The Granary



 The Granary

Grandma never liked us playing in the granary. I didn’t know why. But farm kids know danger. It’s there in the pitchfork someone forgot to lean against the wall. In the floor of the hay loft with the loose-fitting boards over the hole used to toss straw down to the concrete floor below. In the wagon hitch, you’re trying to put the pin through as Dad backs up the tractor. Farms were so dangerous that some insurance companies lost money on life insurance policies for farm kids.

We didn’t see the granary as one of those dangers. The worse thing that would happen was you’d pick up a cat turd while running the oat grains through your fingers. For nine-year-old girls, the granary was a giant sand box filled with cigar-shaped grains that wiped easily from between you toes and poured like tiny gold nuggets from the socks we filled while playing pirates. It was a place to bury yourself in the wealth of the harvest, feeling an ancient sense of contentment.

Grandma’s granary was a room in the loft of the barn about the size of a farm kitchen. Unlike Dad’s granary, which had sides covered with corrugated tin, this granary was made of pine planks fitted tongue and groove keeping out moisture and showing the skill of the 19th century German barn builders. The floorboards, worn so smooth they shown, never gave us slivers in our bare feet.

There was no electricity in the loft, so what light filled the granary came from the open door. This caught the dust particles in rays that spread like a silk fan and cut the room in half. Golden grain, brown wood, streaks of yellow dusty sunlight ending in dark corners, the room felt soft and safe to us. A cool dark place on a hot summer day.

 The best time to play in the granary was in August, just after the harvest. Then the pile reached to the ceiling, about twice our height. We’d slide down from the top, pulling the grain with us and flattening the stack. I’d visit in winter also. Although the cold kept us from play, I went to the granary to help Grandpa bag oats for the mill. On very cold days, a slight layer of frost sparkled on the pile. More beautiful were the nails spaced evenly on the cross-planks of the door. Covered with frost, they shone like rhinestone buttons.  By spring the grain diminished to less than half and was too dirty to enjoy.

Although only nine, I, like my siblings, had a role in the harvest. The granary was filled by a wooden grain elevator that my grandfather made himself. Its little wooden shelves were pulled upward through a three-sided box by a flat link chain. They caught the grain then moved it up with them. My job was to stand alongside the thrashing machine’s hopper and make sure the elevator’s bin didn’t overflow and that the chain didn’t get stuck. If it did, I needed to close the hopper door, unplug the elevator and pull on the shelves until the chain moved. Make sure you unplug it, were my directions every year. Don’t put your hand by that chain or you’ll lose it. Most of the time, the elevator was jammed so tightly that I needed to call one of the men to help, but sometimes I was strong enough to unjam it myself.

Thousands of crickets were shuttled along in the shucks to the thrasher and on into the granary. I loved those little bugs. They were our pets. Their little black bodies had legs that tickled the palm of your hand if you were quick enough to catch them. We’d gather them into coffee tins and have contests to see whose would jump out first. Unfortunately, their chirping stopped when we entered the granary, filling the small room with our giggles and the soft sound of seed sifted from pile to bucket, from bucket to pile. Sometimes we would keep very still, waiting for them to begin their song, but that was rare as crickets have far more patience than little girls.

Grandma could always tell we had been playing in the granary because we filled in the chute. The chute began as a six-inch square hole in the floor and ended in the bin of the stable below. We filled it up not only because it was fun to see the oats disappear down the dark hole, but because when I was seven, I stepped in it and fell up to my crotch, painfully scraping my inner thigh that my shorts left exposed. Maybe Grandma remembered that. Maybe that’s why she warned us. But Grandma never scolded harshly, and never enough to keep us out of our playpen for more than a day or two. Until the day it happened. Then I wished Grandma had whipped our butts until they bled.

It was me and my best neighbor friend Cathy and her little sister Josie, who was five. We usually didn’t have to watch Josie, but this day we did and we took her along to the granary. It was the week before school started, a week after the county fair. The bin was full to the ceiling, and we climbed up to the top like it was a pile of snow in January. Little Josie followed us up learning how to scale the pile as we went up and slid down twice for her once.

The pile was spreading out with our movement. A large wave stayed up along the side wall. That is what came down on Josie. It came down fast and hard just when we turned to watch her. She disappeared half-way to the top. We scrambled up but the grain kept coming down, and we couldn’t see Josie or any movement. She was swallowed up. Cathy and I were screaming at each other. Then I grabbed the grain shovel. As heavy as it was, so heavy that normally I could hardly lift it, I shoveled and shoveled where I thought Josie must be. We were crying and screaming, Josie, Josie. Then I told Cathy to shut up and we listened. Nothing. Nothing. I started digging again and hit her foot. “Cathy, Cathy grab it and pull.” The oats came down more as she did. Panicking, I estimated where Josie’s head would be and used my hands to dig until I felt her, then pushed the grain from her face, then her chest. Was she dead? Was she breathing? She didn’t move. Then suddenly took a deep breath and screamed.

Cathy hugged her sister, brushing the oats from her hair, pulled off her shirt and shook it out, then the same with her shorts and even her underwear. We sat there for a long time, so quiet the crickets started chirping.


Suzanne Zipperer


Suzanne Zipperer grew up on a farm in northeastern Wisconsin with a dream of seeing a baobab tree as pictured in her third-grade geography book. Her curiosity about other cultures took her from riding a bike past the migrant workers camp to ten years overseas living in Europe and Zimbabwe. On her return to Wisconsin, Suzanne did community work in Milwaukee where she continued to learn about the other cultures. Her writing is as varied as her life, and she continues to be curious. Suzanne has published short stories in “Moto Magazine,” and “Made of Rust and Glass,” and poetry in “The Crone’s Nest,” and “American Journal of Nursing.” She was a semifinalist in the Wisconsin People and Ideas Short Fiction Contest. She was a regular contributor to “The Riverwest Currents, “ edited “New Faces, Immigration to Wisconsin 1970s to 1990s,” and wrote and published “The Key New Readers Newspaper” for ten years. 


  1. Nice! I enjoyed that.

  2. I could see those dust mites in the sun light from your description. And were the buildings for the immigrants the same ones where Evie played with the children who did not go to the fields w their parents?

  3. Great story! Took my right to the farm.

  4. Wonderful story. Brought back memories. Thank you.

  5. Good story Sis! Definitely caught the atmosphere of that granary.

  6. Transported me back in time to summers spent at my grandparent's farm. Enjoyed the rich, sensory descrips and how chores and childhood were woven throughout. Thank You author, author!

  7. This is amazing. Can’t wait to read your book!

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