November 14th…“WHAT KIND OF GAMES DID YOU PLAY INSIDE YOUR FAMILY’S DAIRY BARN, OR UP ABOVE IN THE HAYMOW?”
Muffled girl screams, followed by laughter, emanated from the dark tunnel maze. The “trap”, in that dark tunnel, had been sprung by our mischievous big brother, Lowell. The “victims”????….our girl cousins visiting from Austin, Minnesota. We Noorlun kids were sovereigns over a marvelous labyrinth of tunnels that were created from fragrant, oat straw-bales. The location of that happy pandemonium was upstairs in the haymow of our handsome, red barn there on our farm just three miles northwest of Kiester, Minnesota. The architect of that happy goldmine of fun times was our beloved brother, Lowell Ross Noorlun.
Long before the days of digital dependency for playtime, we youngin’s had real fun on our farm. Our manly, muscular and mature big brother came up with the awesome idea of using straw-bales (and a few long boards) to create golden tunnels for us to explore and enjoy. Rich we were, but not in money. Instead, we were rich in the gold of loving memories with our elder sibling. For those who are a bit foreign to farming ways, our father, Russell, like all good farmers, was wanting to provide a soft bed for his animals to sleep on throughout the Winter and rest of the year, as well. Here is how he procured that bedding. After his oat fields were harvested, there were the remnant, yellow stalks, laying over those many acres, that the oat seeds used to grow on.
That yellow “straw” was very soft, in comparison to the green alfalfa that was fed to our livestock, so Dad would pull a rake behind our tractor to create windrows of the straw and then bale it into rectangular bales that we put up in the haymow of our big barn. The straw bales were kept to themselves in the front 1/4th of the haymow, near the giant roll-down door. As needed, we would toss some straw-bales to the lower barn floor. Picking them up by their two twine ropes, we’d carry them to the pens and other areas where fresh bedding was needed. We’d break them open, spread them around evenly and then our Holsteins (and other animals) could have a clean, warm place to sleep each night.
Our “Captain Of Creativity”, brother Lowell, began pulling certain straw-bales out of a straight line length of bales, then twisting the bales, he’d set them across the opening he just created. This created a tunnel for us to crawl through. To create a “room”, big brother would pull out a bunch of bales to create an open square area. To make the “roof/ceiling”, brother would lay some boards across the large “reach” and then re-stack bales on top of the boards, thus creating a room of our very own to crawl around inside.
Here’s where the shenanigans and fun times ramped up. It was easier to explore the straw tunnels with a flashlight, but it was also challenging to see if we could remember the turns and rooms, in the tunnels, by heart and “go the distance” in the dark. If anything, we figured our head would just bump into a “darker than night” corner and we’d just have to turn a new direction, ya? One day, though, we heard that our sweet girl cousins were coming to visit us on the farm from their city home about 50 miles away. Whether the genesis of this next idea came from Lowell, or from my little sister and I, that I don’t recall. What DID happen though, was big brother dived into our tunnel and took residence in the “room” along the path of the tunnel. He had his flashlight with him, but when he got into his “spider’s den”, he shut off the flashlight and waited for his victims to come crawling blindly along the tunnel darkness.
Brother took Candice and I into his confidence about the trick that was about to transpire. “Have Brenda and Val come up and go through the tunnels without a flashlight! I’ll be waiting in the room for them to come crawling by!” Sure enough, my maternal Aunt Beverly and family rolled into our farm yard in their handsome, blue 1957 Chevrolet and visiting commenced as we (except Lowell) greeted them all. Like a spider waiting patiently for a fly, Lowell hunkered down in the “room”. As us kids arrived inside the barn, Brenda and Val Smith climbed the haymow ladder, with little sister and I, and we all entered the haymow to show them this cool tunnel we created. Trepidatiously, our darling cousins fell for the bait and started to crawl through the dark straw tunnel, in total blackness………all of a sudden, “BLAHHHH!!!”, bellowed brother Lowell!!! As he heard the girls crawl past his room, he reached out in the blackness to grab the girls as he simultaneously flicked ON his flashlight!!! Scream good, they DID, and laugh good we all did in this happy remembrance of a Norwegian Farmer’s Son.