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Grandpa's Barn


By Roy P. Whittake


Every time I pass that old barn I think of my Grandpa Whittaker. The barn stands there as a testament to his character. Just like the barn weathered and old, so was he. The brown boards with the deep cracks remind me of his tanned wrinkled skin and the way the barn creaks when the wind blows brings back the sound of his deep gruff voice. All the things that are stored in that old barn, bottles, farm equipment, and other oddities, brings to mind stories that grandpa had stored in his head. I believe my grandpa Whittaker and that old barn shared a kinship. They took care of each other.

Whenever the roof would leak grandpa would climb up with rusty nails and put back the flapping piece of tin. And later it wouldn't be long that Grandpa, while working in the field, would have to escape an approaching thunderstorm and, as if to return the favor, the old barn would keep grandpa safe and dry until the storm passed. But this scenario was only the beginning of their bond. That old barn and my grandpa shared secrets - some until this day. The only way to know these secrets is to search its nooks and crannies.

I grew up in the piney woods of Southern Mississippi and during my childhood, I became intrigued with the character of Grandpa Whittaker. Grandpa was a typical backwoods southerner whose wardrobe consisted of Liberty overalls and long sleeve shirts worn year round. For many years, I thought for sure Hee Haw was filmed near my grandpa's barn and he was just another one of the Hee Haw gang.

His voice was deep and hard along with his vocabulary that got worse the more he tipped the bottle. To understand the extent of grandpa's drinking, you only have to consult his old friend the barn. In its nooks and corners is an array of old whiskey bottles and beer cans that would more than arouse the interest of bottle and can collectors. Various sizes, shapes and brands are represented in this mini-world of lost liquor containers. The barn has kept the extent of his habit a secret for more than 50 years. Recently, after buying the old home place the barn as had to give up its secrets under the suspicious prying hands of grandpa Whittaker's grandson - namely me. I feel like an archeologists disturbing the tomb of some ancient Egyptian pharaoh. Sometimes I imagine that a spell my fall upon me for revealing the secrets of the old barnís friend. At times when the wind is just right I believe I can smell just of tinge of Old Charter or Jim Beam drifting through the air.

Not long after my first excavation, it became apparent that Grandpa Whittaker chose to do most of his drinking at the old barn. Grandma Whittaker the optima of southern charm and Christian virtues never allowed a drop of liquor or beer within smelling range of the house. The only time this rule was relaxed was prior to Christmas day when grandma would make her famous dessert Japanese fruit cake which called for just a little of "the devil's brew."

Now I know the answer to my often asked childhood questions. "Grandma where is grandpa?" She would reply "At the barn son." "What is he doing at the barn Grandma?" "Working on those fence posts again." This only confused me more because every time I walked down to the barn to visit grandpa he was nowhere near the hog pen and the posts around the pen according to my inspection needed no repair. It was only after learning the terminology of beer and liquor talk that I gained an appreciation for grandma's answer.

In southern Mississippi, especially the Mill Creek area, there has developed unique words and phrases that describe someone's favorite drink. After unearthing several relics in and around the barn, I know what Grandma Whittaker meant by "working on those fence posts again." Grandpa's favorite brand of beer early in is drinking days was Schlitz. Some cans I unearthed where the small size (8oz) while most where the large size (16oz). The large size cans are to this day referred to as "Fence posts" because of their long round shape. It all makes sense now.

Grandpa's friend could not keep his habit a secret from grandma; she knew the minute he took a nip. He used to try and hide his bottles under the couch in the living room but after a Saturday sweeping grandma would find the brew and pour it out. One time I found Grandpa's infamous bottle under the couch and while taking the top off to smell of it I felt the wrath of grandma Whittaker's broom over my head.

Grandpa learned quick not to hide the expensive stash of whiskey any where near the house. The good stuff he trusted to his ole friend the barn. Even if grandma tried, I don't believe she would have found the alcohol grandpa hide down at the barn. There were just too many places that a bottle or can would fit into so easily and out of view. Most he hide in the wooden cement block holes that held up the barn. Others were placed in crevices and other convenient places where grandma probably wouldn't take time to look.

But she never was known to snoop around the old barn anyway. There seemed to be an understanding that this place was grandpa's domain. What went on there was between two friends Grandpa and the old barn.

* * * * *

Copyright Roy P. Whittaker - All rights reserved.
No part may be reprinted without consent from author

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