Saturday, September 29, 2018

Forrest & Jenny: A Memior

“A really companionable and indispensable dog is an accident of nature. You can’t get it by breeding for it, and you can’t buy it with money. It just happens along.” 
― E.B. White

September 2008

The phone rang early on a Saturday morning as we were preparing to make the two-hour drive to Marion, NC just outside of Black Mountain. “Would you possibly be interested in taking her brother too?” We paused and thought for a moment. Why not? 

About ten days prior, my wife, Karen, came into my office beaming and told me to pull up the pet adoption website whereupon I first saw a photo of Missy, solid black save for a white patch on her chest and back right foot. Sitting comfortably in a spectator chair, one of those all of us have carried in our trunks to take to kids’ sporting events, her jowls sagging to match the loose-fitting nylon of the armrests, a red bandana around her neck, and eyes barely discernably open under the heavy eyelids, she looked perfect. The description said that she was a sweet dog who preferred to take naps preferably in someone’s lap. Her lineage was described as one parent being “mostly American Bulldog” and the other “mostly Coon Hound”. We fell in love instantly and made the call. 

The deal was struck, and arrangements were made to make the exchange in the parking lot of the Walmart in Marion. We arrived first and got out of the Suburban and in pulled a little Miata. The foster Mom got out, opened the passenger door and Buster and Missy spilled out on the ground rolling over onto their backs with tails wagging. There was no question, they were coming home with us. Pleasantries exchanged followed by health and dietary questions that uncovered that these two had been living mainly of pizza scraps and dry puppy chow and had been living in a stall for their first six months. We loaded up and headed for home. (I should note for the record here that these two were clearly loved and their living situation was out of necessity, not out of any kind of neglect.)

Clearly never having been in a car for long periods or on a highway, Buster promptly began drooling and barfed while Missy snored. Arriving home, we hopped out in front of the house and everyone was eager to get inside. Having come in and explored the main floor we started to head upstairs at which point Buster and Missy stood at the bottom of the steps stared at us and then at each other. They had never seen steps and were completely unsure how to navigate them. The “tiny switchback” approach both up and down sufficed until they learned how to bound four steps at a time. 


Having completed their tour, we settled into the family room, us on the sofa, they on their bed. Missy lay down first and Buster simply lay down right on top of her across her midsection and began snoring. We watched them sleep in this pile of fur and jowls as we debated new names. Bonnie and Clyde? No, they are not criminals, look at how they sleep… they are like peas and carrots….. and there we had it – presenting Forrest and Jenny.

Though they were brother and sister from a litter of ten, they didn’t look much alike, Jenny being mostly black and Forrest white with large rust brown spots – I think he may have been part Guernsey. Their statures were mixed at birth – Jenny with the long gangly body of the coonhound and the head of the bulldog and Forrest with the barrel chest of the bulldog and head of a hound. Their personalities fit perfectly, he was the risk-taking reckless type and she the worrying caretaker. For example, when he jumped up and managed to grab a full rack of ribs off of the stove top and made a break for safety under the dining room table to enjoy his ill-gotten prize, she bolted upstairs not wanting to be blamed for this theft of dinner. There is nothing much funnier than seeing your dog trotting out of the kitchen with a full slab hanging from the side of his mouth. 

Jenny would spend her time while they relaxed in the evening by cleaning up Forrest’s face and ears. Patiently licking him like a fastidious mother while he sat with his eyes closed. Occasionally he would return the favor, but mostly she would look at him in complete disgust at what a mess he usually was. If one was out of sight of the other, worry ensued. They played hard, running and knocking each other down, but it was Jenny who would, out of the blue, walk up to him and actually punch him in the face with her paw trying to provoke a scrum. 


Both were incredibly affectionate, constantly placing their heads on the closest lap or pawing when they felt someone wasn’t paying enough attention. We actually had to talk to Jenny about not throwing herself at every man that visited, it simply wasn’t ladylike. Forrest, for his part, suffered from what I called “multiple dog disorder” – meaning that with a look, he transformed into Huckleberry, or The Big Ragu, or Dopey, or simply Hound Dog. These two were, without question, the most unique and loving dogs I have ever known. Being that I grew up on a farm with, at the high count, fourteen dogs, I consider myself somewhat of an authority on the matter. They both would lay between the coffee table and the L shaped sofa – one along each side effectively stranding whoever was sitting down – an event we affectionately referred to as being “dogged in” – Honey would you get me a drink? I would, but I’m dogged in at the moment…. 


