Goodnight Big Red Barn

red barn picWe said goodbye to my childhood home this week. Please excuse me while I grab some tissue.

In 1966, I was barely four when we moved in, after a brief stint in Tarzana, and New Jersey before that. The man on the Mayflower truck handed me a couch cushion to bring inside “the barn” that morning. My two sisters and I settled into the large bedroom upstairs next to the master, with two walk-in closets and its own bathroom, including an odd-shaped tub and a wall heater where we burned many a naked bum. Off my parents’ suite was a Hobbit-like hollow with 5-foot ceilings where my brother Tim slept every night those first years in the house. We all thought the arrangement was unfortunate, even if the room itself was pretty cool. Brother Tom, the oldest, took a bedroom downstairs with a door that led directly to the driveway. Escape was an option, often exercised.

I’ve never much felt like a Californian, but Encino is where I’m from. Our Catholic grade school was three blocks from the house, and my brothers’ high school just across the street from there. Friends were within walking or biking distance, and we were in and out of each other’s homes with regularity. Sharon Thomas and I built forts and roamed the neighborhood as kids, hiking through strangers’ backyards, scraping our knees, and slipping down hillsides. We washed up in our 25’ x 40’ pool.

I remember hanging on the bunk bed ladder when my mom came in to tell us that Grandma had died. I recall my dad getting us downstairs during the 1971 Sylmar earthquake and him answering the phone that morning with the word, “Repent!” I think of Tim outside rocking in the chair just off the laundry room, the persimmon tree in the backyard next to the guesthouse, the eleven orange trees that provided my soccer teams with a halftime snack. The mossy brick courtyard was sometimes slippery, the house was either very cold or very hot (A/C, and Valley temperatures).   With all its nooks and crannies, there was no better home for a game of hide-and-seek.

Jeanine and I slid down the stairs on a mattress with Erin Moran, before “Happy Days” made her famous. Tim Conway was a regular at the red barn. I won’t forget walking behind our living room couch, seeing Julie Harris leaning over, the back zipper on her skirt undone. There were other old-time celebrities who drank at the bar and ate the rumaki my mom served at parties – Harvey Korman, John Davidson, Carol Burnett, Ann Meara. In 1975, my dad produced a true-life television movie about a blind man, David Hartman, who successfully made his way into medical school. Before Hartman and his wife were due to arrive for dinner, I remember pointing out to my mom that the cocktail napkins she’d bought for the occasion, featuring an owl with giant eyes and the caption “Here’s looking at you,” might be inappropriate.

The fireplace in the living room was big enough to walk into. We set up a crèche every December in the nook right beside it. We burned many a log and celebrated Christmases we’ll never forget. And that’s the beauty of our minds while they’re healthy. I may not remember your name as you’re introducing yourself to me next week, but I won’t forget the Big Red Barn and a thousand memories made.

In 1991, my sister Mariellen and her husband Peter bought the house from my parents and raised their two children there. We were allowed to create new memories, in a thankfully spiffed-up version of the old place, and I know now how much I took for granted. Next summer, I’ll say goodbye to Goldie when she heads off for college, but not a moment sooner. I waited until White Oak was empty before I headed over this past Tuesday, with Miss T and Bun Bun in tow, to say goodbye.   Stepping into “The Court of Three Sisters” (as my father labeled it after a trip to New Orleans in the late 60s) the tears sprang. It was much more sudden than I expected, deeper than I’d hoped. I wanted to be cheerfully reminiscent, but instead found myself contemplative and, well, sad. Mom and Dad are gone and so too now, for our family at least, is the house that defined much of their lives, and ours.

When my sister told me she was selling White Oak, my first thought was, “It’s about time.” Their kids are grown and gone and their lives are no longer in Encino. It’s a big, old house. My siblings and I are mature enough and capable of letting go and thankfully, have full lives of our own. We’ve all lived in different places since each of us left after high school and no one really expected the red barn to stay in the family forever. Fifty years is a pretty good run. But still, I cried like a baby saying goodbye to the old gal. When no one was looking, I gave the hefty wooden post in the living room a big hug.

My childhood was a happy one (before those prickly teenage years). My gratitude to my sister and brother-in-law for allowing me to hang on to this idea, even reflectively, is deep. And in addition, they provided for my own children a peak into the Egan past. We are all richer for having lived part of our lives in the old barn.

They say the best things in life are not things, and that’s mostly true, though our house was pretty damn great. But it’s time to close a chapter and turn the page (and beg forgiveness for the clichéd imagery, and the extent to which I’m about to take it). Besides my brother, Tim Egan, my favorite children’s author is Margaret Wise Brown. I imagine she’d hate me for this bastardization of her books Goodnight Moon and Big Red Barn, but I need to get to the end of this story and this post, so here goes:

By the big red barn

In the orange grove

There were five kids

And their mother at the stove

There was a great white oak

And a rocking horse

And on every barn

Is a weather vane, of course – (we had ours)

In the great big room

There was a television

And a window seat

And a picture of –

A stagecoach driven by horses

In the kitchen there was –

A butcher block

And a big clock, but no door to unlock

There were never keys

To the big red barn

Come in, go out, good night

There were two hamsters

And four kittens

And words written

On notes in the bread drawer

There was a big red dog

Bow! Wow!

And Schenley, named after whiskey

And there was a cat named “Mouse”

And they all lived together

In the big red house.

