Tuesday, August 25, 2015

In Memory of Windy Hills Farm

Windy Hills Farm is no longer the home base for our family as of yesterday at 10am. I have mixed emotions about this. My mom characterized it well when she turned to me and said, “I feel like we just sold your Dad.” My immediate response was to deflect that statement and tell her all the reasons why she shouldn’t feel that way. I hate seeing her feel so guilty about making the right decision.

Windy Hills Farm came into existence largely due to the wants of me and my Dad. I dreamed of having my horses at home, my dad dreamed of having a place to house my ever growing horse collection because he intentionally lied to himself and said it would surely be cheaper than boarding them all (cue the hysterical laughter at his thought process here), and he also enjoyed being on a farm having spent much of his childhood on his family farm. So my parents found a beautiful piece of land, and proceeded to build a farm. As when Jason and I bought our farm, Windy Hills was a blank slate when my parents bought it. Everything that you could see at the farm, from the house to the fences to the arena and the barns and other buildings, all had to be built.  Trucks and trailers and tractors and Bushhogs were all acquired. As farms are wont to do, it began to fill up quickly.

the house at Windy Hills

Over the years the farm accumulated an impressive collection of animals. Of course my horses lived there. My dad kept a herd of heifers as well, although when it came time to sell the calves and/or cull some of the heifers he sometimes kept his favorites, and the collection of Pet Cows was born. The hallmark of many farms is the collection of stray animals that inevitably arrive. We had the usual stray dogs and cats. At its peak the farm had 22 dogs calling it home, and the vet my parents took them all to was giving them every fifth spay/neuter for free. The 1200 square foot garage didn’t contain any cars because it was almost wall to wall with dog beds. 


Apple, who lives at our farm today, the day she was born

One time one of the stray dogs my parents took in began immediately gaining weight at an alarming weight, because, as it turned out, she was pregnant with 13 puppies. I remember we went to the barn and got a bunch of 5 gallon buckets to take the puppies to the vet for  their vaccinations. We looked a bit odd walking in the vet’s office with each of us holding a couple of 5 gallon buckets, but we couldn’t think of a better way to transport and contain 13 puppies. It actually worked quite nicely.

Given that the four of us are all raging type A personalities we were not going to be outdone by anyone on the stray animal collection. We did not just have the run of the mill stray dogs and cats, we had stray goats and a stray flock of chickens as well. The stray goats were living under the bridge by my parents’ driveway and we kept thinking that someone was going to come get these goats. We asked around but no one knew where they had come from.



When it was clear that no one was coming for the stray goats, my dad and I hooked up the trailer and had what we referred to as the goat rodeo, and caught the stray goats. We put them in a stall in the barn and my parents proceeded to have another paddock fenced off with goat proof fencing, because that’s what you do when stray goats show up. We built them their goat condo in their new goat paddock. There was a male, a female and a kid, and my dad put his atrocious naming skills to use and named them Billy, Nanny and the kid was Bubba (I still cringe as I type that). True to stray animal form the nanny goat was pregnant, and she had triplets that that my sister named Wynken, Blynken and Nod. Bubba was the last of the stray goats to pass and we just lost him last year after having him for 18 years. He made the move with Jason and I and the fainting goats to our farm.


Bush; one of the thirteen puppies born on the farm

Bush wearing his thundershirt

Bella in the front, Bugle in the back; both strays

We never knew where the stray flock of chickens came from either. Yet one day they suddenly appeared, wandering around the farm. They moved into the main barn and made themselves at home for the next several years. There was a rooster, whom I named The Don, and several hens. Every few months one of the hens would hatch a flock of chicks. The Don earned his name because he was very aggressive towards his own kind, although friendly to other species. I named him The Don because he was like the head of a mafia family, constantly putting hits out on the other poultry. When the chicks were old enough that he could tell which ones were roosters he would kill all the roosters. We tried to stop him but now I know why it is possible to have chicken fights. He wanted to fight and kill things. Over the years the hens died of old age or from hawks, and the roosters met their fate from The Don. He lived the last few years by himself, and he seemed quite content with that arrangement.