The next ten short years were filled with story after story with travels and surgeries and back gates being left open and who did that on the rug and please get off the sofa and and and – it was perfect. The following entries serve two purposes 1. Fulfilling my promise that others would know them and 2. A journal helping me move through my grief.  These started out as social media posts that seemed to morph into something more. They seemed to reach everyone who had their own story of loving and losing a cherished pet. Having just put Forrest to rest after not quite 18 months after Jenny, I have been encouraged by those close to me to share these entries a bit more widely. I will warn you that they provoke some sadness, but I’d encourage you to look further into what were two very unique personalities and the immense texture that they brought into our world. Lastly, I would say that I share this because it has been my experience that sadness shared is greatly diminished and joy shared is infinitely multiplied. In hoping you find some of both in these anecdotes, I remain

Yours,

Bowman Gray IV
Winston-Salem, North Carolina 


March 15, 2017

Jenny - March 2008 - March 2017. We will desperately miss her uncontrollable, bend herself in half whole-body tail wagging, her not so subtle pawing at our legs or snout under the elbow, usually with a coffee in hand, when she was wanting attention. The way she would lean with all her weight against a leg while looking back up at us making sure we knew she was there. And of course, the snoring... lord have mercy, the snoring. If anyone were to ever wander into our house they would swear we had a grizzly bear in our living room. Jenny will join the greats that have blessed our lives - Milo, Dede, Thelma, Velvet and literally countless others who brought love and hilarity into our lives. Forrest seems unsure and is following us around. She would be worried about him as she did whenever he was out of sight. She was truly a good dog.


March 17, 2017

Those of you who know me personally know that we suffered the unexpected loss of Jenny, one of our two Heinz 57 variety dogs on Wednesday. She and her brother, Forrest (yes, they were like peas and carrots) came to us in 2008 via a foster family - the deal was done in a Walmart parking lot just outside of Black Mountain, North Carolina. These losses never get any easier as I get older, in fact, they seem to impact me more and more. 

Jenny was the worrier of the two so it is probably best that she went first. As I stared blankly at my computer this morning thumbing through photos trying to find inspiration, Jenny came to visit me. As usual, I did not hear her coming, just felt her warm head settle onto my right thigh. Seems she was part panther as no dog in history at 90 pounds could move as silently as she did.

Looking up at me with big brown eyes surrounded by gray, she just said "It's the nature of things and it's OK. The consistent stream of life promises the occasional waterfall that disrupts the calm. The upside is you get to see in more detail the dynamics of the water, there is real texture there. It's good to be reminded of the depth and texture of life every now and again, even if it distorts and ruins the regular flow of things for a time. Things will smooth out again, they always do until the next fall comes." With that, she leaned in a little more and let out a deep sigh and walked off, this time with toenails clicking on the wood floor.

May 5, 2017

Jenny came to visit again unexpectedly this evening. "I really just wanted to let you that heaven is pretty terrific. It's a lot like the farm except there aren't any burrs that get stuck in my ears. I run pretty hard all day and my knee doesn't hurt at all. No one makes me take a bath and I get to roll in that soft spot where that old pin oak used to be by the gravel drive to the barn. I lay in that thick patch of spider grass under the magnolia tree when I want to take a nap and no one has said a thing about my snoring. I see Thelma in the garden, but she's not much of talker and she is forever trying to get somebody to throw that stinky old tennis ball. I just don't get that. Anyway, I really miss you, mom, Daniel, and Alex. This place is almost perfect, almost, as nothing seems complete without Forrest. Not saying that I want you to hurry at all, but I'll be here waiting."

May 28, 2017

Jenny announced her arrival this morning with one of her epic whole body sneezes whose finale involves a vigorous shaking that starts with her head and like a traveling tremor exits through her tail. 

"Those always surprise me," she said as she walked toenails clicking on the floor into the office laying her head in my lap looking up. 

"You were gone for a few days?" 

Yes, we were in Boston to see Win graduate from business school. 

"Business school? Did you make him go because he kept jumping up on people? Like the one you always said you'd like to send Maggie to?" 

