The Updike Barn

Many readers of John Updike know that Updike used pieces of his life in his fiction. One particular short story that interests me is "Pigeon Feathers," which was inspired in part by a barn on the Updike farm in Berks County.

Updike lived for years in Shillington just outside of Reading. But at some point his mother wanted to move to the farm near Morgantown, south of Reading. She had grown up there. And so Updike spent about four years there before graduating from high school and going to Harvard.

Mrs. Updike continued to live there until her death in her 90s at which time Updike sold the farm. It was purchased by Emerson and Marlene Gundy. Emerson is Updike's second cousin; their grandmothers were sisters. Gundy and Updike were school mates and Gundy recalls the boys being driven to school by Updike's father.

The short story deals with a young person's questions about death. In the story, he, with his Remington .22 rifle, is sent into the barn to shoot pigeons. "A barn, in day, is a small night," Updike wrote. Of course, he had to wait for his eyes to adjust to the darkness before he could begin shooting the pigeons, who would gather at one of the two round gable vents "about as big as basketballs."

The barn was built in 1840. I'll save the rest for the book Pennsylvania Barn Stories, which is proceeding slowly.

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