General Fiction posted November 9, 2023 Chapters:  ...13 14 -15- 16... 

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Barns and willows played an important part

A chapter in the book A Particular Friendship

Barns and Willows

by Liz O'Neill

We've been hearing about the brook, now we will hear about the important part barns and willows played for Lizzy.

In addition to collecting ferns, I loved gathering butternuts, helping Mother collect them on the ground and in the water right by the last big crossing rock. There was a sharp eye called for, with some on the ground within the ferns and most in the brook as they grew right above the water.  

The one thing I didn’t like was the waiting part of butternuts.  I kept asking Mother over the weeks if the butternuts were dry enough to crack open with a hammer, on the marble sidewalk leading from the porch where I pushed Timmy onto the floor to the dirt road we’d have to chase down to intercept the kick ball from flowing into oblivion.

In the winter we careened steeply down between the trees onto the ice, balancing on jack jumps made by Timmy’s dad, which consisted of a seat on a sawed-off ski, supported by two wooden sticks about 1 inch x 1 inch.  We got extremely skilled at coming to a skidding halt right at the edge of the thin ice parts.


At the top of that hill was the field leading to Teddy’s.  In fairer weather, almost daily, some hot summers, Teddy and I raced our imaginary horses back and forth from one end of the extensive field to the other. In between ball games in the lot and swims in the brook, it was our favorite spot to end up in a nice cool stand of pine trees, which served as our hideout. 

If someone were in close vicinity to us, they would hear the sounds of our horses as we imitated hooves rapidly striking the ground. They might even hear believable distant gunfire sounded by us. We were brought up with Johnathan Winters, the television king of imitating sounds. 

Because there wasn’t enough space for the 5th grade classroom in our school building we were bussed to the next town.  That was a painful year for me as will slowly be revealed.  Basketball plans to look forward to with Teddy made it tolerable.  

It was the same routine almost every afternoon.  I’d jump off the bus, run home, change, run up the hill, cross the bridge, and enter through Teddy’s backdoor.  His mother would greet me, tell me Teddy was still getting changed. 

Like clockwork, the song ‘Battle of New Orleans’ would be playing on their wooden standup radio. Whenever I hear that song, I am carried back to my eleven-year-old roots.

We’d bounce and shoot the ball on the dirt floor toward the basket in his garage. He recently reminded me we got into continual trouble when we made long shots and inevitably would hit the light on the ceiling. 

We wondered why his father didn’t put some kind of wire guard over it, like they had in the gymnasium where we went to watch high school basketball games.  

That made more sense to us than his father becoming enraged with us.  We played until his mother told him it was time for supper and for me to head home, back over the bridge and down our street. 

So many neighborhood kids had done secret touching, some outrightly assaulting me. I had come to believe that was all anyone expected of me. 

So, in the midst of our game, when Teddy had to run into the house for something, I stared into  one of the dark corners of the garage and wondered when and if that was where it would happen.  It never did.  Teddy never disrespected my body.  

In fact, that corner was purposeful for something else, another opportunity for us to get into mischief. There was a bucket of tar in the corner. Need I say more?  

We had fun flinging that tar everywhere on the walls. I don't remember if there were consequences or not. Probably just as well. Because I felt so safe around him, it was okay with me, if he won the game almost every time. I always told him I was going to win him. He laughed at my phrasing, but still won. 


Barns and Willows    

Mother was raised on a dairy farm and I thrilled every time we visited, while my grandfather was still alive before he died of Tuberculosis in the Sanitorium when I was six.

When I was about three, he taught me how to properly hold onto a willow branch used to dowse for water.  I still remember my amazement and thrill, as the pointer part of the Y-stick thrust toward the ground, almost pulling from my little hands. My love for dowsing was instilled in me at that time. 

Mother always  expressed the desire to take a dowsing class. Though she searched newspapers, she found no offerings. It wasn’t until after she passed, I spotted a little square of an announcement. I proclaimed to Mother, we were finally going to get to learn about dowsing.

As the years went on, I grew to identify with the weeping part of the willow.  I loved to go down to the barn to watch and participate in the milking-by-hand process and to shovel out the gutters.  

I still love the smelI of manure. I wanted to live on a farm forever, until a farmhand began catching me alone and making me do shameful things. My therapy at thirty helped me with all of this abuse, to know I did nothing wrong, I was a child. 

At the end of my street there was another barn and another willow which were bittersweet.  Why Mother ever let my brother and me play in a barn with two teenagers, passed-off to be cousins, second-removed, we cannot guess.  

At first, I excitedly climbed the straight ladder nailed to the boards of the hayloft, to jump into the shredded bales, below.  As the number and intensity of secret games, choreographed by Donna, assisted by Toby, grew, I hated climbing the ladder.  

Filled with dread, I stalled going up and shame-filled, I shook rung by rung descending.  I have heard that within the last twenty years or so, someone tried to burn the barn down.  I felt relieved and absolved with closure I recently drove by the blackened shell. I wonder if the one, or ones who set it, were also shamed by the games played in that barn.


Many of you are aware of my dowsing skills. Most begin as I did, learning about finding water with a Y stick. After I learned more, I have been able to heal. I have been able to help a friend or two with shrinking their tumors to be nothing. I owe this to my grandfather and the universe.
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