My family used to own a Bucks County farm located in historic Ivyland. The 80+ acres of land, stone farmhouse and four-story barn were a gift to my grandparents. When I was young, I spent my summers there. My grandmother gardened and her home was surrounded by peonies, tiger lilies, roses, and grapes. We had one ancient grapevine spun over a 12-foot arbor. The grapes were enjoyed by the myriad birds which made their homes in and around the barn. My summer playground consisted of that old barn, the woods behind my uncle’s house, and my grandmother’s attic. My time “on the farm” felt magical and, to this day, I can’t think about my old home without smiling.
Our summer days went something like this: My brother and I woke up with the sunrise, scarfed down Lucky Charms, and were outside before my grandmother was dressed (she liked to enjoy her cup of coffee at a leisurely pace).
“Be back in time for lunch,” Grandmom would yell seconds before the kitchen screen door slammed behind us as we bolted for the day’s adventure.
We’d meet up with cousins and neighbors to build forts in the copse next to my uncle’s house — actual working lean-tos — or dam up the stream which meandered through our property. Tadpoles swarmed the dark spaces under the log we used as a bridge. Barn swallows dive-bombed us whenever we ventured too close to their nests, set high in the eaves of the barn’s first floor.
At high noon, we’d scuttle back home for PB&J on white bread served on heavy, hand-painted crockery. How did we know it was lunchtime, each and every time? Our wrists wore no watches. No one yelled out to us to come inside (even if Grandmom had yelled, we’d have never heard her as we were typically acres away, deep in the woods).
Post-lunch, we’d swish our plates clean and dash back outdoors. The woods were perfect for playing “Land of the Lost” or “Gilligan’s Island” (that we were landlocked didn’t stop our imaginations). We’d climb trees, carve spears, and engage in all kinds of tomfoolery until suppertime. Skinned knees never slowed us down!
Dinner was a rest stop between outdoor fun. Our plates would be piled with meat, potatoes, and a vegetable cooked until it was limp. Once dishes were washed, we inevitably ran back outside in time for the fireflies to emerge.
Peering through the remnants of the lilac bushes toward the farmhouse.
The farm had two Linden trees planted in the front yard. Their trunks were five feet or more in diameter and we were told they were planted when the house was built in 1734. Lightning bugs swarmed those 20-foot high trees. I swear it looked like twinkle lights on a Christmas tree. Sometimes we’d spend hours catching fireflies and putting them into Ball jars, slits cut into the lids. The jars would come inside at the bedtime and rest on our dressers until morning.
Only when it was pitch dark did we begin our nightly ritual of “Ghost in the Graveyard.” We didn’t use flashlights and the farm was dark. I’m talking so dark I used to get scared walking between the farm house and my uncle’s house, the lights from each too far away to crease the midnight sky. (Truth be told, I usually ran once the dim light from my uncle’s kitchen disappeared.) The hiding places were vast and the only rule was we couldn’t go inside the barn or house. I loved squirreling myself behind the pool, on the swings which hung from an oak tree. Only the occasional squeak of the rusty chain gave me away.
As I sit inside my air-conditioned home, watching the fireflies flit through the French doors, I miss the easy summer days, where all our cares could be solved by rock-paper-scissors. Laughing as we rolled down the barn hill oblivious to the grass stains on our clothes. Picking and eating sun-ripened blackberries. Groaning over knock-knock jokes.
We sold the farm in 1986 after my grandmother’s death. No matter where I’ve lived since I have always thought of Ivyland and our farmhouse as “home.” My children have never been there but they’ve been regaled with some of my stories. Nowadays, they wander outdoors only to play Pokémon Go, missing the wonders surrounding them in the woods, creeks, and with neighbors.