Yes, I Was Raised in a Barn

by David Francis

I get a variety of comments when I tell people that I come from a family of ten. Older people, who may have already had one or two children themselves, usually express a sense of wonder and respect for my parents. They ask just how my parents managed to deal with us all.

I guess the simplest answer to this question is just that they never fussed and doted over us. Its hard to imagine how they could. My Dad worked 60+ hours every week and my Mom worked 40 hours in addition to the uncountable hours working at home. After sheltering us, feeding us, disciplining us, and performing all the other responsibilities that loving and nurturing parents make their first order of business, they didn't have the time left over to spoil us or to become overly-protective.

You certainly won't hear me complaining. This made for a great childhood. I feel so sorry for the kids whose parents concern themselves with their children's well-being every moment of the day. So often mothers are content as long as they can see little Junior playing safely in front of his Nintendo for the duration of the day. Sure, the kid's brain is turning into useless mush, but at least he is being safely monitored.

My siblings and I didn't have that problem. As a rule, our parents had only a general idea of where we were on a day to day basis. We lived across from an old barnyard and that's where we spent most of our time. The barnyard owner was an extremely nice man, and he let us kids play on his property whenever we wanted. Hardly a day ever went by that we weren't in the yard's main barn.

You never really exhaust all the possibilities of a good barn, and we would play around in there for hours and hours--completely unsupervised. Our parents knew we were over there, but they had no idea of some of the things we were doing. Thinking back to some of the stunts we used to pull in that barn, it seems truly miraculous that none of us ever had a dire accident there. We used to crawl along the wall beams (that jutted out maybe a whole four inches) above a fifteen foot drop onto cement and farm machinery. We used to hide in rat-infested cribs and grain bins. We hung ropes out of thirty feet high windows and then scaled down the outside of the barn down to the ground. So now imagine: seven kids for at least four hours, seven days a week, jumping out of haylofts, crawling along the walls, and all the other stuff we could think of trying--its absolutely incredible that never once did one of us slip or trip and swan dive onto the concrete floor.

One of the neighbor mothers certainly thought so. We had taught her children our favorite pastime at the barn: sliding down the ropes. One of the hay lofts of the main barn had two ropes hanging that dangled from the roof to the floor that were used for pulling hay bails into the loft. We had discovered that with the use of leather gloves, we could run at the ropes from the back wall, jump off, grab the ropes, swing out, and then (as we swung out over the twelve foot drop to the loft to the barn floor) sort of let go a bit so that we would slide down to the floor as we swung out. We needed the gloves because the friction from the rope when sliding would burn our hands if we didn't use them. I know, I tried it once. We did this all the time, and after we taught some of the neighbor children reports of it got a their mother. She came to the barn one day to see exactly what her children were doing with those strange Francis kids.

We were delighted to have an audience to show off to. We demonstrated every trick we knew to sliding down those ropes. She watched her older son slide down one time and almost had a coronary. She immediately sent both her sons back home and forbid them to slide with us ever again. Then she crossed the street and brought our mom over to watch us. She obviously wanted to put an end to this activity altogether.

Now Mom had heard us talk about sliding down the ropes and all our other activities in the barn, but she had never investigated herself. The neighbor lady brought her over now, and it was obvious she expected our mom to be ashamed of letting her children play such dangerous games completely unsupervised. Mom watched us for awhile with a sort of bored expression and then turned to the neighbor lady:

"Well, just so long as they're careful." she said.

The neighbor lady's eyes widened to about twice their normal size, but Mom was already heading back to the house to finish making supper.

From time to time we did have some fairly serious accidents, but I never remember my mother becoming hysterical as a result. Once, when I was about twelve, I was trying to grab a long aluminum ladder off some hooks on a wall. I wasn't tall enough to unhook the ladder, so I had taken to jumping in the air and trying to unhook the ladder and then catch it as it fell. I managed to get the ladder unhooked, but as I landed, I stumbled on some loose boards, and as I tried to regain my balance, the ladder came crashing down corner-first on top of my head.

The blow nearly knocked me unconscious. I staggered back in a daze. Then I felt something wet dripping off my nose. I looked down and saw drops of blood spilling on the floor. I put a hand up to my scalp and when I brought it back to my eyes, it was completely covered in blood.

I started to panic. I had never seen this much blood in my life, and I was sure I was dying. For years afterwards you could see a circle of blood stains in the area because I had walked around and around trying to come to terms with my premature death. After grappling with some heavy philosophical ponderings and producing emotional avowals of contrition, I eventually noticed that I had yet to kick off. A small flicker of hope appeared in my mind and I considered that, maybe, with top surgeons working around the clock, I could actually survive. Considering the throbbing pain in my head and the blood flowing everywhere, I felt a rescue from the jaws of death would be nothing short of miraculous. But since I hadn't stopped breathing yet, I figured it was worth a shot to try and get some help.

I walked into the house and into the kitchen where my mother was working. She saw me and frowned.

"What happened?" she said.

I explained the situation even though I felt all the important information could be garnered from looking at my blood steeped body.

"Well," she responded. "You'd better take a shower and clean all that off."

Now let me just say that when you are envisioning a dramatic rescue filled with ambulances, paramedics, and then lengthy and sophisticated surgery--a shower does not appear as a reasonable alternative.

"I think I'm dying." I tried to explain.

"Well, you're not." she answered. "Go take a shower."

I wasn't convinced, but I figured the only way to prove my point would be to go die in the shower. I got into the shower, let the water run over me, and waited. Mom was right again. I survived.

At the time, I didn't mind so much that she was right, so much as she hadn't even seemed concerned. I asked her about it years later and she had a pretty good answer. She said: "Of course I was concerned. But, David, you had just dropped a ladder on your head because you were too stupid to get something to stand on to take it off the wall. It's hard to feel sorry for someone like that."

"Even when they're covered in blood?" I asked.

"Guess so." she said.

I think my mom has become more emotional attentive and apt to spoil now that most of her children have grown up. Of course, the only one who gets to reap the benefits of this attention now is the family dog, Alpine. When Alpine got hit by a car last year he went to the vet several times and my parents paid a hefty medical bill. I mentioned to my Dad that I was surprised he was willing to pay so much money for a dog. In reply he smiled and said: "Ten years ago, if any of you kids had cost me this much, your mother would have made me take you out back and shoot you."

I guess that's why people don't have eight children families anymore. Parents with the nerves to handle them are just too rare.