Monday, November 23, 2009

Barnstorming - The Beginning

I’ve mentioned “The Barn” in a number of prior posts, as place where we used to party back when I was growing up, and I always say, “That’s a story that deserves its own post.” This is it. The Barn was never just a place; it was a state of mind… a magnet for the young people of Monclova, Ohio. If those walls could only talk…


Up until I was in junior high school, we always lived in suburban neighborhoods; each house elbow to elbow with a neighboring house. We lived in suburban Pittsburgh, Chicago and Columbus, but then in 1976, after my freshman year, we moved to the farmland on the southwest outskirts of Toledo Ohio.

It was an old farm house… the original house that laid claim to the surrounding 150 acres. Through the years, the property was whittled down to an acre and a third. This sort of setting was completely foreign to us, but exciting none the less. Behind the house, there was a garage (upon which we added a basketball hoop almost immediately), a tool shed behind the garage, another tool shed in the back yard, an old 2-seater outhouse, and a big chicken and horse barn. There were lots of places to explore!


In later years, the shed behind the garage became the actual garage for my little Honda Civic. It fit just perfectly… I always felt like I was in the Batmobile, pulling out of sight and into the Bat Cave when I’d come home.

I helped my sister (4 years younger) convert the other tool shed into a “playhouse” for her and her friends. They would hang out there, giggling over pictures of boys in teen magazines and trying to avoid getting tormented by my brother (2 years younger).

The barn was another thing… a big, hulking space that we didn’t know quite what to do with.
The short end coming off the big end started with a workshop area for Dad’s tool bench and whatnot. Off that were a couple of horse stalls. The room on the end had chicken coops. We ended up turning that into a cozy little office for my mom, where she could get away from the rest of us and write.
The tall part of the barn was the main room, with a dusty old loft up above. At first, my brother and I thought it would be cool to hang out up in the loft, but soon discovered that no matter how often you swept up, it was always dusty. And of course, it was steaming hot up there in the summer months.

The main room was really something… a long room with a bar and an oven at one end. The walls were cinderblock and the floor was concrete. It had a big gas heater too. The previous owner had been courteous enough to leave a little black and white photo of a topless pinup girl on one of the wood support beams. Whooooo!

For the first couple years we lived there, we didn’t really do much with the barn. We put our old living room couch out there, when the parents upgraded… we had a ping-pong table and some old hook rugs, but there really wasn’t much to do.

Side note: there was also a gas heater in the workroom, with which I learned a valuable lesson. To wit: when you have to light a gas stove, always light the match BEFORE turning on the gas. I got my ass blown across the room one afternoon when I turned on the gas and then started fumbling around with the matches. By the time I got one lit, a nice little gas cloud was waiting for me to stick the match into the pilot light area. KA-BOOM!


Lesson learned. Nowadays, it would have been on YouTube 10 minutes later.

Somewhere along the line, I began meeting some people at school. I met Rik in Spanish class, Mark, from down the street and John from the bus. I found out that Rik knew John and Mark, but he didn’t know that they knew me. We all had hung out individually but never realized that we all knew each other. We all started hanging out and saw that we all just fit together.

I’d been pretty much of a square in school. My buddies most definitely were not. But we came to a happy medium… they loosened me up, and I calmed them down. Together we found a happy medium and had some great times.

A year or two later, we met another guy, Billy, who was in my newspaper class, senior year. He was a mellow guy like me, but was just hilarious… the best guy I ever met at coming up with crazy shit for us to do at the drop of a hat. He seemed to be the final piece of the puzzle.

The spring of our senior year, everything came together. As spring fever hit, we started acquiring sofas and stuff to outfit the barn and make a place to congregate. We covered the walls with posters, got a stereo out there and started wiring speakers into the ceiling beams. We tore speakers out of transistor radios, TVs, cars… if it had a speaker, we wired it up in the ceiling. It sounded crappy, but it gave us a sense of accomplishment. Once I started working at the local record store, I had access to all kinds of decorative swag, and a ton of it ended up out there. We also scored a number of beer lights from various sources. We also used Christmas lights as well. The whole place was just the coolest little “clubhouse” that you could ever hope to have.

At the time, you could buy beer that was 3.2% alcohol (or “low” beer) at 18. The age for regular beer, wine and liquor was 21. So getting beer was never much of a problem. And as I learned, my folks didn’t mind if my buddies and I had a few beers as long as they knew where we were. They figured if we weren’t drinking there, we’d just be out driving around drinking and causing trouble. (Which is funny because that’s exactly what we had been doing before setting up in the barn.)

