Before long, Assy had puppies. There were also several farm cats that had kittens—and then the kittens had kittens and their kittens had kittens. Mice weren’t too much of a problem at the farm. The horses were soon joined by sheep, followed by chickens, goats, rabbits and ducks.
“Now that we had a tractor,” Dad said, “it always seemed we were loaded with rubbish and tree cuttings that we had to take to the dump along the railroad tracks off Brookfield Road. We thought we ought to really have a wagon to pull behind the tractor. I had noticed a used farm implement dealer just off of HWY 94 on my way back from Madison one day. So on a Saturday, the boys and I drove over to check it out. We found a pretty good farm wagon—the only problem was that the wooden tongue was pretty rotted. We bought it anyway and took the side roads home. On the way, we found another implement dealer and stopped to ask if he might have a tongue for our wagon. He didn’t—but, he did have a saw mill. He ended up cutting us a beautiful 6 x 8 inch wooden tongue and attached it to our wagon. Now we had a beautiful wagon! This became another toy for the kids of the neighborhood. Whereas before we had a bunch of kids on the tractor, now we had a whole neighborhood full of kids on the wagon.
To keep the horses fed, we were going back to Reinder’s regularly to buy baled hay and buckets of oats plus vitamins the salesman said we really should have for them. It wasn’t too long before Ed, John and I went back to Madison to the dealer we bought the wagon from, and asked about equipment to make our own hay. The dealer said he had exactly what we needed. We ended up buying a John Deere sickle-bar mower and an old New Holland baler and he delivered them to us. Now we were all set—we could make our own hay.
About this time, the church we attended, Faith United Church of Christ, became involved in a merger and we got involved with the church located in Milwaukee on 4th and Meinecke. We would drive in town to 4th and Meinecke every Sunday. One of the things I remember well were the breakfasts our church held after the Easter sunrise services. All the tables would be set up in the fellowship hall—members and families gathered around big platters of scrambled eggs. There were challenges with the merger but those breakfasts were great. Dolores eventually took on the music ministry which included playing their beautiful old pipe organ—the organ console was located in the balcony, where she also rehearsed the choir—and I taught the senior highs.
Sometime around then during the summer, the boys and I had succeeded in mowing, raking and baling our first hay crop.
Following that was the chore of picking up all the bales, stacking them in the wagon and putting them in the barn. I talked to my Sunday school class and asked my students how they’d like to help me pick up the hay out at our farm and they were all excited. I also got the guys from my office to help out. It must have looked interesting to the neighbors to see this large mix of African American teenagers and architects out picking up bales in our field. I remember one of my students was very strong. He would pick up two bales in each hand and throw them up on the wagon. We got the bales picked up pretty quickly and stored away in the barn for our first crop.
Now it was a piece of cake in the morning to go up into the second floor of the barn where the hay was stored and just simply kick out a bale to feed the horses.
On the side of barn facing the hayfield was a built up driveway to the upper level of the barn where the hay was stored. I found out all the kids had become quite adept at walking across the wooden beams in the barn and jumping into the stored hay beneath. Ed had built a hideout in the corner of the barn where the beams connected to the outside wall. You’d have to walk approximately 20 feet on a 10 inch wooden beam to get to it. So that’s where the neighborhood kids would gather. I didn’t find out until later that this adeptness with heights led to jumping out the second story sliding barn door we used to drop the bales down out of to feed the horses. So here all the kids are jumping from the second floor of the barn, landing beneath in the lose hay from the opened bales. Oh, those poor neighbors who had to watch all this.
When the kids were running around they learned to duck under the barbed wired fence. One of Ed’s friends, Gary Robinson, didn’t duck quite far enough and caught the barb on his back, leaving a bloody injury. About then, his dad happened to come by and I was concerned about what he would say about it. All he said was, “Gary, if you can’t duck far enough, don’t go under it.” Then he got out a first aid kit from his car and patched him up.
Anyway, I would distribute the oats and vitamins by pouring them out on the ground at a fence post near where the hay was dropped and I soon became aware of what was going on. Three of the horses are mares (Lady, Subi and Fleta) and one is a gelding (Sam) who was by far the biggest. I guess I just assumed the horses would sort of divide the food but that wasn’t Subi’s idea. She’d flatten her ears and the other horses, including Sam, would back away. Subi would eat all she wanted. To solve this problem I bought a halter for each of them and knotted short ropes at each of four fence posts.
When it was time for the oats and vitamins I’d attach the ropes to each horse. Now they each got their share. I’m sure this didn’t make Subi happy but it did the other three.
I still can’t imagine what the Mitchells (our neighbors across the road) thought of my farming. We were always into something.
I remember the time Mom ran to the store and left Ed in charge. It was snowing hard and he got the idea you should all to go to the Mitchell’s for a visit. You got your snowsuits and boots on and trudged over there together. On the way, John’s boots came off in the deep snow and he arrived there bare footed. You can imagine Mabel Mitchell’s reaction to that…and your Mother’s when she found out about it!”
So, we ended up getting a great deal for that $75/month rent. The Kiekavers were a wonderful family and before long, Dad was helping Lolly Linnley, the Keikhevers’ daughter who lived at the farm past the castle at the end of the stone road, rein her horses in. We had a lot of good times together. Though the barn is now gone, our house on Gebhardt Road still stands. Ed eventually lived there with his wife Georgine and their two sons Christopher and Michael—that’s another story. Now Chris, along with his wife Lisa and their son Eddie live there.
Today, it’s hard to imagine a five year old walking alone on a mile-long stone road through the woods but that’s how I often got home from kindergarten. For my birthday in 1st grade, my parents invited my class over for a picnic. We walked on that road together from Brookfield Elementary to the farm with our teacher Miss Miller. I heard that after Mr. Kiekhever died, the nuns moved into the castle and it became a home for unwed mothers.
As life would have it, I was invited to an event at the castle for work last week. I found out that In the 80s it was bought and renovated by Don and Kate Wilson. It felt a little like I had stepped through time as I walked up the front walk. Memories of swimming in the pool that was once off to the left came back along with the old tennis courts where new homes now stood.
The coach house to the right of the drive, where our babysitter Fern lived, had been a mini replica of the castle, but it was gone.
I remembered there was also a log cabin, long forgotten, that sat deep in the woods. We spent one family Christmas there with Mom’s family. Someone later bought, renovated and added on to it.
As I remember the golden fields and sound of my brothers voices yelling in the fresh air I can’t help but think how blessed we were by our time on the farm. It’s funny to think now that the kids on the school bus would laugh at me when I got off at the farm house. To avoid it, I began getting off at the stop by the subdivision a half mile down the road and walking home. I wonder how often, like the kids then, we overlook God’s beauty and miss His miracles which surround us every day.
“We were….eyewitnesses of His majesty.” 2 Peter 1:16. NKJV, from Max Luxado, Blessings for a Day, December 14