the axe! It penetrated less than an inch, and still, the barn stood. I decided I would have to chop it down like a tree and swung harder.
The loud cracking sound caught me by surprise, but I left the building at an incredible speed. As I went through the back doorway it came down around me the top plank nearly removing my kneecap in the process. I didn’t stop till I was in the house and my older sister asked why I was shaking and why my face was white.
My father’s first words upon seeing the remains of the old barn were. “I sure hope there was nobody in there when that happened.” I suspect he was more impressed by my stupidity than my industriousness, but he seemed to enjoy the fact that it had scared some stupid out of me.