Saturday, December 28, 2013


“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……….  


brookberrygirl said...

I never get tired of reading the troll story, but the additional thoughts are just too bittersweet.

Anne Gould said...

512Wow, I love the powerpoint presentation, such a beautiful place and I am sad to see the land developed. I work with a horse at Red Tail Ridge and just visiting there makes me see what a history this entire farm has. I hate to see it all go for some apartments to be built!

Anne Gould said...

Excellent photographs and blog, its is so great to read some of the history of this beautiful farm.

I wonder which years you lived in Paris, I also lived there for 3 years in late 1960s-early 1970s