Goodnight room

Goodnight clocks

Goodnight stairs

And goodnight chairs

Goodnight ball of crochet yarn

And goodnight to the

Big Red Barn.

My sister Jeanine has her own awesome blog – My view through rose colored glasses. She wrote her own homage to our home, with great photos. Head over THERE right now. And thanks for allowing me this treacle. I love you all.


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  1. says

    JoAnn, Thank you for this! I am so torn up about the crazy over development going on all over L. A. Everywhere I guess. The greed of developers who care nothing about the feeling of a neighborhood, and only about the profitibility of a house far too big for its lot. The house you describe was like so many of our generation. That house and the houses around created neighborhoods that connected families, where the doors were open and the fences low or non-existent. Where there was charm and nooks and cranies and antiques. Old things to remind us of another time, to connect us with our past. The warmth and the spirit lived like a great soul in these houses. And now they are being ripped out, along with the great oaks that surround so many, and being replaced with oversized hard-edge architecture and Cape Cod wanna be’s, boxes devoid of the charm and soul that children need in a home. You and I were the lucky ones. I too lived in a house that “built me”, and that last time I drove down the 1/2 mile gravel driveway and I cried and cried, I could only think we had a good run. And we did.
    If you haven’t had enough tears, go on over to iTunes and have a listen to Miranda Lambert’s
    “The House That Built Me”. Thank you JoAnn for connecting us to our hearts.

    • Jo says

      I will go and listen to “The House That Built Me” when I have another few minutes to cry. I agree with everything you’ve said here Francie. It’s why I’m more comfortable back east. They tend not to knock houses down as much back there. The man who bought the barn is thrilled to have it and not bulldozing it. That comforts me. Take care. – Jo

  2. Pam says

    Weeping right along with you. What a perfect and fabulous walk down memory lane. It was an honor to share in a few of the many Egan family fun times. Truly a special place. Truly an extra special family. Love to you all!

  3. Shirley Curtin says

    Dear JoAnn,

    Sooo sweet to see the little, the middle, and the big, grown-up JoAnn through saying goodbye to her lovely childhood home. Packed with memories is just the way all of the Egans get to remember the Big Red Barn. How stunning and joyous are your memories of the closeness that your home brought too all of you. I loved reading it and am reminded deeply of how we said goodbye to our North High Street Curtin home. As I listened to your reflections, I can also hear the fun we all had. Thank you thank you for sharing your loving story and poem, Joann, it was a real pleasure to read.

    Love you too, Shirley

    P.S. I laid down on the bedroom floor of my empty bedroom
    (while everyone else was downstairs) and hugged it. 🙂

  4. Kelley says

    …and Tim’s Charlie McCarthy/ Mortimer Snerd custom spook houses which were created especially to make we 3 little girls scream, laugh and run, and where my mother (Kay Wright) renamed poor beautiful Schenley “Smirnoff”, and where we came back after Christmas tree cutting & football in the park for the Ape trophy, & KFC (back when we used to call it “the Colonel’s”) in Ojai, to giggle and play, and eat wonderful food – especially spicy cheese dip. The Big Red Barn, for me, was where my extended family and many of my favorite memories lived. Thanks for sharing your memories JoAnn. I am so grateful to have been a part of them!

    • Jo says

      Next time I’m in NYC, let’s get together and just spend an hour or so laughing at all these memories. Fabulous. xo – Jo

  5. Laurette says

    Beautifully written. I cried at your Goodnight Moon homage. Having just left our house of 31 years, my heart is with you in your farewells.
    Much love JoAnn!

  6. Lorri B says

    AWESOME poem- are you kidding me? No apologies- it captured it beautifully! The Big Red Barn, as great as it is and was, and I loved it too, is a house. The memories are of your parents, your siblings, your friends, your kids, and you, enjoying it. And those memories are for you to keep and all the people still left on the earth are here to create new memories with you. Life is such an adventure isn’t it? And I’m finding its about appreciating what we have and then finding what the next adventure is all about. Onward! Farewell Big Red Barn! Wish us well! Great post!

  7. Joanne Neil says

    What stories the Big Red Barn could tell ! …and you have done a wonderful job of paying tribute. This piece is a keeper… One to read often and hold the memories dear. I am so glad the girls are old enough to have their own family memories of good times had there. We feel privileged to have been there on occasions ourselves. When I heard the house was being sold I felt sad for you that you would have to say goodbye, knowing what an important part it played in your life.

  8. Barbara Trafficanda says

    Well, now I’ve had my morning cry. I remember meeting Don Knotts and Tony Curtis there as well. I especially remember the window seat bed, the tiny intimate bar between the kitchen and dining room and happy hours playing bridge in the Gazebo….and I fondly think of your mom and dad on a daily basis. They were such a big part of our lives as was The Big Red Barn. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Eileen Yeager says

    What wonderful memories! I, too, felt horribly sad when my folks sold our childhood home when they retired. One of my biggest regrets is that we didn’t take it over. Years later, my sister contacted the current residents who welcomed us for a visit with open arms. What memories, walking through the rooms, picturing the way they used to be. We were glad that such a lovely family lives there now.

    That was 12 years ago – much has happened since then – my sister and parents are all gone, but when I think of happy and special times, that’s where they happen.

    And Goldie can’t possibly be heading off to college anytime soon – she was only just in fifth grade – right after her cousin Clare! I guess I really AM that old…

    Hugs to all of you –


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