The Don

one of the hens and her brood

Jason holding two of the The Don's offspring

My dad also bought Sparky the donkey at a gas station and added him to the animal collection. One Saturday when he went to Tractor Supply he came home with Poco the pony. There was a flea market being held across the street from Tractor Supply and when he saw the skinny, sad looking pony tied to a rusted out trailer he bought him. Poco was never particularly grateful for his upgrade in life and ruled the farm like a little tyrant, much the way Timbit does with our farm, until he passed.

my mom and Sparky


I spent many happy hours riding my horses all over the farm. I was fortunate to have a lovely, lighted, all weather arena to ride them in. But I also spent many hours exploring every inch of the farm from horseback. My horses and I galloped through the fields, swam in the pond, jumped the little ditches and made trails through the woods. I knew that farm like the back of my hand. 

As my sister and I got older and grandkids came into the picture, my parents had a tree house built behind their house. There was a giant old tree that was the perfect tree for a tree house. The tree house featured a giant deck, two lofts, a tire swing, a climbing rope, benches for sitting, and a telescope mounted on the rail. 

the tree house

I think the best part of the farm was that we had our own cave. When you first went in the cave you found yourself in a "cavernous" room (pardon the pun). We found some interesting things in there, some buttons from a confederate civil war uniform and a few other things. It had clearly been used as a hideout at some point. It was always fun to explore the cave.

Trooper the 3-legged lab mix; the last of the dogs still with us from Windy Hills

A typical scene at Windy Hills Farm, my dad's gator loaded with dogs. Trooper always sat on the floorboard, Bugle in the passenger seat, Bush and Bear in the back.

Bugle wearing my dad's Windy Hills Farm hat

I could write a book about all of the memories that were made at Windy Hills Farm.  Jason and I even tested out the waters of having a horse retirement farm at Windy Hills before buying and building out our own farm. For a couple of decades, Windy Hills was the epicenter of our family and our Camelot of sorts. 

the Big Boys grazing at Windy Hills Farm

Leo, Levendi and Homer at Windy Hills Farm

Elfin playing in the pond at Windy Hills Farm

A couple of years before my father's passing Jason and I had moved the horses to our farm. My dad had sold most of the cows and only had his pet cows remaining. There were still plenty of dogs, the goats, The Don, Sparky the donkey and other animals calling Windy Hills Farm home. However, once my father passed, the magic began to fade quickly. When we have to say goodbye to one of the horses we always get pretty clear signals from them as to when it is time to let them go. We experienced the same thing with the farm.  After my father passed his dog Bush passed from grieving himself to death a few short weeks later. Our stray rooster, TheDon, died. My dog Bear died. The matriarch of the pet cows, Beulah, died. The most beloved and well known of the pet cows, Buster passed. You can read about Buster's passing here, and the rest of that story here. It was clear that the thread of the fabric that was Windy Hills Farm was unraveling. 

Jason driving the gator with Bugle, Bush and Bear going along for the ride

My mom, my sister and I were all in agreement that Windy Hills needed to be sold. However, as with many things in life, we liked the idea of not being responsible for it more than we like the reality of it no longer being ours. My mom didn’t need to live by herself in a big house on 100 acres with barns and fences and equipment sheds and all the things that go along with a farm.  Jason and I were becoming resentful of trying to be in charge of the farm when we were 45 miles away. Doing much of the work ourselves was a burden. Having other people do the work and trying to manage them when we weren’t around on a daily basis was an equal burden. My mom was tired of managing and directing people to maintain the house.

some pasture views

Windy Hills had become a time and money drain that none of us were getting any enjoyment out of anymore. It is amazing how things that were a blessing can almost immediately feel like a curse in the right set of circumstances. When my father died Windy Hills suddenly went from everybody’s happy place to the place that constantly needed time and attention, and a place that was full of reminders that things had changed. Dad had been the captain of that ship, and when he was gone none of us were in a position to step up and take his place. My mom had never been responsible for the farm itself and very understandably felt overwhelmed by the prospect, my sister lives a few hours away, and I live on my own farm.

my mare Bonnie with her dam when she was 1 day old, born at Windy Hills Farm

We began the process of cleaning out the farm and the house. My dad was an avid ham radio operator, K4XG was his call sign, and he had over 500 radios that needed to be sold. There were three huge ham radio towers that needed to be taken down. There was a house full of other accumulated stuff. The barns were full, the equipment shed was full of equipment, the workshop was full. Jason dealt with all of the farm equipment, either getting it to a dealer to be sold or finding new homes for it all. We cleaned out the barns, the hay loft, the workshop, the basement and the attic of the house. My mom began construction on a new house in a subdivision. 

fall at Windy Hills

We also had to get the animals moved. We had to move the pet cows, move the goats, and move Sparky the donkey all to our farm. No one will ever forget the epic process of getting Sparky on a trailer:

Finally, after three years of cleaning out, sorting, moving animals and deciding which memories to throw away and which memories to keep, we were done. My mom moved to her new house. Shortly after my mom moved to her new house, Bella, one of the two remaining dogs, passed. Her ashes were the last of the Windy Hills Farm residents to be scattered on the farm. 

