"Memories of a Place Called The Barn"
In 1966, at the age of seventeen, I drove my father's black 59 Ford Fairlane (fender-skirts and all) down a two-lane blacktop road northwest of Sterling, Illinois. While Margaret, my sister, Nancy, my best girlfriend, and I drove through the small town of Emerson, we listened to our favorite radio station, WLS, out of Chicago. The Shadows of Night were singing their hit record, and we sang along,"G-L-O-R-I-A, Gloria". Three or four miles outside town, we pulled into a gravel lane that led the way to a parking lot loaded with Mustangs, Ford Cougars, and Chevy's. Teenagers wandered in and out of parked cars like slithering snakes, yelling hello and waving to friends. Everyone made his way towards the old barn at the west end of the parking lot.
The barn, which had been renovated, was a controversial teenage dance club. Some parents believed it to be a den of juvenile delinquents, a place for under-age drinking, smoking (real cigarettes), and experimental sex in the back seat of a car. Granted, there were a minority of teens that did those things, but not all of us were like the minority. The outside of the two-story pine structure was painted a dull red. Inside, the lower room was painted an off-white, and upon a cement floor sat picnic tables for dining, a small concession stand, and public restrooms. A three foot high wooden banister at the left of the entryway wound its way up a flight of stairs to the loft. In the mow, the hardwood floor shined with a hefty coat of wax, and sometimes the heat was stifling. At the top of the staircase, standing twenty feet away, a stage had been constructed. Vibrations from the music of local bands and sounds of the late sixties Rock and Roll Era engulfed the room every Saturday night. When I think of the barn, memories flow like raindrops falling in a thunderstorm.
One such memory happened in the Fall of 1966 on a late September night. The smell of hot dogs and french fries filled the air as Mr. Johnson, the owner, greeted each boy and girl as they entered the barn through a small side door. Each person was relieved of a one dollar cover charge upon entering. As I looked at the girls with their ratted bouffant hairstyles and the boys with their black leather jackets, I made my way up the steep flight of stairs that led to the loft. Hip-huggers, bell-bottoms, and crop tops were in style. Boys lined the far wall and watched the small groups of girls that stood in little clusters around the room. The band played "Wipe-Out" and everyone began to dance. (The Jerk and the Twist were the rage at this time.) Black lights flashed, and a feeling of moving in slow motion invaded the senses.
As lights flashed and the music blared, I noticed three young men standing next to the staircase on my left. A red-headed boy approached my sister and asked her to dance. The boy next to him asked my girlfriend. The good-looking guy that was left looked at me, and I looked at him. He wore a white lightweight jacket, the collar turned up, and sunglasses (or "shades" as they were called back then). The sunglasses were not unusual except that it was 9:00 p.m. and we are inside a building. His dark brown hair was slicked back, and a wave hung down, coming to a peak just above his thick eyebrows. He had a nice-shaped nose and very sensual lips. My first impression was that he looked like a hood; today the words "juvenile delinquent" would be used. The hood's name was Dan. As Dan walked slowly towards me, I patiently waited for his invitation to dance. This was the night, at the barn, that would change both our lives forever.
As a result of that Saturday night at the barn, Dan and I were married three years later. We made it through the VietNam War, had some good times and some bad, like all married couples, and today have a teenage son of our own. Dan no longer wears his hair slicked back because of a receding hairline, and the sunglasses are worn only in the heat of a summer day. After twenty-seven years, we are still together. Sometimes at night we sit, holding hands, and reminisce about the good old days at the barn where we first met. He now finally confesses that, on that fateful night when he asked me to dance, he thought I was someone else. We laugh about that today. But times have changed, and today there are few places teenagers can go and have fun.
As a result of the changing times, there are no more "barns" that I know of where young people can go and dance. The old red, remodeled barn no longer stands outside the little town of Emerson. It was mysteriously burned down in the mid 1970's, the name having been changed several times before its demise. At one point I believe it was called the Purple Cow. The barn was turned into a nightclub of sorts trying to accommodate the age change in the teenagers of yesterday. The club failed, the building burned, and now Lake View golf course takes its place.
Even though the building is gone, memories will never die. At least for me, the memories will live as long as I have my beloved husband by my side. Even though we are coming upon the mid-century mark, when I look at my husband, I see the thick slicked-back hair, the shades, and a turned-up collar. I remember the young boy that was reluctant to ask me to dance, the bell-bottom pants, the bouffant hairstyles, and the music. I remember the Barn.