Our Good Neighbors

It’s that time of year when I head out to my gardens to clean off the dead plants and get them ready for winter.  After a couple of heavy frosts, they have finally bit the dust.

I have several flower gardens around the farm, this one is probably my favorite:


 This is what it looks like in the late spring….show stopping gorgeous, right in front of where I park my car. I get a pretty “welcome home” everyday in May.  The bones of this garden was planted almost 20 years ago as a gift from a dear friend, an elderly lady named Libby, who once lived in our old house as it passed hands in and out of the family over the last 200 years.

Lib (or Mary Lib as many called her) taught me all I know about flower gardening.  Side by side we would pull out unwanted weeds such as moon vine and chickweed. In the spring when the wild violets were erupting all over due to their invasive root system, I can hear her voice saying, “I don’t object to those, they have such a pretty little blue flower.”

Out of love for Libby, I don’t object either.

She took cuttings from her own garden and planted them in the English Country Garden fashion as a housewarming present after our new addition was finished. (20 years ago)  She planted hostas, coneflowers, astilbe, old-fashioned phlox, day lilies and lamb’s ears. I have added several other varieties over the years, and the original plants have been divided and given to others to add to their gardens.

“Never thank someone for a plant, or it won’t grow.” Libby’s advice to me has been shared every time I divided plants and given them away. Funny how some sayings become a part of the fabric of who we become.

Just like the people that come in and out of our lives.

Libby’s husband was “our good neighbor, Tracy” as my boys used to call him. Every time. Not “Mr. Tracy”, but “our good neighbor, Tracy.”

And that they were.

Their farm was right next to the farm that my hub was born into…and had been in his family for over 200 years. My hub’s folks had given us 10 acres on which to build our house. We had the land surveyed and the perk test completed. We were planning on breaking ground in March.

It was the October before that March, when Tracy and Lib realized they could no longer “keep the place up”, and came to my hub and I to ask if we would buy their farm.

I never thought about those 10 acres again for a second after that.


This was how the house looked 28 years ago.

 Ever since I was a little girl I had wanted to live in an old house. Some of our friends thought it might be creepy….”what if it is haunted” they asked.  We told them, if there were ghosts, they were all relatives and would probably be pulling for us and happy the house was back in the family.  Besides, when you have the Holy Ghost with you, there’s no need to fear.

 We moved in here 28 years ago at the end of September with a 5-week-old baby.  Looking back, we were just babies ourselves. In the first 24 hours we had a chimney fire (thankfully my hub heard it go while we were bathing our baby, getting ready for church) and I had almost caught the stove on fire frying bacon that same first morning!

My parents thought we were crazy for wanting the old place. “The Lemon House” was how my dad referred to it, because there seemed to be always something needing to be fixed.  That’s the nature of owning an old 200-year-old house.

But I love the feeling of life that comes with an old house. People were born on beds in the upstairs rooms. People were laid out in caskets in the parlor as the family received guests at home. A little girl etched her name in one of the wavy glass windowpanes in the early 1900’s. Halda Harkins.

Real life happened here.

It still does.

My father in law gave Tracy and Lib 2 acres across from our farm to build a retirement place-a log cabin.  There they became our good neighbors, loving us as their own family. Tracy was a pipe smoker and I loved how our house smelled when we first moved in. Lib was an amazing cook and entertainer and I think between her cooking and the cherry tobacco…it formed their house “smell”.

I loved that smell. But the longer we lived in the house the more infrequently I got to smell it. Tracy and Lib have long been gone from this earth, but in our photo albums are reminders of the life we shared with them across our dirt road.

It had been several years since I had noticed the smell, thinking our house smell had finally overtaken Tracy and Lib’s. By now we have lived here longer than they did. But this July, when we got home after being away from vacation, I opened the door to the back staircase and there it was.

Memories flooded back.

And I was thankful.



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10 Responses to Our Good Neighbors

  1. Carol says:

    I loved the way Mary Lib and Tracey’s house smelled. I even remember a hint of it when I was at a party at your home for one of your son’s graduations. They were such wonderful people. I wouldn’t complain if they were to “haunt” my home!

    • Stephanie says:

      I know, Carol! I miss her so much sometimes! A few years back we were having friends over for dinner…almost everyone there had known Lib since they were born…and we were eating in the dining room and saying, “Wouldn’t Lib be so pleased that we were all together that night in her house!” Your mom is right up there with Lib too! A real gem!

  2. Pam says:

    How about a pic of the place now?

  3. jennylou325 says:

    Love this!!! I’ve been drooling over old houses recently. Unfortunately, we don’t have any family history in one. May be in the cards for us one day. Yours is beautiful!

    • Stephanie says:

      Jenny, we bought our home when we were 25 years old and no kids. It was impossible to know what to look for in a house at that point. But after baby #3 and no laundry room with clothes sorted on the kitchen floor- we had to choose whether to build on or move. We couldn’t imagine leaving this old place so we built an addition.

  4. Laura Beth says:

    Oh, Stephanie-what a beautiful, loving tribute to Libby and Tracy-I rejoice that you are keeping them alive in memory by living and loving in your home!

  5. Sandy says:

    I remember visiting that beautiful old house when I was a little girl–it was one of Grandmom and Granddad’s adventure weekends–some of the best weekends of my life. While Grandmom chatted with Mary Lib in the kitchen and Granddad talked tractors (or something like) with Tracy, I ran out and up one of those big hills (well, it was big to me) and sang all the songs I could remember from The Sound of Music; twirling and dancing in my very own Austria-in-Whiteford. 🙂 Precious memories there for so many.

    • Stephanie says:

      You grandparents were so great! Dot was another kindred soul for me, and I have a few stories about her too………You were blessed!

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