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Thoughts from the Barnyard: Barnyard tales - Old John

One of the many stories I have of not only the farm I grew up on, but also of the bachelor that lived in the Seagram Valley.
A story about “Old John,” who has never seen sheep on a farm in the area.

Many of you have approached me, excited to tell me how much you are enjoying the editorial portion of the weekly paper. Some have expressed how nice it is to see a refreshing take on the world’s problems, while others think back to their childhoods, being on the farm. One reader told me she has so many stories of being on the farm, so this week I thought I would share one of my many stories growing up on a century-old generational farm.

Growing up, we had neighbours, the eldest of whom was a bachelor who lived south of our farm, down in the Seagram Valley. His name was John Dextrase and he was a character. He lived in the summerhouse of his family’s home that he obtained after his parents passed. He used the wood-burning stove to keep the small room warm in the winter, which also coated everything he owned in black soot. He kept most of his belongings indoors, which left very little room to walk around. He wore slippers year-round and smoked close to a pack of cigarettes a day.

He also had a green thumb. Neighbourhood women envied his ability to grow the most amazing gardens, with corn stalks reaching close to seven feet tall. The ears of corn were not only plump but sweet as well. John would always help a friend or neighbour if they needed something for the canner or freezer. He lived off the land as much as possible and lived in a peaceful and serene place. But he was lonely.

 “Old John,” as he was commonly referred to as, knew how to drag on a conversation. He talked slowly. When I say slow, I mean slow. He enjoyed visiting, often coming up to our farm in the winter months to collect some of the canned fruit we stored for him or a dozen fresh farm eggs. He would come up mid-afternoon, slowly conversing with my parents. Mom would always invite him to stay for supper, but he would not accept or decline the offer. Ultimately, we always set a place at the table for him and let him enjoy a hot meal. After supper, he would often continue his visits until the wee hours of the morning.

One spring afternoon, my parents were away and my sister and I got home from school on the bus. We were not home for long before Old John’s truck pulled up into the yard. We had instructions to go out to the barnyard to feed the flock of sheep we had at the time, so we invited John along for the visit. In all his years living in the area, he had never seen sheep being raised. As the animals started to flock to us as we carried the pails of oats, John became a little hesitant. My sister and I convinced him that he would be safe, offering him a small handful of oats to feed one of the friendliest ewes in the flock. Sheep tend to use their lips to gather up the grain into their mouths, so the tickling of the lips made John giggle like a schoolgirl.

Old John may have been a lot of things back in his heyday, but he will always live on as a sweet, kind old man who giggled when feeding the sheep.