No no, nothing like that, you're thinking of obedience school. 

"Oh, yeah. Tell him I said a good job and to be careful not to jump up on people anyway. I've always found that to be good advice. Well, I've got to go, it's time for my mid-morning nap." 

I'm so happy you came to see me, we love and miss you. Oh - and keep your eye out for a friend of ours - Mike - he'll need you to show him around and keep him company.

"Of course, he'll love it here."


June 15, 2017

I ran into Jenny when I came down out of the attic today. 

"Looks like you are getting ready to go to Maine?"

Yes, Forrest and I will head up next week.

"I think this is one thing I miss the most. Maine. So many smelly things to roll in under the seaweed at low tide. I know that annoyed you because you always had to give me a bath after. You really should take the time to appreciate the nuances of dead crab, I really think if you opened your mind you'd appreciate it."

No, I think I'll leave that to your memory.

"Hey, you are going to take some of my ashes and sprinkle them in that spot on the gravel driveway that gets that really amazing sun in the early morning right? That was absolutely my favorite spot after breakfast. Then of course in front of the fireplace at night when it got cool. I like that spot too. Yes, I miss Maine and I miss you, but it's good to know that I'll always have a little of that morning sun."

It won't be the same without you. I'll sprinkle some ashes in your spot and maybe some at the top of the hill so you can have something of a view and a few down by the bathing beach so you can commune with whatever is under the seaweed.

"I'll probably come to visit you there if you don't mind."

Nothing would make me happier.


July 11, 2017

When we pulled up to the house in Blue Hill this afternoon Jenny excitedly crashed through the screen door on the side porch off the kitchen.

"I saw that you put some of my ashes in the sun here like you said. Did you go to the bathing beach and to the meadow on the hill?"

Of course, we did. You are in the sunny spot here and over on the bathing beach it was high tide, so you were carried along the seaweed covered rock shoreline to no doubt encounter your favorite snack and rolling balm - dead crab. You would have been most pleased with the meadow as the breeze was blowing quite strongly and you covered what seemed to be several hundred yards of wildflowers and grasses. All through the areas where you liked to dive and roll. Mom picked one of those little purple flowers to keep with the little bit of you that we are keeping for ourselves in a box with your name on it.

"This is fantastic! I'm going to head over to the beach now and catch the sunset from the meadow later. The best part is that now I will always be where you are, at home or in one of these places that we love. I'm happy now."

So are we, Jenny. Thank you for making these places that much more amazing for all of us. In fact, I may go roll in the yard to get a taste of it myself, besides my back could use a good scratching. 

"You really should. Any chance you are reconsidering trying out the dead crab?"

No.

"Thought I'd ask. Anyway, tell Forrest to stop scratching at those bites on his head, it only makes them itch worse. Also, please tell him that I will join him next to the fireplace again when it cools down again next week. Those are the best naps."

No argument from me there. 

"Well, I'm off to the beach and meadow. I'll check in again sometime, not really sure when, but please don't worry about me, I really am happy with where I am now."

I won't worry, we just miss you and talk about your silliness - we always will.


July 29, 2017

As I started to pack for the long drive back to NC today I heard Jenny plop down heavily on the wood floor with a groan. Rolling on to her back so that her jowls sagged backward towards the floor making her look like she had a severe facelift. Thumping her tail and bending her head towards me to make sure we made eye contact she started... 

"It's been an odd summer, quicker than normal I think"

It has been. Being here without you and the coming and going of friends. All of this knowing that when we get back we will be moving Daniel into college.

"I think Daniel's friends enjoyed being here. I tried to stay up and watch them, but they stay up way too late for me and you know how much I love to sleep. I'm glad that Forrest made such good use of the porch this summer, napping in the sun with him was so pleasant and reassuring. I am disappointed that you did not take him down to the bathing beach to explore things."

Trust me, he smelled bad enough without having to partake in your kind of rolling activities. He seemed quite content to snooze on that big old dog bed in the sun. His twitching and yowling in his sleep tell me that he was dreaming of you.


"I'm pretty sure he was. I'm also pretty sure he doesn't think much of those blueberry/bacon dog treats. Seriously, how many times did you see either of us just go and eat blueberries? Now, bacon? That's a whole 'nother story.


