It was a Sunday afternoon not unlike most on our dairy farm in south central Pennsylvania. The day was warm and sunny, the grass was green, and the farm was alive with the fellowship of relatives visiting. Conversations about the price of grain, the newest neighbors down the road, and the topic of the morning’s sermon were shared in a relaxed atmosphere by people seated on lawn chairs enjoying bowls of homemade ice cream and glasses of chilled homemade root beer.
I loved days like that. All seemed safe and right in the world, and through a child’s eyes – innocent. Yet a trip to the hayloft with my older sister and a teenage hired field hand would begin to wake me from my naive cocoon.
The barn was a fun place to play, a huge playhouse that with any imagination could become a castle, a classroom or an amusement park. I especially liked the hayloft. There I could jump, fly through the air and somersault without ever receiving a scratch. Oh, the hay could be irritating if it got caught between my clothes and skin, but the time away within my fantasy world was far more worthwhile than the time it took to shake the hay from beneath my clothing.
It was there, while playing with my sister, that the hired hand coaxed, “Come on you two, just pull down your pants and let me put some hay in them.”
I looked at my older sister. She was five years older and blossoming into a beautiful young lady. Tall, thin, and lovely, everything this kid sister wanted to be. Yet in this delicate time in her life when maturity forged ahead with no promise of innocence returning, she froze. Unwarranted shame held her captive.
I looked at the hired hand. My mind screamed, “This isn’t right!” My stomach churned. I wanted to flee.
“No.”, I said to the boy. “No!” I turned to my sister. “I’m going to tell Dad!”
Determined, I raced from the barn toward safety, toward the only protector I had ever known.
There was my dad, seated in the circle of chairs, chatting away as if there was all the time in the world. No need to rush, only listen and respond with an occasional hardy laugh. “Daddy, Daddy, Tom is in the hayloft and he’s trying to put hay in Sally’s and my pants.” My father’s jovial face turned stone cold, and the mood of that lazy Sunday afternoon ended abruptly as my father bolted from his lawn chair, his destination unquestionable, his mission sure.
My safe little world returned within the hour. I never saw that troubled young man again, and I never had to worry that the hayloft wouldn’t once again be whatever my imagination would dream it could be. And it’s all because my dad got out of his chair.
Protecting children from sexual abuse is never a child's job, but an adult responsibility. Speak to the children in your care about how special their bodies are, and that no one has the right to touch them where their swimsuit covers. Let's all get out of our chairs.