Through the course of that summer, our little group kind of sucked in the kids from the neighborhood. We would get a couple of cases on a Saturday night and just sit around in the barn talking and carrying on. Especially fun were the nights when we’d break out the cassette tape recorder and record our bull sessions. That’s where Billy would just go nuts… master of ceremonies, group therapist and improv artist.

My mom used to say we became a tribe out there. I can’t say she’s wrong. We had the elders, the soldiers, the medicine man and the young bucks. That summer is when the barn became The Barn.

We had our first Barn Party in September of 1979, as a goodbye party for Billy, whose family was moving to South Georgia. It was the start of an epic string of Barn Parties that became the stuff of legends.
We had New Years parties, bachelor parties, football watching parties… we’d converted most of our neighbors into Steeler fans through nothing but our sheer enthusiasm. Of course, the alternatives were the Lions and the Browns… who else would you choose?

We ended up with 5 couches out there, so there was always a contingent of people that would just stay the night. In the morning, we’d let the dog in to go wake everyone up. I had the advantage of home court, so I could always crawl up the stairs to my own room. Then I’d wake up to the smell of cinnamon buns and coffee. I’d come downstairs and survey the human wreckage sitting around the kitchen table… dudes with bedhead huddled under blanket, nursing their coffees. Then would come the spirited game of “I Did What??”

Mom’s cinnamon buns cured a lot of ills, I’ll tell you. My parents never minded our having the parties, as long as they were home. They say they just wanted to keep an eye on things, but I think the real truth is that they had as good a time as we did. And we never had a single auto accident after a party due to drunk driving. There was one accident… the girl was stone sober, but she just had a fight with her boyfriend. (Yeah, there was a lot of THAT.) But we never had anyone get hurt or get in serious trouble (other than with their boyfriend or girlfriends).

It’s kind of sad to me that this kind of scene would be pretty much impossible today. My parents would have gotten arrested in no time. Some parent somewhere would have had a hissy fit about their kid drinking and send the cops. But back then, it just seemed like the smart thing to do. The Barn kept us pretty much out of trouble.

It wasn’t always the big parties I remember so fondly. Most of the time, it would just be me, a buddy or two and a couple of sixers. We’d put on the Christmas lights and some music and just shoot the shit… solving all the world’s problems or complaining about our non-existent love lives. It was just a great place to unwind and be ourselves. And my parents must have figured, any chance to get a teenager out of the house but still be nearby, it’s a go.

OK, I can see that I’m running way long and I’m really just getting warmed up. It looks like I’m going to have to keep revisiting The Barn.

9 comments:

  1. "Those were the days, my Friend./I thought they'd never end...".
    Cinnamons Rule!
    Tribal? Absolutely. You had your rules, etiquette, elders and clan purpose. One for All and All for One. We gather here to have some fun.
    Long Live the BARN.

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  2. you are so right, today I would be behind bars. BUT I do recall all the kids being very sad the day a car load of kids, drinking and driving wrapped their car around a very sturdy maple tree and a carload of good kids died. DAD

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  3. We had "the barn" too. I think every small town did.

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  4. What a wonderfully nostalgic piece. It sounds like you have some very supportive parents...and a Mom who made cinnamon buns! Does it get any better?

    Gosh I hadn't thought about 3.2 beer in ages. When I was in high school, the guys would brag about driving into West Viginia for 3.2 beer and the girls were all jealous. Yes, those were the days, my friend (thank you Mary Ann for the line).

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  5. Dad,
    There but for the grace of God went us, before we had the Barn to go to. That was a sad day.

    Cher,
    3.2 beer was the bane of my existence! There were only about 6 beers you could get as Low, and it was usually the low-rent stuff. Except Michelob... we drank a lot of Mic, but it was probably just for the cool 6-pack carriers.

    Sometimes I'd try to sneak the good beer through at the checkout. The only way to tell which was which was the color of the bottlecaps. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.

    "Ooops! I must have grabbed the wrong one!"

    Then on my 21st birthday, I strode right up there with my High beer, just waiting to whip my ID on the cashier.

    Naturally, she never asked.

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  6. Times have changed for sure. You're right, parents would get sent to jail for allowing booze and coed sleepovers.

    But "the barn" is something all parents need to create in their own homes. Maybe it's the basement or a family room or a shed or something. It's much better to be able to quietly supervise and deal with some chaos, than wonder what they're up to somewhere else.

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  7. GUYS,
    The beauty of it was that if something got spilled (and it always did) it wasn't like, "Oh my God, the CARPET! It was concrete. We just wiped it up. (or not) Swept up any glass, continued the party... And party volume was also no matter, since we were in an out-building.

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  8. This is my favorite post so far, I think. Though not as amusing as some, nostalgic, which intrigues me... and reminds me of my youth.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Sweetpea. Wait til you see the next one.

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