Well, I'm going to go check on Mom and then I'm going to peek in on Alex and Win and see if I can offer Milo any advice on being a new dog. I'll see you again at home, thank you for bringing me here."


Bye for now, Jenny. I look forward to our next visit and the report on Milo.


October 7, 2017

I opened the door to let Forrest back in from doing his business out in the rain tonight and was pleasantly surprised when Jenny pushed past him knocking him into the door jamb as she always did, making sure to be first in line for the evening doggie treat. Sitting nicely knowing that the command to "sit" always preceded the dispensing of whatever we have stashed in the treat tin, she looked up without a word.

I began - 

I'm so happy to see you, it's been a while.

"I know, the time has been getting away from me with all these new friends over the last couple of months. I wanted to get home because there doesn't seem to be a source for those delicious jerky chicken treats and I heard that Daniel was back from school because he wasn't feeling well. I get that, not knowing what is wrong or how to explain it, just don't feel good and all I could ever think to do is come over and stare at you until you figured out what was going on. Did you and Mom take him to the vet and feed him boiled chicken and pumpkin until he felt better?"

Well, basically yes - except we made soup and tried having a more balanced dinner tonight. 

"Does he have to wear a cone or anything?"

No, we are taking him back to school tomorrow. I think some downtime, good sleep, and decent food can fix most of this.

"So you didn't have to hide his pills in cheese or anything?"

No, he has figured out how to deal with that on his own.

"That's good, I hated that. I'll stay on the floor next to his bed tonight just to be sure everything is OK. You know how I like to worry."

We miss your worrying, especially Forrest who still hasn't figured out how to keep his face and ears clean without you. I think it makes us all feel better knowing you are here for a while.

"Makes me feel better too."

With that, she took her treat, climbed the steps and went into Daniel's room to find him already asleep, curled up on the floor next to his bed and immediately began her deep snoring.

December 11, 2017

As I neared the top of the basement steps with the Fraser Fir in my arms I found Jenny on the landing.

"It's Christmas already? Boy, I'm really going to miss Christmas... actually I missed Thanksgiving. You sure did drop a lot of good stuff on the floor in the kitchen. I especially liked Mom's sweet potatoes with all the brown sugar and butter and marshmallows."

We really could have used your help cleaning up. The floor has never been quite as spotless...

"You are going to put the plastic ornaments on the bottom of the tree again.. I am sure someone else has a tail they cannot control - couldn't be just me. I have to say the sound of the shattering glass ornaments when they hit the floor always startled me."

We're not too worried about Forrest, but we won't take any chances. It'll be a different story at Alex and Win's house with Milo though. She's high energy and had her first encounter with hors-d'oeuvres that were left on the coffee table... seems she likes salami and stinky cheeses.

"Can you get Forrest a gift from me this year? I think I'd like to give him a new soft blanket - you know the super soft ones from Costco that hold all the dog hair? Those were my favorites, so I want him to have a new one since I'm not there to keep him warm."

I'd be happy to do that for you. What can we get you?

"Well, nothing really, just promise me that I can come around on Christmas Eve to help with the kitchen floor..."

Of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without you.

March 12th, 2018

While staring deeply into a computer screen of flashing numbers that comprise the stock market, I was interrupted by the "thud thud thud" of Jenny's heavy tail on the floor.
"Has it really been a year? I guess it has... in some ways, it seems just like yesterday and in others, much longer. That was a really hard day and I am glad I didn't have to wait too long to get here."

haven't seen you since Christmas, I'm so happy you are here! It has been an eventful year and yes, that was one of the hardest days we've ever known. Did Bonnie come and find you? We saw her out with Carl before he had to take her to the bridge. I think she was excited about seeing you.

"Oh yes! So nice to be able to run together instead of just barking at each other through the fence! She feels so much better now."
Good.

"Thank you for picking up that big squishy blanket for Forrest from me, but did you have to get him the king size? Seems a little excessive. I mean it's like five times the size of his bed. It does seem to hold an extraordinary amount of dog hair though and that's a good thing, so maybe it was the right choice."

The giant one was all Costco had left of those velour type blankets, so yes, I had no choice and he really seems to love it. You are more than right about the dog hair, I think its somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-7 lbs worth before washing, possibly more if allowed to go for longer than a week.

