Dad has been gone for 29 years, and the barn even longer than that.
But sometimes I still see him milking, and sometimes I still smell the hay.
Sweet clover, I believe.
The barn and the fragrance of hay is a childhood memory that goes hand-in-hand with Christmas. Its right up there with the aroma of the white sugar cookies and the brown gingerbread men Mom pulled from the oven in the warm and cozy kitchen of our big white farmhouse.
Charles Dickens said, “It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas.”
Well, it’s Christmas, and I’m a child again.
I love going to the barn with my dad in the star-capped crystal night air, and especially on Christmas Eve before we fancied up for the Sunday school program at church.
As Dad does the chores, I’m struck with a thought as I wander around the barn.
What if Baby Jesus had been born in one of our mangers?
Then, I envision such a happening.
As the story begins to play out in my mind, I climb the ladder to the hayloft to watch Bethlehem’s scene unfold through the hole where we poke hay down for the animals.
I see them, Mother Mary holding close to her bosom the newborn baby she has birthed and wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Joseph stands lovingly by, watching over them both.
I see the foggy breath of the lowing cattle and the whinnying horses as it leaves their nostrils and adds a tiny bit of warmth and moisture to the stall.
Dad is one stanchion over with his milk pail half full of white foam.
Perhaps Mary and Joseph would like some of that warm milk, I imagine. I should have brought along a few of Mom’s sugar cookies and gingerbread men for these new parents who must be famished after such a long journey by donkey.
Oh, the mind’s eye of a child.
Before long, the barn’s east door slides open, and I catch a glimpse of the Star of Bethlehem in the night sky as the Magi come in bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. There’s even a heavenly host inside the barn now singing:
“Angels from the realms of glory wing your flight o’er all the earth; once you sang creation’s story, now proclaim Messiah’s birth. Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ, the newborn King.”
Newborn right here in our old and cold red barn.
Dad always finishes the chores much too quickly for me. He calls for me, and I must come down from the loft.
Even though it’s cold, I could stay up there forever.
It’s time to head for warmth, Dad calls out. He has a silver bucket of milk in each gloved hand and I love how the snow crunches beneath our boots. As we walk from the barn to the house, I recite for him the piece I have ready for the program. It’s Luke 2:11-12:
“Today in the town of David (that’s my brother’s name) a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Just moments ago, this baby had been in our manger.
Inside the house, Dad turns the crank to separate the milk from the rich cream before we six gather at the table for a supper of potato soup.
Afterward, we help Mom with the dishes and she helps me into my swishy red taffeta dress. She and Dad, sister Lori and brothers David and Myrlin and I pile in the 1947 gray Chevrolet and leave for church.
The sanctuary is full of my cousins and friends, and our program goes off without a hitch.
We wee ones love the aroma of peanuts, chocolate drop candy and homemade popcorn balls that greet our noses as we peek into the brown paper bag handed to each of us after the service.
And on our 10-mile trip home, we siblings devour the bright red juicy apples we plucked from the box Uncle Hank held by the church’s door.
All of this was so long ago, and now it’s Christmas in the year 2017. I am no longer a child, ‘tis true, but still I see and smell the memories and aromas of Christmases past.
Especially the hay.
It was sweet clover in our manger for the tiny little Jesus boy who one Christmas, at least in my heart and mind, was birthed in our barn.