Friday, March 05, 2021

Solving the mystery of Clyde’s barn

| January 31, 2021 12:00 AM

It’s a well-known family story that my mother and father met at Clyde’s Barn Dance sometime in 1951, and a courtship ensued. Beyond that, though, the details of their early romantic days are circumspect; this wasn’t a couple to “kiss and tell.”

Barn dances were common in that era, harmless locales where guys and gals could socialize and, of course, dance to the popular songs of the day.

Mom, who married a dairy farmer, always joked, “I met your father in a barn and I’ve been in the barn ever since,” as she often lamented the twice-daily milkings that typically required her help.

The details of our parents’ first encounter are sketchy at best.

“There was some dancing, and something about a ride home,” my brother Rodney (the former dairy farmer turned massage therapist and kaleidoscope maker) vaguely told me as I quizzed him the other day. Not much to go on.

Who was Clyde? And where was this barn?

Rodney and I — and to some extent our other two brothers — always pondered the barn’s whereabouts, but Rod was the sleuth who eventually cracked the case.

We knew the barn was in the general area of Sabin, Minnesota, near Moorhead and some 20 miles or so from our family farm. Beyond that — nothing.

About three years ago Rod took me on a motorcycle ride through the Sabin area and we speculated where Clyde’s barn might have been. Sometime later, with help from one of his chatty massage clients, Rod finally solved the mystery.

Turns out his client is a direct descendent of Clyde Ball, the guy who owned the barn a couple of miles straight west of Sabin. She knew all about the barn dances and their popularity, how it was a hopping place back in its day and a cash cow for the farm family, who ran a concession stand to keep the crowds fed and their thirst well-quenched.

The woman gave him the exact address, but also shared with him that the barn no longer stands. It’s just an open field now.

Clyde’s barn was refreshed in our memories recently when our cousin (his dad and our dad frequented Clyde’s barn and wound up marrying sisters) found a green plastic letter opener stamped with the words “Clyde’s Barn Dance 1951, Moorhead, Minn.” The small piece of memorabilia had been languishing in a junk drawer for 70 years, but it was oddly so meaningful to us.

Mom was 22 when she met Dad; he was 27. We’ll never know exactly what it was that sparked the romance, though in general terms they were both shy and polite, well-mannered farm folks.

Our mother turned 92 last month and is now in the final stages of dementia; she can no longer speak. But I like to imagine that if there are any thoughts dwelling deep within her, perhaps one of them is Dad sweeping her across the floor of Clyde’s barn, locked in a tender embrace as they danced the night away.

News Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or