The magic of 'Memory Maples'
House steeped in local history preserved by longtime writer
|Gertie Brooks will soon bid farewell to Memory Maples Farm where she’s lived for 75 years. photo by Maria Brown.|
October 31, 2007I took notes of happenings around the old home place from March twentieth of 1972 until March twentieth of 1973.
The city is moving out fast and I fear that in a few short years this will no longer be farm land. I wanted to put down for posterity, life here, as it is now. I even toyed with the idea of trying to have my efforts published as a book for others to enjoy. Even in this age of close communication and fast transportation, many do not know the life of a farmer and particularly the crazy goings-on of this farmer's wife and nature person. Who else in the world would get up at 4:15, saddle a horse and ride to a hilltop to see the sunrise over her home???
I named this dear place Memory Maples because I have lived here most of my life. I really don't feel I own it as much as I feel it owns me.
—Foreword, 'Through the Seasons at Memory Maples Farm'
When it came to chronicling her cherished memories at Memory Maples, Gertie Brooks rarely let the family farm serve only as a setting. In journals like 'Through the Seasons' and countless columns as our 'Country Cousin,' Memory Maples was a delightful main character, just as alive and dynamic as the generations who inhabited it.
As she packs boxes, sorts through keepsakes and flips through old diaries and journals in an anticipation of her move, Gertie yearns to see another family can move in and start to make special memories of their own in a place already ripe with history.
"I used to say 'you'll have to pull me out of here kicking and screaming,'" she says glancing around her cozy kitchen.
But for all the nostalgia, Gertie's reasonable too. A few icy winters were enough to convince her. Next month, she and faithful companion, Daisy, will move to a retirement community in Frankenmuth.
"It's a new beginning," she says.
Thanks to her love of writing and preserving, Gertie will be able to take so much of what is special about Memory Maples with her and start to reminisce with the turn of a page.
There's the family photo albums for every year, starting in the 70s, compilations such as 'Through the Seasons' and stacks of calendars filled with notes about the weather and creature sightings.
It's no wonder she's filled many pages and books. Both Memory Maples and Gertie Brooks have had full, rich lives that make for one interesting story.
• • •
|Gertie’s faithful black Lab, Daisy, will accompany her to their new home in Frankenmuth. photo by Maria Brown.|
City life, even in the small village of Almont some eighty years ago, was too stifling for young Gertie Park.
"I was a whistler," she recalls with a laugh.
"My mother said 'you live in town now, you can't do that!'"
So when the family eventually moved to the dairy farm south of town, the happy-go-lucky girl was free to express herself at any noise level.
It was there that she developed an already growing love for animals and nature.
When a neighbor, Mr. Cook, overwintered the ponies from Belle Isle each year, Gertie took in a mare, learned to ride and eventually got to keep her foal.
"I rode her to school and kept a bottle of perfume in the stall to douse myself with. It took me a while to realize it didn't mix well with the horse smell," she said.
She knew all along that she'd want to raise her own children on a farm, too.
"That's why I picked out the farmer guy in high school," she said with a laugh, referring to Irvin 'Red' Brooks, who would eventually become her husband.
Gertie graduated from high school in 1936 and went on to attend Baker Business College in Flint while Red worked on building his dairy herd.
He sold a heifer for $50 and bought Gertie a diamond. The two were married in 1940. One of their wedding presents—a team of horses from Red's parents.
After getting married, the Brookses farmed in the Capac area for about two years and later rented Red's uncle's farm on Doran Rd.
Still, Gertie longed to return to the Shoemaker farm.
Every fall, Gertie's dad was good for declaring 'this is it,' in regard to his retirement from farming.
"One year I said 'I think it's time you retire and we'll take over,'" Gertie recalled.
They agreed but Gertie didn't want to spring the idea on her husband herself.
"We'll come over some night and you ask Red if he wants the farm," she told her parents.
Obviously, her ruse worked and in 1944 the couple and their young son moved back to Almont.
"He didn't know for several years that I instigated the thing," she says with a big smile.
The family settled into the routines that come with a dairy farm. Red and Gertie claimed their territories.
"On the other side of the driveway was his," Gertie says motioning to the barns.
"This side was mine," she said, referring to the house and garden.
Gertie said she would have been willing to help with chores but her mother-in-law warned her early.
"She had always helped out in the barn and fields but told me 'You stay out!You'll be thought of just as much," Gertie recalled.
Indeed, there was plenty for the busy wife and mother to do on her 'side' of the driveway.
Using profits from the 300 spring chicks she raised and sold each year, Gertie bought her first horse and saddle for $125.
She would go on to become a 4-H Saddle Club leader with Red and help her husband organize the Lapeer County Sheriff's Posse.
• • •
From atop her horse or out her kitchen window, Gertie developed a keen eye for nature and the seasons.
It has always seemed to me that the calendar year should start with spring. This is when the natural new year begins in our corner of the globe. The earth awakens from its winter nap and the growing season is at hand.
It's her first entry in 'Through the Seasons' and on March 20, 1972, Gertie notes that spring officially arrived at 7:21 in the morning at which the first killdeer made its appearance.
All of the creatures at Memory Maples seemed to be tuned to spring. The sparrows' chirp seems more vigorous and they were bathing in the mud puddles.
The thrill of spring comes with looking skyward and not earthward. The sun feels springy and the sky has a brighter hue, giving assurance of better things to come.
Today, she keeps track of the comings and goings of the birds on a calendar that hangs in her kitchen.
• • •
And so it was with traveling, another of Gertie's favorite things, she could meld history and nature and make for some fascinating columns that Tri-City Times' readers could enjoy.
Years ago, she and Red set out on some amazing road trips—Alaska and Maine among others.
Alaska ranks among her favorite destinations for, not surprisingly, its wilderness, she says.
"You can look up into those mountains and know there's no beer cans out there," she said.
Since Red's passing ten years ago, Gertie's teamed up with family and friends to keep exploring.
With friend Barb Becker, the two have ventured as far as Ireland and Hawaii.
"She's a great friend and companion," Barb said of Gertie.
"We've had lots of laughs. I'll miss her and our little country church will miss her."
• • •
Another adventure is calling. There's no doubt, she'll miss her family, friends and church—West Berlin United Methodist—but she says she'll visit often.
Thankfully, she's promised to keep writing. We look forward to more memories and wish Gertie luck in creating new ones in her new home.