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
And Schenley, named after whiskey
And there was a cat named “Mouse”
And they all lived together
In the big red house.
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.