Monday, March 12, 2018

Look, A Willow Tree!

Once upon a time, there was no Homestead Hill Farm. There was nothing to indicate that there might be. There were just a couple willows beside a bold stream and nice, new perimeter fence.

When we first laid eyes on this place twenty-one years ago today, we had no idea that we were in for the adventure of a lifetime. We were just looking for a place to call home.

Here's the story of that day from a chapter in the memoir tentatively titled..."Subject to Change".

The seeming interminable search for our spot in the Promised Land was coming to a precipitous end.

After daily dogged effort, we had reduced the realtor’s printout to one final entry. One. We had traveled near and far, checking out listings. We had searched high and low and considered things we never would have thought of in the past. Not unlike Goldilocks, we had found that none were to our liking. They were either too old or too far away.  Too pricey or too decrepit. Although our price-range was a severely limiting factor, the offerings ran the gamut. This project was certainly teaching us a lot about real estate, county geography, and our own determination. But, very much like Goldilocks, we needed to find something that was “just right”.

We had long given up the dream that we would set out and find the perfect homestead and put the pain and distress of the past behind us and realize our dreams.  Every day we would pile into the truck and head out toward parts unknown. And, every day we would head back, tired, frustrated and discouraged. The whole thing was getting old. What had once been a dream come true had turned into a nightmare with no way to escape.

In addition to the more memorable moments already chronicled, there was the “perfect” homestead that was far out of our price range…and right along the railroad tracks.  There was another great sounding place…but, there was an enormous dog barking and slamming himself against the front door. (the owner didn’t control him, but couldn’t understand why we were reluctant to view the house) There were a number of houses deep in the woods…very deep in the woods…like you would never see the sun, deep in the woods.  Those wouldn’t do since we were trying to be at least somewhat self-sufficient and a garden was an abolute necessity. Other houses in our price range were just barely standing, or located so far out that it would take an hour just to reach civilization. To say things looked grim would have been an understatement.

Our search took place in the days before GPS and cellphones, so we were relying on someone else’s directions and my somewhat challenged navigational skills…in a place we had never been. These rides through the countryside may have seemed adventurous if there hadn’t been so much at stake.

On this particular day, we were in search of that final entry…that “12.03 acres with perimeter fence, a new septic field and a bold stream that never ran dry”. And there was some mention of willow trees by said stream.  That was it. Now, if you’ve read any number of real estate listings, you understand that every attempt is made to paint the property in the most positive light. You would never list a “falling down hovel infested by rats”…no, you would probably say something like, “old-fashioned homestead in need of TLC, complete with pets”.  (okay, I exaggerate) But, the fact that nothing was said about the property may have been telling. On the other hand, it didn’t really matter. We needed something. Anything. Less is more sometimes. This entry was filled with possibility, leaving everything to our imagination.

Did I mention this was the final entry? We had no idea what we would do once the last property was viewed. The realtor had been somewhat apologetic when he informed us that offerings in our price range were few and far between, meaning the chance of any new listings was slim at best. Things were getting dire. I could feel the panic rising when I allowed myself to think over the possibilities.

Why had we thought any of this would be a good idea? Why hadn’t we just stayed put? Our old home was a distant memory I couldn’t visit without wishing for a return. My mind was on an endless loop of recrimination. I felt responsible somehow. It was MY father who had changed our lives…without exaggeration…our entire world…that grey February day. My heart still hurt from the painful experience. Tom and I were trying to keep a positive front for the children, but the house-hunting adventure was wearing on us all and tempers would flare over little insignificant things. The cramped quarters were stifling, fast food was no longer a luxury, but a necessity. And, when that orange drink spilled all over everything in the backseat (even someone’s shoes) he finally lost it. We desperately needed some sort of stability. We needed a place to call HOME.


But, where WAS it?

We drove slowly down the road, looking for some indication. Four sets of eyes scoured the landscape. I could sense the furrow in Tom’s brow growing deeper. The road wasn’t a long one and my chest felt tighter with every revolution of the tires. Yet supposedly somewhere along this brief stretch of blacktop was the final entry on our quest.


Maybe we misread the description. Maybe my navigation skills were really that bad.

A tense silence filled the truck cab.

There on a hillside was a FOR SALE sign.

Wait a minute. That couldn’t be it. Perched precariously above the sign, tucked among some scrubby trees was an older dwelling with absolutely no “curb appeal”. Please, god, don’t let this be it.

