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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Goodbye Weedpatch Farm: May 2015

Our mailbox at N80 W18397 Custer Lane, Menomonee Falls

Children: David, Simon, Oliver, Liam, Isaac
Then: Gail, Katie, Anna, Charlie, Rachl, Brian
Back: Kevin, Mike

The nut fambly
We finally did it. After living for 34 years in the dream home we designed and built, we sold it and moved away. 

The photos above show Mike and me with our children and grandchildren outside the front door at our "Farewell to Weedpatch Farm" party. You'll notice some are wearing name tags: I made the tags to identify "honored box packer," "honored box schlepper," "honored box assembler," etc. My son-in-law took down the dog run that day just to earn a tag: "honored dog run unassembler."

There were 60 people at the party and they all said the same thing: this place was special to them, like no other for some reason. One by one they expressed their love for the big home that had been the scene of so many parties, the ten rolling acres, and our 240-year-old Grandfather oak. 

At one point, without saying a word, a bunch of us left the house and walked out back, past Grandfather, through the woods, and back down the moraine....

Our son Charlie with his son David walking on the path to Grandfather

At the campsite under Grandfather, our grandson Liam
and our "adopted" grand-daughter Marisa attend to the important business of stick selection.
Our "adopted" daughter Colleen and our daughter Anna ham it up under Grandfather, where they spent many hours as children.

Our son-in-law Kevin and friend Cricket trek through the woods, on our snowshoe path that we borrowed from the deer.

Our grandson Oliver climbs a fallen limb that leans on Grandfather.
Of all our grandchildren, Oliver spent the most time at the place. He took our leaving pretty hard.

Oliver on the snowshoe path

Trooping back from Grandfather to the house
(Note the little sagging machine shed that's seen better days! The chicken coop looks just as sad.)

Back to the yard - pool, horse chestnut tree, and "lovely giant" maple

It was hard to say goodbye to the barn we refurbished last summer.
We're proud that we saved the beautiful hand-hewn hayloft.
The day after the farewell party, we continued the frantic work of packing up the accumulated crom (it's a word my mother used to say, German I think, that means "junk" or "clutter") of 34 years, 3,400 square feet of living space, three attics, one basement, a garage, a barn, and a huge yard. I never worked so hard in my life, and I began to feel every one of my 64 years. 

It got so that I lost the use of words. My friend Karen came over to help one day. She asked a question and I answered, "I can't talk. I can only point." Mike became just as useless with words, so he was very understanding the day he carried out a toiletry case and wondered what I meant by my label on it: in very clear penmanship, I had written "For background." Mike looked at our daughter-in-law Rachl with a question mark in his eyes. She glanced at the label, laughed and said, "I think she meant 'for bathroom.'"

For three Tuesdays in a row, my daughters-in-law came to help me pack. I don't know what I would have done without their youth, their strength, and their infectious energy. I found that my back could only make it through the day if I wore a support belt, a real fashion statement. Some days I also needed to wear my wrist brace. My clothes got filthy, I was a mess of bruises, slivers and cuts, and my nails weren't clean for weeks. The photo below shows me wearing the support belt as I take a break with my grandboys Liam, Oliver and Isaac. Their sweetness brought a lightness to the labor.

Liam, Oliver and Isaac getting a ride on the tire swing beneath "the lovely giant,"
the maple that our son Brian named when he was nine years old.
By the expressions on the kids' faces you can see I'm clearly not pushing them hard enough.
As we got deeper into the rush of packing, my mind left more often. The day of our real estate closing, I was in the basement absent-mindedly wiping off Mike's workbench and blanking out on the jobs left upstairs.  When I climbed the steps with about 45 minutes to go before our buyers arrived for their final walk-through before closing, I found Rachl loading my gooey refrigerator shelves into the dishwasher. Katie stood in front of the fridge, vacuuming it out with the sucker wand of the vacuum cleaner. My daughters-in-law now know my big secret: I may be neat on the outside but I'm, um, pretty casual on the inside.

Without friends and family who volunteered one or two or three times, unasked, to help us pack and clean, we never would have been ready for our buyers...or they would have walked into a much-less-tidy home.

It was hard to believe that closing day was a reality, because less than a month earlier, we were sure it would never happen. Our selling contract was set to expire on May 20, and our buyers weren't having any luck selling their house. Mike and I had given up hope that the deal was going to happen, and had resigned ourselves rather happily to the idea of staying in the beautiful home that was way too big for us. We would take it off the market after the real estate contract expired. The day we made that decision, our buyers got two offers on their home. It may have been a sign that the sale was meant to be, but Mike and I plunged deeply into remorse, regret and sadness.

