I hope that all is well with you, in these final weeks of summer, which as always has sped by too fast. Whooosh!!! And it’s over!!! Although it’s still boiling hot everywhere I’ve been. I’m ready for fall.
I used to love the months of my children’s summer vacation, and I never used to work/write during the months of their vacation from school. Now our time together in the summer is short but very sweet, as they lead their busy lives in other cities, and none of them have the long French/European style summer vacations, so we seize the time together when we can. Typically, I have a week together with my kids every summer in July and a long weekend with ALL of my kids together in August, so we start and end the summer together. We wait for that time together with great anticipation every year, and like all good things it goes by too fast, but that time is very precious to me, and to them.
We just had our end of summer weekend together, and we were a small group this year for the first time. One was away, in Texas, one recently moved to Austria, another had a wedding to go to so he came a little late to the weekend, another had another party to go to in another city so left early, and yet another was unable to come, so there was a lot of coming and going, and late arrivals and early departures, and we were a ‘normal’ sized family for once, and some of the children arrived staunchly for the whole weekend, even from far away, and we had a great time, although we missed those who were absent.
Many, many years ago, when I was first married, my husband loved the Napa Valley, had spent a lot of time there, and he wanted to find a home there for us to spend summers and weekends when we could. I’m more of a beach person, so I wasn’t as crazy about the location as he was. I’m also not a drinker, so the charm of the vineyards was lost on me. We looked at some houses, rented for a couple of years, and finally found an old farm that was a quaint funny old place, built in 1857, with a number of farm buildings on it, and an old house. It was a working farm, run by a 95 year old woman, who had kept the place running and in good shape, whose heirs were several nieces and nephews who didn’t want the property so they were willing to sell it. By coincidence, I met the heirs through our church. The property had buildings for the animals, and we didn’t know then how many children we’d have, and that we’d eventually have 9 of them. It had vineyards on either side, but none on the property, which didn’t matter, and it was quiet farm and wine growing country then, about an hour and a half out of the city. I wasn’t crazy about the place, but it had ‘possibilities’, and my husband had a vision (a lot of them!!) for it. We bought it (despite my misgivings) and turned all the farm buildings into living spaces. A small horse barn (big enough for 2 horses) became a small and very cute guest house, a milking shed for the cow became a playhouse for our kids. We built a tree house for them too and a play area. We turned a water tower into a tiny 3 story, 3 bedroom house with a bathroom and no kitchen. We kept chickens in the chicken coop (and bought a pig who wandered around, and loved the orchard where she could eat all the fruit she wanted). And a small shed that housed rabbits became another small guest house, which we still call “the rabbit house”, the ranch manager’s house became a small house with two bunk rooms and two other bedrooms and a kitchen. And the main house, also with 3 small bedrooms became our main house, for my husband and myself. It became a family compound with all the buildings close together. And there was a big Victorian barn for farm equipment. The first thing we did was add an old fashioned porch on the main house, which was my husband’s idea and gave the place a lot of charm, and is still today the favorite gathering place for the whole family, with the main kitchen, and we put a long, long table on the porch for dinners on warm nights. We put a swimming pool where there had been a planted field, and years later a tennis court for by then our many kids to use. A bike shed, vegetable gardens, and my husband planted vineyards on every inch he could, which proved to be a wise move in later years. Our children, who own the property now, since their father passed away, support the property now with the grapes they sell for wine. And I put picket fences everywhere to keep the kids from wandering off when they were little, and keep our many dogs safe too. For years, it was a happy, healthy place of freedom and happy summers for the kids, and weekends through the winter. I grumbled about it at times, and we worked hard ourselves to improve the place and keep it up. Our weekends were as much work as play, or more work, as we continued to work on it. It still looks like the working farm it once was, and is wonderfully old fashioned and quaint—and very much unlike the fancy homes that have sprung up in the area over the years. Now there are restaurants and shops, tourists, and city dwellers that spend weekends there. And our place still has the look of a granny’s house and old farm. We bought two small neighboring homes bordering on it, and the old farm has grown, but it hasn’t changed. And as our family grew, it became the perfect place for them to bring their friends when they were teen agers, and spend their summers barefoot, in the country setting, for their entire youth and now as adults. The property had some very old trees on it, to provide shade, and we planted some more, which have grown into beautiful old trees while our kids grew up.