No, wrong real estate company. Besides, our listing said nothing about housing. No. that wasn’t it.

Should we consider that one? No. no. I was at my breaking point and didn’t have the strength to be tactful. The property met none of our requirements…and…it’s just ugly and in need of obvious work….well, just…NO.

We turned back toward the task at hand.

Where was this property?

Maybe it was already sold.

Maybe it didn’t exist.

The end of the road was approaching. I could see the stop sign at the corner and the tiny town just beyond. It seemed the property have vanished.

Now what were we going to do?

I could feel the bile rising. I was certain I had reached the end of my rope. I had no idea how I was going to go on…

“LOOK….a WILLOW tree! I see WILLOW trees!” a small voice came shrieking from the back seat.
“Mama…look! WILLOW TREES!”

Lo and behold, there it was.

On the opposite side of the road from where I had been looking in vain, beyond a rather unkempt fenceline we saw willow trees along a bold stream…

Further investigation revealed a FOR SALE sign tucked among the weeds where nobody would have ever seen it.

As we drove up the steep lane, Tom pointed out the perimeter fence. “you know that alone is worth something” he declared. “whoever put that in did a good job, that could save us a lot!”

I suddenly heard snatches of conversation from the backseat about “the woods” on the property. Small groves of white pines were scattered here and there, remnants of an attempt at a long-forgotten Christmas tree farm. Our little girls’ imaginations were suddenly working overtime.

When we reached the top of the hill, the panorama was spectacular. I wondered why the real estate listing hadn’t read “views, views, views”. You could see the entire tiny village of Middlebrook and off in the opposite direction the ridgeline of the Alleghanies stood in stark contrast to the pale March sky. I felt a small flicker of positivity for the first time in weeks.

You could see the entire property from the locked gate. Not that there was much to see. The landscape was still dull and monochromatic as winter had not yet released her chilly grasp.  This was it. 12.03 acres of pasture land. It was a good spot for grazing and had never been used for anything else. A steep hillside rose up from the bold stream and then leveled out somewhat before rolling gently toward a row of white pines at the back of the property.

The thrill of successfully finding our query gave way to the reality. This was pastureland. Nothing more. It wasn’t large, there were no buildings. Nothing. This would require a great deal of creative thinking and hard work. We were no strangers to either, but this project was going far beyond the scope of anything we had ever attempted in the past. I wondered if we had it in us.

But, the wheels were turning in Tom’s mind. When I glanced his direction to get his opinion of the place, I could almost see his visions of possibility. It was obvious we weren’t seeing the same stark landscape. I think he saw a real homestead as he gazed around the property. The girls were still imagining themselves playing in the creek and swinging in the trees, their little voices sounded excited as they planned.

“This isn’t bad…  You know, you could put a house here,” he indicated a point in the field. “And, this would do for a barn.  Over here you could…” his voice was sure.

It was easy to catch his enthusiasm. Maybe we could make this work.

Despite the heartache and pain, the detour through the wilderness, the totally unpredicted “change in plans” , it seemed that perhaps we had found our HOME…our place in the Promised Land…there above the bold stream and the willow trees…

…but then again…everything is subject to change…


  1. Wow. A rivetting read! I held my breath at the end (even though I obviously knew how it turned out). You have a fine storytelling voice. Hope to read more!

    1. Thank you, Kris!
      I truly appreciate your encouragement.

  2. This is my story for what seems like a lifetime. But my hope runs deep, like your willow stream, that one day, God willing, I will make a discovery like yours. But for now, the seemingly endless search continues. Meanwhile, it seems all the pictures in my head, have been captured by your camera. And from here in West Virginia, the landscapes are so familiar. I have just found your wonderful blog. I could well delete the long list of others I have saved for keeping the 'dream-spark' alive! Thank you for the beautiful testimony that dreams really do come true. Someday.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Mary!
      I know it's hard to keep the faith sometimes (a lot of times) but, most times things end up working out in amazing ways.
      Best wishes and may all your dreams come true.

    2. Thank you for your spot on encouragement. PLEASE keep giving us those incredible pictures from your very own Garden of Eden. I stare at them endlessly!

    3. I'm glad you like my photos, Mary!
      I'll keep posting, I hope you will keep reading.
      Thanks for the encouragement.