When 'Howdy do?' followed 'do-si-do'

The Barn Social, an idea whose time has come - again.... This thought kept occurring to me after a wonderful evening we had during a visit to Yosemite National Park. While exploring the Pioneer History Center, our family received an invitation to an old-fashioned Barn Social. Immersed in the stories of the early settlers and surrounded by the historic wooden structures, we gladly accepted the invitation to be drawn back into this earlier period in our history.

The dance was scheduled to begin at 8 p.m., so it was dark when we approached the old Grey Barn, the site of the dance. This barn, in use since the late 1800s, was originally used for harnessing and repairing inbound stagecoaches on their way to Yosemite Valley. Tonight, instead of the rumble of an incoming stage, it resounded with the beat of a lively fiddle.

As we entered, the caller was explaining the purpose of a barn dance. Early settlers lived long distances from their neighbors and spent the majority of their time working long, hard hours on their farms. A barn dance was an opportunity for some fun. More than that, it was an opportunity to get to know one's neighbors. By exchanging partners during the dances, conversations began and ideas were exchanged. Lots of laughter and smiles were shared. All of this forged the beginnings of friendship.

The caller started forming squares at the far end of the barn. Four couples made up each square. By the time the caller reached our end of the barn, our square was two couples short. Oh well, we laughed, we'll just do everything twice. Just then another couple walked in, and we nabbed them.

As the music was about to begin, I saw a little girl crying into a woman's skirt by the side of the barn. She kept pointing to the floor and sobbing. Her little brother sat on the floor. I concluded that the girl wanted to join the dance. I conferred with the other couples in our square, then went over to the woman (the girl's grandmother, I later learned) and invited them to join us.

The girl's young freckled face brightened as her grandmother nodded approval. She quickly grabbed her brother's hands and pulled him to his feet. As we formed our square, we all introduced ourselves. We discovered that Andrea was 10 and her little brother, Tyler, was 8-1/2.

The music began, the caller hollered directions, and the lanterns that lit the time-honored hall began to sway. The wide wood timbers beneath our feet groaned as we thundered our way through "The Virginia Reel," "Queen's March," "Wind the Yarn," and "Take a Peek or Cheat."

The real challenge came during the dance, "Duck for the Oysters, Dive for the Clam." This involved quite a bit of creative maneuvering on the part of the adults in our group, as we all had to fit under the upstretched arms of the children. It never occurred to any of us that maybe we should sit this one out - we were having too much fun. The two youngsters tried to accommodate us by standing on their tiptoes and stretching as high as they could while we hunkered down lower than we'd ever thought possible.

We were having so much fun and laughing so hard that it was not until the end of the dance that we noticed the other groups near us were applauding. It seemed they had all wondered, as we had, how we were going to pull off this particular dance. By the end of the evening, eight total strangers of varying ages and backgrounds had shared music, dance, laughter, and a sense of belonging.

I thought back to the introduction of the barn social and thought what a shame that such dances were no longer in vogue. What a marvelous way to get to know your neighbors, sharing the common bond of joy. instead of arguing about property lines or whether your tree is dropping leaves in their pool,

The next time I hear politicians expounding on ways to stop urban alienation, I, for one, will recommend bringing back the barn social.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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