Editor’s Note – This is the fourth in a series of stories authored by Robert Kroeger, who has painted 11 barns in Highland County and has plans to paint more. The paintings, usually framed with actual wood from the barn pictured, will be auctioned off April 2 when the Highland County Extension Support Committee holds its annual dinner fundraiser at the fairgrounds. Proceeds from five of the paintings will benefit the committee. Kroeger titled this story “Aitken of Ayr.” The Sandy he refers to is Hillsboro resident Sandy Shoemaker, who took him to most of the barn locations in Highland County.
Like the Jordan barn in Oregonia, this old barn will come down eventually; restoring large barns is cost prohibitive. Jeff Parry, who runs the local John Deere distributorship, and his wife, Renee, a local school teacher, own this farm. The Parrys, along with their two children Larkyn and Lawton, raise show cattle and sell them to kids in the 4-H program who, in turn, care for them and show them in fairs. Jeff is the 4-H liaison, as well. They’re busy.
The barn goes back a long way – to the great-grandfather of Bill Turner who sold the farm to the Parrys. Bill was the last descendant of the Aitken clan, which traces back to the time of the potato famine in Scotland.
Bill’s ancestor, William Aitken, emigrated from the west coast of Scotland in the mid-1800s, a time of hardship caused by the potato blight – a cruel blow to many farmers, especially in Ireland, ending millions of lives there. And Scots weren’t spared: many left their homeland for Canada and America, including Mr. Aitken. He came here in his 20s and worked for $7 a week for a hog farmer. Thrifty, he saved his money, married a local girl, and purchased this farm. Faded paint on the front of the barn, just above the bay, reads “Aitken, 1896,” documenting the barn’s first year or William’s first year of ownership. He passed the farm onto his kin.
I learned more from Hilda Lucas, a spry 99-year-old, to whom Sandy introduced me. Hilda grew up on this farm. Her family moved there when she was 1 year old in 1917 and rented the farmhouse from Mr. Aitken who, by then, had moved into Hillsboro proper. She said he was short – Scots aren’t known for being tall – and would ride out to the farm in a pony-drawn cart. Later, as his success mushroomed, he’d wear his “good clothes” and ride in a motor car to visit his farm.
Hilda spent her youth in the nearby farmhouse with her parents and her seven sisters. All shared one bathroom. Try imagining eight sisters sharing a bathroom today! The girls lived upstairs in three bedrooms and the parents stayed downstairs. For fun, the sisters would slide down the barn’s tin roof into a silo. In those days, the windmill (which oddly rises out of the barn’s roof) still worked, pumping water from the well inside the barn to a trough for horses. Was the spring discovered after the barn was built? Or vice versa? No one knows.
In those days farm work wasn’t easy; it never is. “Papa always shorn his own horses,” Hilda told me, referring to the workbench still inside the barn’s entrance. They raised corn, wheat, oats, alfalfa, horses, and a few dairy cows. Hilda tended a vegetable garden. This family was a self-sustaining unit, continuing life as normal through the Great Depression – such hard times that many a businessman jumped out of high windows in the big cities. Far, far away from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan America, the Lucas family took care of themselves – without bad memories and without any government handouts. They survived the Great Depression.
In fact, they had fun: farm life wasn’t all work and no play. Hilda, blessed with a sense of humor, related an incident from those days. Sister Maxine thought it would be silly to kiss a bar on an iron bridge that the girls crossed when they walked to school. But, in winter, that wasn’t a good idea: her tongue froze to the bar. Of course, her sisters thought this was funny. Sisters!
Hilda married in 1936 and raised five children, living in this county for nearly a century. When I asked her what her secret to a happy, long life was, she replied simply, “Que sera, sera.” Not bad advice, I thought: go with the flow, don’t complain, and take life as it comes. Still, I would have enjoyed being a fly on the wall when those eight sisters debated whose turn it was for the bathroom.
Robert Kroeger is a former Cincinnati area dentist who has since ran in and organized marathons, took up the painting skills he first picked up from his commercial artist father, become a published author, and is a certified personal trainer that started the LifeNuts vitality program.