"I stopped in to see Alex, Win, and Milo not too long ago. Milo is super sweet and very talkative. I tried to explain that as much as she wanted to speak to all those people across the street through the window, they probably can't hear her.... she'll figure it out. I'm actually jealous that she's allowed up on the sofa."

Milo is wasting no time providing antics for stories. When I'm on the sofa with her, she tries to eat my ears.

"Well, I'm going to take a quick roll in the snow and check in on Daniel. I like to catch him in the late afternoon or early evening when he is engrossed in his work, otherwise, the scene is way too loud for me."

Thank you for stopping by, please don't stay away so long this time. We miss you.
With that she pushed her way out the front door, engaged in one very vigorous roll in the snow and disappeared around the side of the house.

June 9th, 2018

Quite unexpectedly Jenny made an appearance week or so ago. At the intersection of Lyndale Avenue and Lake Street in Minneapolis sitting upright in the front seat of another car. She glanced over at the disbelieving faces of Alex and Karen with direct eye contact and the usual quick readjustment of her oversized tongue, they knew it was her. Jenny has moved on to bring her intense devotion and hilarity to another home. I am so glad for them, though the lack of her oversized presence in our house is still noticeable.
I am pleased and amused that she still sits upright in the front seat, all 90 pounds of her. Good girl.

July 26, 2018

Forrest - March 2008 - July 2018
It's an end of an era. Forrest has gone to join Jenny. His hilarious facial expressions, his dramatic vocals more along the lines of a roar when hungry, and of course the "I'll roll over and show you everything to get your attention" to anyone who walked in the door were always sources of laughter. Known for resting his head on the laptop while looking up at you and wagging usually followed by a paw on the knee demanding attention. There is no other way to say it, he was a Great. Big. Dog. There will never be another like him.

Of course, Jenny came to visit after I got home.

"It's actually best that it was here in Maine, after all, I'm here right now and he's kind of helpless without me you know. I really can't wait to clean up that face of his, he's been a mess for months now. I know you, Karen, Alex, and Daniel are really sad, but you have no idea how happy we are to be back together. It may be raining on your side, but the sun is out and there is a great breeze here for us. And don't worry, you know we'll visit often."


July 27, 2018

After a dreamless sleep, I woke to the sounds of blissful grunting from downstairs where I found Forrest on the rug in front of the fireplace, upside-down, and wiggling back and forth while rubbing his face vigorously on the coarse nap of the rug. Seeing me he sprang up and shook causing a cloud of white dog hair to explode around him (how he was not bald in life is a question for the ages) - 

"Wow! That felt great! Haven't been able to do that in forever without it hurting my back! I feel so so much better!"

Jenny lay on the floor next to him just thumped her tail and gave a half smile that said that she thought that he was just as ridiculous as ever and was happy to have him there with her.





July 28, 2018

In a moment that was hilariously predictable, Forrest and Jenny's reunion was just as exhilarating and clumsy as you would have imagined. 170lbs of happy colliding hound....









July 29, 2018

I was unpacking today when Forrest came for a visit by himself.

"Were you bored without me in the car on the way home? I missed having that one on one time with you, especially when we stopped for burgers and you'd ask my advice on things. Jenny and I have been having fun and she's back to sleeping on top of me and her snoring seems to have gotten louder. I really don't mind at all."

Yes, I did miss you on the drive too. Looking in the review mirror seeing a carload of our stuff instead of you sprawled out in the back was not much fun. When I put my arm behind the seat I got a handful of golf clubs instead of a warm fuzzy head to scratch. I am so happy that things are the way they should be with you and Jenny. Please come and check in with us, we'd like to know how things are going.

With that, he came over and gave my pant leg a thorough sniffing from cuff to knee, sneezed, and headed back downstairs.

August 3, 2018

Returning home from a wonderful evening at the gallery seeing some wonderful friends, some I've known for over 30 years, others within the last. To make things even more wonderful, I sat down at my desk and was immediately accosted by Forrest and Jenny both attempting to get into my lap which, while physically possible, is not advisable. 

