Versions of this idiomatic phrase asking someone to “shut the door” are universal. The Russian version is “were you born in an elevator.” This site from the UK gives a fairly likely origin of the phrase in English. It also removes some of the irony of a Christian using the phrase in a derisive fashion. Christ was after all born in a barn. Most of us Americans (the unlucky and the Appalachians) are today born in hospitals unless our parents were hippies. Even the current fad of converting barns into houses shouldn't add to the barn born population. Although hippies are some of the most keen for the barn to house craze.
There was a time in the western world when people and livestock occupied the same living space. I reckon it was for heat and security. There have been recent studies that suggest that children raised in close proximity to livestock have a much lesser incidence of allergies. Of course there is that whole bird flu thing.
I don't know anyone in my family who was born in a barn. I was born in Mercy Hospital in Portsmouth, Ohio. It had a hexagonal chapel with stained glass windows that dominated the front of the building so it was almost like being born in a church. My dad had to demolish it a few years ago when he was the engineer for the local group of hospitals. The old hospital with its asbestos and such could not be made safe for the patients so it was a difficult but rational decision. I think dad was able to save the glass.
Although the living generations of my family have been born in hospitals or at home, some of us have lived in barns. Some have lived more than once in a barn and some have died in them.
My grandma died in a barn.
To be honest it was an addition to the barn that was built when my uncle Ted moved back from Kentucky. The barn had been converted into a home by my grandpa and older uncles when my grandparents' third home was destroyed by fire. They lived in the chicken shack while the barn was undergoing its transformation. Living in a barn may protect you from allergies but I reckon it provides you with no special defense against Polio. My mom contracted Polio when she was a little girl of two years or so. With luck and the Shriners she was left only with a crippled foot and a slight limp. She suffers the effects of post-Polio syndrome now but it beats the hell out of a short life in an iron lung.
You would hardly know that the old farm house was once a barn, it has white with its deep green trim and tin roof. It is cliché to talk about sleeping under a tin roof in a steady rain but there is a reason for that. What I wouldn't give to fall asleep while my grandma rubbed my creek wadding tired back, under the portrait of Jesus while listening to the steady drumming of the Appalachian rain.
The house is still there and my cousin Anita and her husband Mark have raised their family there. Anita spent her last few years of high school in the barn before she went off to be a soldier. Her childhood home burned and my grandpa sold the old home place to uncle Harry, Anita's dad. Grandpa was ready for a smaller place closer to his favorite coffee shop where he would hold court with young men (newly retired 65+ crowd) and talk politics.
My uncle Harry died in the barn some years after grandma. He was sitting at the kitchen table when grandma came back to get him. I am glad he was there. I am sure that made grandma's trip back to get him that much easier. He recognized her immediately.
My grandpa died in the hospital at 92. I reckon that was 12 years ago. My dad would stop in to check on him as dad made his rounds about the hospital. The last thing grandpa said to my dad was, “Don't work too hard, Mike.” Grandpa never thought anyone could work hard enough so that was quite a compliment to his son-in-law.
Grandpa had worked hard all his life and he could be cruel at times. He was not cold but like many adults who are denied a childhood he could be a bit mean. I have heard stories of grandpa living in a barn as a child after his father died. He was forced to work to help provide for the family and would often scour the railroad tracks for coal that had fallen from the coal cars. And no this was NOT during the Great Depression; it was prior to WWI. My great-grandmother (whom I obviously never met) was reported to have thought that Christmas trees were pagan and would not allow one in the home. I am not sure what they would have decorated the tree with in the first place but getting a tree would have been easy and free. When my grandma was older and tired and threatened that she was not going to bother putting up a Christmas tree since all the children had trees in their own homes, grandpa would always go up on the hill and bring down some little Charlie Brown tree.
Grandpa loved toys. The boys would often get him those naughty items like the guy-in-the-outhouse-who-pees-on-you if you open the door or somesuch item that used to be found in the cheesy tourist places back in the 1960s. He had a mechanical chimp that screeched and played the cymbals that he just loved. You pushed a button on its head and it would make this awful racket. Grandpa would grin and flash his gold tooth. At 90 he was still that poor little boy.
The X-mas lights and Satan Claus are everywhere this Christmas and it is enough to shove even the most light hearted and tolerant Christian over in the dour, killjoy camp with my great-grandmother and John Knox. I also risk excommunication when I proclaim that Christmas owns Easter. Christmas should remind us of what great potential each child holds and how special the joy and wonder of childhood is and how it never leaves us no matter what we suffer. In this spirit and on the more noble side of the excess of Christmas are the toy drives for the disadvantaged children. As an example my friend Dan and some members of his woodworkers club build hundreds of beautiful wooden toys every year.
Of course there are the unreformed Scrooges who are critical of these toy drives and argue that they just reinforce the behavior that leads to poverty. I have news for you Skippy, the poor you will always have. Ignoring poverty will not cause it to go away or cause people to be more responsible. But those who believe that poverty can be cured are missing the point just as well. I thank God for this broken world where I can prove and improve my soul by doing what is right. It is like sniffing the mimeograph sheet of the quiz that you know you have most of the answers to.
Giving a gift to a child at Christmas is the right thing to do. I doubt my grandpa would have been any less of a hard worker had he enjoyed a Christmas tree or a toy but he may have been a bit less harsh as an adult. Childhood is good for children and it is up to us to insure that every child gets as much childhood as possible. It is no easy task as there are so many things that can intrude on it. Obviously poverty, but there is the loss of a home perhaps by fire or flood. Serious childhood illness robs many children of carefree play. The death of a parent or custodian is nothing a young child should have to endure. A child doesn't have to have been born or live in a barn to deserve a gift at Christmas. All children are to be pitied since eventually time and experience will take their childhood from them.
Were you born in a barn? Shut the door! But please keep your heart wide open.