Thanksgiving at the home place They'll gather in new house at Peace and Plenty Farm


November 24, 1996|By Joanne Morvay | Joanne Morvay,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Nona and Joe Schwartzbeck moved to Peace and Plenty Farm in 1968, their first Thanksgiving dinner was picnic-style in the kitchen of their still-under-renovation farmhouse.

Because the house on the Union Bridge dairy farm wasn't complete, Carroll County building officials told the couple they couldn't sleep there. The cows, however, could stay.

So after that impromptu picnic -- and for the next two months -- the Schwartzbecks were a rarity: Dairy farmers commuting to work. They left their home in Gaithersburg in the wee hours to make the 3: 30 a.m. milking, and headed back in the evening after the 3: 30 p.m. milking.

This is just one of the stories sure to be recalled Thursday, when 40 or so family members and friends gather at Peace and Plenty for the Schwartzbecks' annual Thanksgiving dinner.

Instead of filling the rooms of the old gray-and-black-hued clapboard farmhouse as they did for years, guests will wind their way up to Nona and Joe's new brown brick "house on the hill," with its cedar-shake dormers overlooking most of the family's 500-acre spread.

The old five-bedroom farmhouse -- which dates to the 18th century -- is now the home of the Schwartzbecks' oldest son, Gus, his wife, Lisa, and their three children. (The couple's other child, Shane, and his wife, also named Lisa, live nearby in another home the family owns -- which Gus & Co. used to inhabit -- on a farm christened Peace and Plenty II.)

It was all this house-swapping that brought Nona and Joe to their new house in April 1995. Twenty-eight years after they came to Carroll County, the Schwartzbecks are again commuting to work -- though the drive is far shorter this time around.

House-swapping is a common practice in farm families as the next generation begins to take over the operation, but Nona said it was difficult to leave what had been home for most of her 32-year-marriage.

"I don't think I was as nice as I could've been when we were building the new house," she said with a wry laugh. "Here Joe was trying to give me a house of my own and all I could think about was the house I was leaving behind."

What makes the Schwartzbecks' new house unique is the way the space is used. Nona has an eye for detail and the house is a visual treat. Look once, twice and even a third time and it's possible to spot something that did not catch the eye before.

A longtime collector of antiques and Americana, she has a seemingly endless store of milk bottles, prints, candlesticks, pillows, postcards, animal pelts, farm implements and cow-shaped cream pitchers. Though many items peer from walls and rafters, off soffits and out of cabinets, the house does not appear cluttered.

And while it would seem tedious to maintain the ever-changing display, Nona said it actually takes just a few hours at the start of a new holiday or season. "We have a lot of traffic in and out of our house, so it's not a waste of effort."

Thanksgiving -- with its theme of peace and plenty so naturally suited to her life on the farm -- remains Nona Schwartzbeck's favorite holiday.

Whimsy is one of her trademarks, and surprises lurk everywhere. In the powder room, it's a Plexiglas toilet seat with pieces of old barbed wire frozen inside. In the kitchen, it's the fire engine-red sink she had a very dubious contractor install " 'cause I just wanted a red sink," she said.

The Schwartzbecks had a few requirements when they began planning their "retirement" home: a first-floor bedroom, a large fireplace, lots of windows to take in the view, and Nona's first-ever garage -- a three-car building that's already "full and running over," she said.

The couple also replicated two of their favorite features from their old house: a cozy hidden den where they could retire to watch television -- especially Joe's beloved Washington Redskins -- and a glassed-in side porch.

There are two entrances -- a front door accessed by a porch that stretches the length of the house, and a mud room doorway to the left.

The front door leads into the living room. On a recent afternoon, some of their 130 black-and-white registered Holstein milk cows resting in the pasture several hundred yards away filled the view from the floor-length front bay window.

A gray-blue stone fireplace sits to the right, its massive chimney nearly two stories high. The built-in stone shelf above the wood mantel was Joe's idea. The stones themselves came out of a friend's barn that was being repaired and restored.

A small hallway to the left of the fireplace leads to the Schwartzbecks' master suite, including a private bath. The windows in their bedroom also overlook the farmhouse, barnyard, silos and cow barns that are the heart of Peace and Plenty.

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