Settling for having just their heads in my lap they began:


"We really just wanted to stop by and tell you how much fun we are having! I mean, we really do miss you, but it's pretty great here and we have the most amazing group; there's Gentleman Jake, Tuck, Butch, Spirit, Larry, Dugley, Mike, Shortstop, and Bonnie - they're all part of the crazy group. Some of the gang saw that you had been talking with some of their families and they all wanted to make sure that everyone knew how much better they all feel and how much they miss them, but we are keeping each other company. We've been eating a lot of grass, so it's just as well we're not home to barf on the living room rug. We found a large grove of red cedars and have decided that's where this new pack will call home at night on the soft floor covered in years worth of pine straw. Well, we better go, it's the cats' turn to chase us. We'll check in again soon."

I hope so....

August 27, 2018

Barely into my first sip of coffee this morning when Forrest and Jenny came crowding under my desk both pushing their heads into my lap. 

"What's this about National Dog Day? We thought maybe it was some sort of thing where rules were suspended and we could eat bacon and sleep on the sofa or something so we thought we'd come to check it out."

Well, it caught me by surprise as well. I think it's not only a day for some bacon, but just to appreciate how wonderful you have made our lives. I have always felt that life without dogs is not really a full life. You two just oozed love and hilarity. I miss your curious looks, your warm heads on my lap, your pawing at my leg when you wanted attention, your snoring and backfiring under my desk while I worked with you sleeping on my feet. Everything.

"We miss Y'all, too. The belly rubs, the head-scratching, particularly around the ears. Fires on cool nights, we miss those fires and sleeping on that giant squishy doggie bed. Really we just miss hanging out with you."

I know, we miss that more than you can imagine. 

Leaning over I grabbed a handful of furry dog ear from both in each hand and kissed them both on the head before they headed into the kitchen, checked the counter for possible bacon and vanished.


Happy National Dog Day, Forrest and Jenny.


A Prayer for Dogs

Dear Lord, please open your gates
and call St. Francis
to come to escort these beloved companions
across the Rainbow Bridge.

Assign them to a place of honor,
for they have been faithful friends
and have always done their best to please us.

Bless the hands that send them to you,
for they are doing so in love and compassion,
freeing them from pain and suffering.

Grant us the strength not to dwell on our loss.
Help us remember the details of their lives
with the love they have shown us.
And grant us the courage to honor them
by sharing those memories with others.

Let them remember us as well
and let them know that we will always love them.
And when it's our time to pass over into your paradise,
please allow them to accompany those
who will bring us home.

Thank you, Lord,
for the gift of their companionship
and for the time we've had together.

And thank you, Lord,
for granting us the strength
to give them to you now.

Amen.


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Saturday, December 28, 2013


MEMORIES OF BROOKBERRY FARM

“They’ll get you if you misbehave” said my parents as we crossed the bridge over the creek below the old cattle barns. “Who will?” I asked. They responded as most parents have and now in the same manner which I respond to my son; with the story of the trolls that live under the bridge who seem to have a penchant for kidnapping misbehaved children and making stew out of them, or so I was told. This is among my first cognizant memories of my early visits to Brookberry Farm prior to my Grandmother’s death in 1974. The other would have been riding down what seemed to be the most impossibly long and steep hill that was the driveway on a Radio Flyer sled that had been outfitted with wheels and no brakes. That last detail was the most memorable being that one had to intentionally bail out in order to stop. I still have faded reminders of those moments on my left knee. Ah yes! The days before product liability took the fun out of everything. Our visits were few, but always special.

My Great Uncle Gordon Gray, bought the first pieces of land that now comprises Brookberry back in 1944. Shortly after the purchase he was called to Washington and realized that he would not be able to build and he sold the farm to my Grandfather, Bowman Gray, Jr. Although my Grandfather’s full time job was with RJR, I believe he secretly (or not so secretly) desired to be a cattleman. He kept and bred Guernsey cattle and later Charolais. He actually held a breeder’s conference with his Brother Gordon at Brookberry in the mid 1950’s hosting breeders from around the US. I expect that he found the land and the animals very therapeutic as they allowed him to decompress from the exposure to a high-pressure job. Rumor has it that not only was each cow named; he also in a style true to his persona, remembered them all. I think there is something inherent regarding my personal attachment and sentiment towards the farm. I believe my Grandfather left a good deal of himself in that land and I too have found peace out there during more stressful moments in my life.

