We only lived there three and a half years. I know that because my daughter, the realist, pointed it out to me on one of the many occasions when I was waxing poetic about the joy that was Birchrunville, PA. But its importance in my life makes that number seem impossible. I loved that little town. Still do.
Wikipedia is rather dismissive of Birchrunville, describing it as “little more than a woodland crossroads in West Vincent Township in northern Chester County, PA. “
But it was so much more to me and to my family. First off, Birchrunville was – is – beautiful. It has rolling hills and quiet lanes and cows and farms and, during our time there, a real live general store that housed the post office AND the one gas pump in town, (no longer usable).
That general store was the hub of the town. I used to walk down in the early morning to have coffee with some of the folks who came by each day.
We’d sit and chat for a while over perfectly brewed coffee and homemade biscuits before going back to the real world where kids had to be taken to school and jobs had to be done. But there was one picture that stays in my minds as fresh as the first time I saw it because to me, it pretty much summed up the heart of Birchrunville. Each morning when I arrived for my cuppa, there were two vehicles parked in front of the store. One was tractor…the other a Rolls. I have always regretted not having taken a picture of those two contrasting machines. They said so much about the town.
Our next door neighbor was a dairy farmer. I found that out on our first day there. It was early morning and the rest of the family was still sleeping. I opened the door for my first glimpse of this brand new world and there,, not three feet way from my door, stood a huge COW! I bolted back inside and peeked out at the massive beastie…I’d never been that close to a cow before. The cow was unperturbed.
There was a knock at the door. It was my neighbor, Mr. Pebbles, bringing me a gallon of milk – fresh squeezed – but I tried not to think about that. My citified kids wouldn’t drink it…it didn’t look like the milk from the grocery store…there was cream on the top.
Mr. Pebbles also volunteered to bring us fresh vegetables whenever he was harvesting. When corn was in season he’d pick the proper number of ears just in time for dinner. I’ve never tasted corn like it – before or since.
One of the things that fascinated me most about living in the country-like atmosphere of Birchrunville, was the fact that seasons didn’t just happen, you had to do something about them. When you lived in the country, there was stuff to be done. Fences went up and came down depending on snow and wind and rain. Crops had to be watered or harvested or protected against extremes in weather – too hot or too cold and you had a problem, And, of course, those cows had to be milked. My kids got involved in baling hay. They thought it was fun. The farmers never told them it really WAS work!
There was even a turkey farm near by but all I knew about their activity was that turkeys aren’t very smart birds. I know that because everyone said so. Personally I thought they were every bit as smart as the local chickens.
Snow time in Birchrunville was so glorious that it had to be seen to be believed. The snow didn’t get all dirty and grey the way it does in the cities I’d always known. It stays white and fluffy and disarmingly inviting. My neighbor, the one with the cows, used to come looking for me after every snow storm…it seems I had a tendency to end up in a white ditch for some reason and Mr. Pebbles would ride around in his tractor until he found me. Then he’d drag me and my car out of the rut I’d managed to find, and follow me home. That was thoughty.
Our school house was located on a curve, on a hill, and when it snowed, that combination was kind of dangerous and many a night we had “drop-in” company when motorists would find there was just no way to get up that hill. They would slide into our driveway and ring the bell. Then, stranger or neighbor, they would hunker down for the night. We got to know lots of nice folks that way.
It is a fact, of course that, despite all the natural beauty – which can never be over rated – the true heart of the town was its wonderful people. I made such good friends there. I even had a Girl Scout Troop for a while and that was a wonderful experience. The girls were just getting into their teens, a marvelous, perilous age. And we managed to enjoy each other – a lot. I must admit that the fact that I had access to Dick Clark and American Bandstand DID make my popularity easier to achieve.
Some of my former Girl Scouts still live in the area and we are in touch – even managed to meet once or twice after my family moved to California. That was wonderful too.
Actually, when I decided to write about Birchrunville, the first person I thought to contact was Sara Schick, one of those Girl Scouts I told you about.
I thought I knew the date the school house was built, but I remember there was a kind of plaque engraved into the wall above the door that listed the builders AND that date. I really wanted to list both those things. So I emailed Sara, and she and a couple of her neighbors forwarded the information. Thank you Rich and Karen and Sara..
The date was 1863 and the names, which included not the builders but the members of the Board of Directors and the architect: Charles Scheib, J. Walley, Cliff Emery, Hibberd Smith, Adison Wilson, Isaac Evans and C.F. Woodland.
I remember one occasion when, in the middle of a tremendous freeze, a call went around town that there were ducks frozen in the ice in a nearby pond. I think the entire town turned out to help free the ducks. Even the folks who would normally be out during hunting season were there, sliding across the ice, chopping the ice and soothing the nervous birds. It’s my belief that everyone of those birds was freed and sent on its way. If I’ve got that wrong, please, don’t tell me.
That little ponds always looked like a Currier and Ives painting to me. I could imagine skaters waltzing around on that shimmering ice. I could almost hear the music.
I had, as I said, many good friends there the Gordons and the McCoys of course, but one family in particular stays with me in my memories. It is the Shoemakers. Anne and Stowe and their lovely family were my anchor there. And when I think of Birchrunville, I think of the times I spent with them.
Our children were close in age and so it was easy to go visit and take all the kids because their grounds were large and comfy and there was a pool that sometimes held water and sometimes didn’t.
I loved their home. It was always so cozy and welcoming and later, when I went back alone for a while, it was where I went first. I was never a big outdoor person, but I am a great appreciator of people who do wonderful things with gardens. And watching Anne and her son Donald work together to turn that garden into a thing of beauty just fascinated me. Stowe, on the other hand would usually sit with me on the deck (which he and Donald built) and have a drink while we admired the worker bees.
I have always described myself as an Apres Ski kind of girl. You enjoy any sport or outdoor activity you like and I’ll meet you at the cafe later.
It is comforting to me that Donald and Diane still live in the wonderful home. It has changed, of course. They have done a splendid job making it their own and their two girls, Alex and Caroline, have grown up there…and I envy them that.
I don’t get back there any more. But I haven’t left it behind. I have pictures and I have memories. And they are all lovely.
I’m sorry this is late getting out. I really hate to miss deadlines. But honest, I have a compelling reason. I did my first cabaret on the 15th and couldn’t seem to concentrate on getting both done to my satisfaction. And allow me to gloat, (with absolutely no humility at all) that we had a turn-away crowd. It was thrilling.