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Old Habits Die Hard

From Metaphors for Metamorphosis by Gene Rooney

Old McDonald had a farm. And on that farm he had some livestock. There were some cows, pigs, sheep, goats, a horse or two, some chickens, and a few ducks. For years and years old Mac had put off building a better barn for his livestock. He had given himself lots of excuses for his delay. “It is too expensive…the animals are used to fending off the cold winters of Montana for themselves…animals feel trapped in a small space.” Etc. He had other reasons too, but he knew all his reasons were little more than rationalizations. In fact, he felt guilty every winter when he saw his animals huddled together inside the cheap old barn that had stood on the McDonald family farm for 50 years. With boards in the wall missing and broken, doors that wouldn’t stay shut, Mac knew the old shelter was not much better than no barn at all. In fact, some of the animals didn’t even bother going inside, so little protection did it afford.

Maybe the stingy old farmer would have never built a new barn if his prize horse hadn’t frozen to death one winter. He found her belly-deep in a snow bank one morning. Dead on her feet. Head down…back to the wind…frozen solid…stiff as a board. Mac felt badly about the incident, no doubt about it. To make matters worse, it was his children’s favorite horse too, and they accused him of being a murderer.

Thinking about the incident one summer afternoon, he suddenly decided to build a new barn. Being as prideful as he was stingy, once he decided on something, it had to be the best. He called the best carpenter in the county, and together they designed the best possible new barn with separate stalls, food racks and watering bins for each type animal. He even had thermostatically controlled heat installed for the bitter cold of Montana’s winter.

The carpenter’s timing was almost perfect. The day after he finished the new barn he tore down the old barn and hauled the rotten boards away, leaving only the barest trace of where the old structure had stood for over half a century. The very next day the season’s first storm was forecast to hit. You could tell it was going to be a terrible winter. The wooly worms had the longest hair Mac had seen in all his life.

At 3 a.m. Mac was awakened by a blast of cold wind that rattled his bedroom shutters. When he looked outside he was greeted by the sight of falling snow already a foot deep with strong Arctic winds drifting it everywhere. Pulling on his overcoat and rubber boots he rushed to the barn to turn up the thermostat and make sure the doors were shut tight.

When Mac’s eyes became accustomed to the darkness of the warm, snug barn, with fresh hay in every stall, he realized with a start that there were no animals inside. Frightened and puzzled, he grabbed a flashlight and ran out into the storm to look for them, almost colliding with his favorite milk cow. She stood there with ugly yellow icicles hanging from her muzzle…back to the wind…almost frozen. She and all the other animals stood there, huddled together, trying to stay warm, trying to stay alive, standing within the boundary of where the old barn had always been.

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