Although I was born in Winston-Salem, my Father’s work took us to Paris when I was only six months old and then on to Pennsylvania until 1978 when we finally moved back to Winston-Salem and on to Brookberry. For a nine year old, this seemed to be heaven with the long driveway allowing for warp speed on a BMX bike, huge Magnolia trees perfect for climbing, small lakes full of fish, old barns ripe for exploration and a veritable zoo of animals, some domesticated, some definitely not. Dogs (some generously donated by local college students that no longer wished to care for the cute little puppies that their girlfriends/boyfriends had given them for their birthdays), cats, horses, cows, turkeys, rabbits, coyotes, fox and any number of large predatory birds swooping down at any given moment. At times it was like living in our own episode Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

Being allowed full reign over the farm, I took to my bike and learned how to make relatively short work of the nearly mile and a half long driveway leading out to Meadowlark Drive even with a fishing rod stretched across the handlebars. There were several gravel roads leading to various work sheds, fields and the upper lake where I learned how to use a spinning reel and caught my first prize bass (a real mistake to try to cook and eat it). I also learned to ride horses, drive and shoot (not at the same time of course) by the time I was twelve. The summers seemed to last a lifetime and there is nothing quite like the symphony of sound that erupts at night out there in late July. Armies of crickets, cicadas and a few barn owls would sing us to sleep most nights. The smell of the boxwoods, the magnolia blossoms, freshly cut hay rolled into bales and even those confounded old chestnut trees that during the spring could make a skunk think twice, can take me back to my youth. Being that Brookberry was still considered to be way out in the country, having classmates over was not a common event and I spent most of my time with the children whose parents either rented houses on the farm or lived near by. Exploring, fishing and trying to defy the fixed laws of gravity on our bikes were the usual pass times. That period of time growing up between ages nine and thirteen is when we begin to define who we are to become. Little did I know that while I was starting to grow up, I was living in place that was slowly becoming a representation of what once was.

As a teenager when I “returned” home from boarding school, family life had changed and we had moved off of the farm. Although we were now living closer to town, I still sought the relative safety and solitude of the farm not because I really had an appreciation for it as I do now, but because like most teenagers I wanted to be out of sight of my parents and the authorities. I should add that it is a miracle that the trolls did not come and get me at age 16. I shared this privilege with many friends whose names will be withheld to protect the guilty, you know who you are. Anyway, the farm also provided a bit of relief from life’s stresses that we all encounter with usual family mayhem and disturbances. I will forever be grateful for having a place to hide if only for a couple of hours.

Now that I am grown (still seem to continue to grow outwards) and have a family of my own, I have had the chance to share this sacred place with my children. About half of the farm has yet to be developed and is still held for the family as private property. My family and I have had the pleasure of planting gardens out there with friends and their children, teaching my son to use a spinning reel, how to shoot a BB gun, sledding in winter and many of the other things that I experienced for the first time at Brookberry as a boy. I take them there, my family and friends, for the same selfish reason I share all of this with you – I want people to remember Brookberry as it was. I want to share these pictures with all of you so that maybe one of my memories, or possibly one of your own from out there, will stick just a little longer.

To those of you that are now living on or are considering living on Brookberry Farm, I want you to know how special it is. When next you visit Brookberry or return home to it, step outside, take a deep breath, look and listen to it all very carefully and with any luck you will find what four generations of my family have found.

As sad as I am to see it go, growth and progress are inevitable. My Grandfather was an advocate for the growth and progress of our hometown. How pleased he would be to see all of you sharing in what was his pride.

The trolls have had to move on as the bridge has been left in disrepair from construction vehicles and the area known as the “bottoms” has been flooded to create a new lake. This is the plight of the trolls. They are aware that no bridge lasts forever and that sooner or later they must find a new one. As they settle under their new bridge, as we all must do from time to time, their sadness eventually wanes and is replaced with happy memories of having chased all those unruly children who visited Brookberry Farm. So it is with us as well.

In closing I want to paraphrase something E.B. White said regarding writing his memoirs, he said that there is something rather narcissistic about sharing one’s thoughts and memories with others, because you do so being under the impression that somebody else is going to find your memories and thoughts as interesting as you do. Well, I have to admit that I do feel a bit odd about sharing these personal experiences with all of you, but do sincerely hope that I have caused you to look back or at least appreciate what I and many others once knew as Brookberry Farm.


But please always remember; They will get you……….