This one’s for you, David Barnhart

When I was a teenager, I had the honor to spend summers working at our friends’ nursery.  They grow rare conifers (this is a fancified way of saying decorative pine trees).  It was hard and sometimes lonely work, but also, rewarding.  Most days I was my own boss.  Just me, careening around the garden paths on some tractor or another, or in my favorite whip, a 1974ish Datsun pickup, completely rusted out, unroadworthy, but boy, could I get that thing into 3rd gear on a 500 yard straightaway.  Now that was fun.  My primary companion during those summers was David Barnhart.  The first summers, Carole was there too, but by the time we were really sitting together, he was alone, and I think he enjoyed my company almost as much as I liked to spend time with him.  David was a retired tenant, and he lived in a 2-story white farm house in the middle of the grounds, a stone’s throw from the main house.  He would answer any question, and often give me instruction about what my tasks were going to be.  But the best part of the day would be when he would invite me to sit in the shade of the mature trees in his yard, on threadbare folding chairs, have a cold drink, and shoot the breeze.  One of the more enduring traits David had was that he took any beverage in a mug.  Can’t fully say why, but he preferred mugs, for cold drinks and hot.  I think maybe the handle had something to do with it, or maybe the feel of the crockery.  But that habit stuck with me.  If I get the choice, more often than not, I’ll take my drinks from a mug.  There’s something even more refreshing about cold ceramic as a drinking vessel than glass.  David always asked about my family, and would fill me in on his, and on the goings-on at the main house.  He was an amateur mechanic and his favorite machine was a Simplicity brand garden mower that had been worked over so many times it had been reduced to bare essentials – engine, seat, mower, tires, steering wheel.  I don’t believe it had any sheet metal on it anywhere.  And for as much time as David spent driving the small tractor around, he spent an equal or greater span of time tinkering with it.  The whole point of this reminiscence, though, is that David’s tractor was housed in an amply sized shed.  The Simplicity fairly shone with pride, parked as it inevitably was, in the center of a spacious shed, with windows, high ceiling, and easy swinging double doors.  Never call it a shed, though, in David’s presence.  Always, “The Chicken Hilton” – a chicken hotel of the highest order.  So over the weekend, when I spent nearly a full day expanding the quarters for our quickly growing young fowl, David was all I thought about.  I heard him laughing, and harassing me, in his good-humored deep voice, his tonsured white hair flying away around the perimeter of his head, eyes twinkling, beige worn out shorts and shirts snug over his ample belly, and skinny white legs supporting the whole.
Anyway, I wasn’t sure it was even possible to improve upon Casey’s initial Chicken Shangri-La, the birds’ Tara, but those little ones were seriously getting packed-in, and it was time to expand.  I built a lean-to shed, with a lift top roof with plenty of room for feeding and larger waterers, and larger birds.  My addition to Casey’s initial Chicken Shack put me in a nostalgic mode, and I think wherever David is, he’s chuckling a nice baritone.  I miss him, and I know I’m not alone.  This Chicken Hilton (addition) is for him:

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