I thought, "This is the worst mistake I've ever made," even though I had tried off and on to get Mike to move to a smaller place since 1998, when he had quadruple-bypass heart surgery. He wanted to stay in the house until he died. But finally he agreed on a change when I found a perfect south-facing brick ranch in West Allis that was located across from a parkway near McCarty Park, where he spent every day of his childhood. Unfortunately, when we couldn't sell our house fast enough, we lost that ranch to other buyers. Since then, while our house was on the market, we'd kept looking but never found anything as ideal.

But the sale went through after all, and we were lucky enough to have a Plan B: we're camping temporarily in the house where Mike grew up. I spent three months during the winter of 2013-1014 cleaning it up for sale since Mike's mother is in a nursing home with Alzheimers. We tried to sell it for about a year, with no luck. Someone must have been watching out for us, because now we have a place to stay temporarily. Our furniture is piled in the garage and boxes are stacked in a bedroom. We've set up camp with a mattress on the floor, a couple of chairs, a kitchen table, and a few plates and cups, forks and knives.

6710 W Wick Place, Milwaukee - the home of Mike's childhood
Mike is delighted to sleep in the attic bedroom he used to share with his three brothers, and I'm happy because I bonded with the house when I worked on it so hard for those three months. I feel completely at home here. I'm surprised at how much I'm enjoying the smallness of the place. I can be in the basement when the phone rings, bound up the steps, and answer by the second ring. In our house in Menomonee Falls, I'd get to the phone from the basement out of breath, and the caller would already be leaving a message.

The Weedpatch Farm era was the time of the youth of our adulthood. It was the fulfillment of our longing to live back-to-the land. We dreamed about it so long and then, finally, we did it. We tried to live energy-efficiently, creating a solar retrofit design for the old Cape Cod that became our sprawling one-of-a-kind home (a design that we discovered most of today's house shoppers don't understand or appreciate). We had giant gardens, canned hundreds of quarts of produce, dried clothes on a line in the sun, and kept an assortment of chickens, dogs, cats, and (briefly) goats, ducks, and horses. It was a beautiful place for our three children to grow up, and for us to grow old. Along the way, other people lived with us too - for a couple of weeks, a few months, or for a year and a few months: Tina, Brian Lee and Joey; Teddy and Danny; Michael and Claire from Northern Ireland; Gavin from the Republic of Ireland; Katie; my brother David; Bettina from Romania; Colleen and Alaina; and Mike's brother Doug. (And I'm probably forgetting someone.)

During the month of May, I re-learned something: when you have to grieve, you have to grieve. If you let yourself feel it, you can get on with life and get on with healing. After the real estate closing, Mike and I walked into a hallway, fell into each others' arms, and wept. But the deep remorse has passed and we're one week into living in the city. I'm starting to house-hunt again, and I have hope that we'll find a sunny, smaller home with some Mother Nature nearby for our forays on bikes and on snowshoes...and for something beautiful to look at.

PS, the people who bought Weedpatch are lovely; the woman gets tears in her eyes when she talks about Grandfather, and assured me I can visit him any time. The man said, "This place will be filled with scouts camping," which is just how it was when our children were young.

Below are some picture-memories from Weedpatch, a place that will be alive in my heart forever:

Oliver and his pal Chuckie "peeing" with water pistols

Autumn on the end moraine

The barn in winter, before we refurbished it

The creek that runs by Grandfather, during a spring thaw

"Rough riding" with grandkids and adopted grands in the farmer's corn field down Custer Lane
A deer coming to our feeder before Chronic Wasting Disease meant no more feeding

Grands and "adopted" grands sledding down the hill beside the driveway

Gail Grenier is the author of Calling All Horses, Dog Woman, Don't Worry Baby, and Dessert First, all available from


  1. Thanks for the pictures and the words. I feel them all in my heart. Interesting how our lives changed so drastically at the same time.....feels like we're still biking down the Bugline side by side!

    1. Thank you Arleen! How many mornings did we bike to the quarry? I think you and Jim and Mike and I are just two of many many Boomer couples to be making the change from bigger to smaller....

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  3. As happy as those pictures look, it really is so sad how fast time flies and how those fun times get further and further away. It really is sad when you say goodbye to such a beautiful place. I am glad you have a ton of clear pictures to look back and reflect about how wonderful of a life you had.

    Wilbert Bowers @ Mirr Ranch Group

    1. Thank you Wilbert for your kind words...sorry I didn't see them until now!