Bella sporting her summer 'do, the last of the pets of Windy Hills to have her ashes scattered at the farm

Selling the farm was a non event. It was on the market for a grand total of three days with developers fighting over it. I don't think any of them even went in the house. The farm will soon be 100+ houses. So many people have asked if I am upset that it will become a subdivision. Of course I would have preferred that it remain a farm, as we all would, but I knew that it was highly unlikely. I also understand that the only way to keep control over something, be it a farm or a horse or anything else, is to not sell it. Over the last several years the face of the street where the farm is has changed. It is now subdivisions all the way to the farm and across the street from the farm, whereas 10 years ago it was all farms. I don't resent this, most people live on what used to be someone else's farm. Everyone needs a place to live. 

O'Reilly, Lightning, Clay and Lucky grazing at Windy Hills

The developers asked to use our family name either in the name of the subdivision or on the main street. My mom flatly refused this, saying Dad would not want his name on a subdivision or a street. I think I probably would have said yes to the request myself, simply as a reminder to no one in particular that a family once owned and loved the land; that the land had a history before it was a subdivision. But it doesn't really matter either way. 

the heron that lives at the pond

every year a new crop of ducklings learned to swim at the pond

After the closing yesterday my mom and I went to lunch. We both fought back tears a few times. Each time my mom would start to say something about how sad she was, or how guilty she felt, I kept pointing out why it was the right decision to sell the farm, trying to help her not be sad and not feel guilty. Finally, instead of pointing out the obvious, I just held her hand for a minute to let her know I understood, I felt it too. Sometimes we simply need to be understood and heard, not told we were right, or wrong or anything else. 

entry hall; that is Buster's portrait hanging over the bench

dining room


living room looking into the dining room

Finally we were both laughing and in a better mood. We talked about happy memories, and moved on to other subjects completely. When we walked out of the restaurant to go our separate ways in the parking lot I could tell my mom was starting to tear up again as I turned to walk away. I started to go back and give her another hug, and another squeeze of her hand, but then I didn't. We need to keep hugging and holding hands, but we need to do it as we make new memories and start writing new chapters in our book.  

Rest in peace Windy Hills Farm. I will miss you. May the laughter of many new families echo through your hills for a long time. 


Unknown said...

Wow, Melissa. What a fabulous essay. Windy Hills Farm sounds like it was a wonderful place to grow up. The photographs you shared show how beautiful and "full" it was - full of your family and what they loved. Can't thank you enough for sharing these beautiful memories. I hope you will gather and publish your essays some day. Just wonderful!

Anonymous said...


Kait said...

This is one of the saddest blog posts I have ever read... :-(

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful story. The house and the land are gorgeous and what a great place to grow up. Hope your mom has more wonderful memories around the corner. I am sure she will. It will just take some time.

Anonymous said...

I'm crying too! You both are so brave!

Anonymous said...

A lovely story, both about the having and the memories that creates, and the letting go. Thank you so much for sharing the stories of your parents and the farm - and all those stray animals!

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Oh Melissa - this post tears me up.

My family's farm was sold when my generation was way too young to have a say, or to try to keep it in the family. We visited (trespassed on) the land about ten years ago. Bittersweet.

It saddens me to see farm after farm get broken up and developed. It's happening at a tremendous rate in the counties surrounding my island. Rationally - I know why it must happen, but the thought of no more farms someday is hard to bear. It's probably why I'm struggling so hard to make a go of my one-woman farmette...

I admire your strength. Thank you for sharing. You were so lucky to have Windy Hill Farm. (((♡♡♡)))

foffmom said...

You really could write a book about Windy Hill Farm. I could see a children's book easily about Buster, the calf that GREW. Such a wonderful place, and such great memories! Thank you for sharing them.

Lori Skoog said...

Melissa, this was such a beautiful post. Loved learning more about Windy Hills...what a fabulous piece of heaven. Growing up there certainly had an impact on what I see at Paradigm Farm today.Loving animals seems to run in your family.

Jenny said...

WOW, this is sad but wonderful to read. What a great farm/home it was that your dad built. I hope the house can remain. Thanks for sharing.