Fast forward the film, and we still have our funny old farm, it’s a wonderful place for our children to gather now as adults, and bring their friends. The ones who live nearby use it more frequently, and those who live across the country, come once or twice a year, and always come on our August weekend. There are hundreds of family photos framed on the walls in all the buildings, of all the good times we have shared there. And it is the perfect counterpoint to our busy city lives, our stressful jobs, and all the pressures in our lives. Going to the old farm is like a trip back in time, to their childhood, and also to all the history on the farm before us. We have so many memories there. The kids have kept everything just as it was when they were very young, their rooms are the same, their childhood treasures and mementoes are still there, so many of our family memories, and the main house that my husband and I lived in is unchanged. Whereas once I complained about ‘boring summer months there’, it touches my heart to go there now, and revives precious memories. I realized this weekend that I was younger than some of my children now when we bought the place and started working on it. We’ve owned it for well over half my life now, and I’ve finally come to love it. It took a while!!! For a long time, it was a muddy, dusty, old farm with blazing heat in summer, and some very wet cold winters, while I wished we had a beach house, and missed my own childhood haunts in Europe, which seemed so far away, although the Napa Valley does look a lot like parts of France and Italy. It remains a major grape growing/wine making area, and it became ‘fashionable’ and popular along the way. But our old farm doesn’t look fashionable, it has charm and warmth and is quaint, and shines with the love lavished on it for so many years. I realized this weekend that we’ve had our summer reunions there now for more than half my life, and somewhere along the way, love for that old place snuck into my heart. It was my husband’s favorite place on earth, and he eventually retired there, and in the many years that passed, he imparted his love for the old farm to all our children, and I’m so glad he did. He was right all along (and I remember now how my heart sank when I first saw the place. It was not on my dream wish list at the time to own an old farm!!! I missed Paris and my life in Europe—but that came back into my life much later anyway) He would be so proud to see what good care his kids take of the farm now, how well they run it, how much they love it, and how well they use it, share it, and enjoy it, and what good shape it’s in. His dream has been preserved.
It was a huge trauma for all of us last fall when the fires raging in the Napa Valley came within 500 feet of the buildings on the farm, all entirely wood Victorian structures. All their childhood memories and mementoes of their father are there, and one of my sons heroically drove up and rescued hundreds of photographs from the houses and drove them to the city. I have since had them copied for all the kids. And miraculously the property was spared by a last minute shift of the winds, and the flames stopped just short of the houses.
I only go there twice a year now myself, once in the Spring with one of my daughters, who runs it with her younger brother, and I take a crew of men and women to help us repair, refresh, replace, repaint, and do everything we need to, to keep it fresh, looking good and running smoothly. They keep it up all year, but I am the very willing head of the janitorial committee to help keep the place looking beautiful and loved. They use it all year, but once a year I run the energetic spring cleaning. I end on a Friday, and they spend the weekend there with their friends to start the summer. And I only stay there once a year myself for our August long weekend reunion. It is always very nostalgic for me to go there, hundreds of memories crowd into my mind, of them as little kids, and their father, and our life there. It was his vision and his dream which brought the farm into our lives. What an incredible gift and legacy for all of us, especially our children. I walk the same paths as I did then, walk into rooms which still look the same, and remember all the love and laughter and warm times we shared there. He was very artful about it, which amused me less then and makes me laugh now: the flatbed truck he gave me one year for my birthday, because he needed it on the farm—-the vintage trucks he collected, and occasionally pretended to give me, although he used them and I didn’t….the flock of goats (that I did NOT appreciate at all), and the tractor I gave him. There was no glamour there, just wonderful family life with a lot of barefoot children running in the grass, free of their city life for a whole summer. It was a fantastic experience for us all.
It amazes me to realize how many years have passed, the children have grown up, and we still have the farm. It has been a lasting blessing in our lives, for more than half my life. I eventually got the beach house I had dreamed of, and sold it after 15 years, the charm of that wore thin, and the children preferred their farm life, and the freedom to run around there, instead of the beach. So the farm won hands down in the end, and now I cherish my days there at the end of every summer, as we follow our old traditions, and make new memories there every year. It is a piece of our history which I cherish and am profoundly grateful for. It makes our long weekend together there every summer extra special, and where once the children were in our home, now I am a grateful guest in theirs.
I hope the end of your summer will have special moments for you, and will brace you for the long winter months ahead.
Happy end of summer!! Have a great week!!!