Growing Up Down Home in Wooster

The house I was raised in was not the one that built me. The home that built me was a 1900s farmhouse and greenhouse on East Milltown Road in Wooster. I lived in Brunswick, which was geographically centered between my mom’s parents in Wooster and my dad’s parents in Cleveland’s North Collinwood neighborhood.

I spent a good chunk of my life in the suburb, but apart from four formative years in the high school marching band, those memories are tucked away in a safety deposit box, retrieved only when specifically needed. I don’t mean to trivialize my experiences there—they just didn’t imprint on my adult life the way the farm in Wooster did.

My grandparents, Roger and Virginia Barnard, dedicated their lives to farming and selling their produce and flowers at Meadowview Greenhouse—a pursuit that came with six months of hard work in preparation for an eight-week sales spurt that supported them and the operation for the entire year.

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They envisioned a get-rich-quick scheme when they moved in 1957 from Berea to a 100-acre farmstead in Wooster—she a secretary at NASA and he a 20-something dance band xylophonist, World War II vet, and aspiring veterinarian. Their dreams of riches were realized, just not in the financial sense.

My dad worked six days a week as a bread truck driver, and spent one weekend a month with the Army Reserves. My mom, my sisters, and I made the one-hour journey to the farm on weekends and school breaks.

We began working on the farm and greenhouse as soon as we could walk, from hosing out worms from empty flats in the packing shed to riding on the back of the tractor wagon with Grandpa to pick vegetables in the fields.

Grandma personified the ideal grandmother, with her soprano laugh and loving demeanor. She was proper, a follower of rules, and wasn’t shy about sharing her liberal points of view. My grandfather was the laborer, quiet and hardworking, though his sense of humor bubbled up through rhyming-couplet jokes. Their loving relationship inspired lessons of commitment.

They never raised their voices, and they took us out to dinner each time we visited—Bishop’s Drive-In, Green Leaf restaurant, or on special occasions, the Barn Restaurant in Smithville. Despite the regularity of dining out to cap the working day, each time still was an indulgence that we relished, for our family didn’t have the means to go out to dinner otherwise.

The farm was an incubator for life skills and values, and a world rife with freewheeling adventure (from hide-and-seek in the milk house to the I-dare-you games in the barn that could have produced serious physical injuries if a collision with farm machinery were to have occurred).

As I got older, I dedicated more of my school breaks and summers to working in the greenhouse. We relied on our hands, not technology, to do the work, be it transplanting in the plastic-covered greenhouse during frigid winters, hand-labeling each plant four-pack, or counting out cash back to customers.

My grandparents taught me about the value of slow food and a slow life before they became a movement.

The spring of 1996—my senior year of high school—was the final season of Meadowview Greenhouse’s 40 years in business. Sales were diverted to the new Walmart, and my grandparents were years past today’s retiring age.

My grandmother had talked of retiring throughout my youth, to which I would exclaim, “You could get $1 million, or even $2 million, for this place!” She’d laugh and wave her hand at me. I thought she was being humble.

They sold the farm, farmhouse, and greenhouse—winnowed down to a mere five acres—for a tenth of my assessment. We later learned they had sold off $800,000 in farmland through the years just to keep the greenhouse in operation, and they still had a mortgage on the farmhouse when they sold it.

My mom, my sisters, and I grieved as if we had lost a family member.

I returned last spring, after a 17-year absence, and introduced my son to the source of my daily inspirations. I met the current owners, who’d torn down the greenhouses and packing shed and repurposed the old barn into Wooster Bible Fellowship. Some of the farmhouse’s original character remained—the built-in corner bookcase, the moss-colored front porch carpet, and the dank smell of the cavernous cellar.

The land had more sunlight and fewer trees than I remembered. A grassy depression replaced the in-ground pool that once flanked the farmhouse and vegetable fields. Homes the size of medical buildings now occupy the neighboring land.

The farm of my childhood had taken on new life. But as I stood on the barn hill with my son and let the memories converge with the present, I felt like I was finally back home.