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Ann Ferro: A wonderful discovery

 

by Jason Gabak

 

A place of discovery and warmth

Anticipation was high as I turned on to Howe Road in Marietta. I was bound for the junction of Howe and Willowdale where the Willowdale Bend Country Store is located.
I’d been there three times before. The first time was, if I can use a word appropriate for the season, an epiphany. It was a wonderous discovery, totally unexpected. On my second visit I was charmed by the warmth of a winter fireplace, the ambiance of the house and the hospitality of the staff, although “staff” is much too stuffy a term to describe Joyce, Rick, Betty and Holly, who created and maintain this hard-to-define place. It was like coming home. Truly.
Located in a creatively-renovated late1800's farmhouse, the country store, deceptively more than its name suggests, is a work in progress. Every day at Willowdale Bend is the unfolding vision of Joyce and Rick Frost. Sitting inside the store near a cozy fire, sampling the crockpot offerings of the day and soaking up the wonder-filled assemblages of antiques, art and collectables that are for sale, there is a sense of ease and calm that belies all that Willowdale Bend offers.
Joyce will tell you that there are many strands that have brought them to this moment. She muses that it must have started when a group of very tired and thirsty bicyclists stopped at the house, way before it was renovated and Joyce’s dreams where still just that – dreams. The cyclists were just looking for something to drink. Joyce and Rick were working in the fields and all they had to offer was water. The water and the conversation about the lack of hospitality in the area catalyzed Joyce’s diffuse dreams of protecting the environment, supporting local farmers and craftspeople, doing good in the world and being open to welcoming the stranger.
“I think that was the beginning of how we began this journey,” Joyce said. “There were other signs – a dove perched above the door, dreams of coming into the light. My faith in God and His creation has always been a spark, an open door to how I live my life Those cyclists may have been the door.”
“This is a place of light.” she continued, and I had to agree, as the sunlight poured in through the clearstory windows and the doors that open out to the covered patio where Santa figures smile the welcome of the season. Rooms flow into rooms, filled with the delight of discovery among beautiful collections of antiques, art and collectibles. Upstairs, in more light, there is an entire room of Christmas-themed items, a treasure for gifts and just appreciation.
Outside, you are taken by the unfolding of the other parts of their dreams, immediately captured by the work that the Frosts are doing to rescue and save animals from the abattoir. There are the snow-white geese chatting about their geese ideas and the ducks that join in the avian conversation near the fish filled ponds. One barn shelters the 15 heifers saved from certain demise and nursed back to health along with three Flemish rabbits, one peacock and two utterly charming Kune Kune pigs. The latter wander the fields together, sometimes sleeping just outside the store’s doors, snoring their way into pig dreams. There’s a sturdy pen across the road to house their rescued bull.
“There’s redemption in working with these animals, even knowing that they are alive because someone cared.” Rick hopes to establish a visitor area where urban children can experience the wonder of real, loved animals.
The biggest outbuilding is an Amish construction that contains probably one of the most extensive antique and collectable assemblages in the northeast. From current kitsch to lovely delicate Victorian glassware, sets of dishes from ordinary to elegant and furniture including antique Murphy beds, this barn has to be visited. It takes time to come to grips with all that is there.
Rick and Joyce want to bring the many disparate resources of the area to public attention. There is no charge for local farmers, artists, craftspeople and not-for-profits to set up under the substantial overhang of the barn. “We hope that if we build it, they will come.”
Standing over it all is the old farm silo, painted with the Willowdale Bend logo, an enormous sunflower, a symbol of light, as Joyce says.
So, what is Wilowdale Bend? It’s a store where you can purchase antiques and such, where the displayed offerings are beyond charming, where there is always some little tempting nosh bubbling in a crockpot and a friendly beer or glass of wine. A place where there is also the expansion of dreams for a use of the land as a place for gathering, for conserving God’s creation.
It is something that I thought I had lost, a childhood appreciation of discovery, warmth, a sense of place that is like a home where you haven’t been before, a place for stopping and staying a while. A place to bring friends, have birthday parties, enjoy a book. It’s a place that is interactive, where the ambiance is your reaction to the setting. A place where words like surprise, delight, joy become real again. The owners’ intent has empirical expression.
I can see me sitting in front of the fireplace with a piece of homemade pie and coffee on snowy day, away from the demands of modern life. It’s just perfect.
Am I charmed? You betcha.

Ann Ferro is a mother, a grandmother and a retired social studies teacher. While still figuring out what she wants to be when she grows up, she lives in Marcellus with lots of books, a spouse and a large orange cat.

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