Most kids grow up remembering a playhouse, playground, or park where they went to entertain their friends and use their imagination, but I remember a large two-story barn that more than sufficed as a structure for countless hours of entertainment. Its hayloft was converted into a playhouse with several "rooms" constructed out of loose hay, where families of kittens were often taking up residency. The beams often became balancing beams for adventurous walks across great canyons of hay below. We always believed that falling wouldn't hurt us much, since the landing would be in a pile of soft loose hay. The ladders were climbed as though we were scaling the sides of tall castles in search of the "treasures" we were looking for. (These "treasures" were often eggs that our free-roaming bandy chickens had laid.)
Of course, we had to share our playhouse with other critters on the farm, such as a few cows, ponies, sheep, or pigeons, but one of the most mysterious occupants was a family of brown bats that lived high up in the rafters. They lived there undetectable during the day, but at night, they'd start their swooping dives from the barn into the evening air, searching for their dinner in the night sky. I never was afraid of these hairy little creatures, because Dad always reminded us of what a wonderful duty they were doing for us by ridding us of those pesky mosquitoes.
Dad told us that the barn was actually built from another barn in a different location. The beams were brought in to the farm on wagons pulled by horses and rearranged into a useful cattle barn. The beams from the older barn were actually hand-hewn, and when they were reassembled, they were put together with wooden pegs. In the 1940s, the barn had an addition to the south end to better accommodate cattle. Then in the 1950s, my dad and my brother remodeled that area to accommodate heavy equipment, such as bulldozers. They would do the mechanics on these pieces under the cover of the south wing of the old barn.
When my interest in horses became an obsession, we converted that are to a "stable" of sorts. It now houses five quarter-horses, one dog, and three cats. The bats are still there, though, and they still make their nightly journey into the dark. My husband often accuses me of spending more time and money on that old edifice than I do our house, but it still holds a very special place in my heart. My kids played there, as I did, and have even left their signatures on the walls. They found a can of spray paint and in their immature manuscript writing, left that proves their earlier presence. I've never had the desire to paint over it, because it reminds me of a time when they too found the old barn the most delightful place to spend a childhood.