Away from the herd Pennsylvania: Laurel Echo Farm B&B has the charm, and the chores, to put a family's stresses out to pasture.

September 06, 1998|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,Sun Staff

Midnight was closing in when we spotted Laurel Echo Farm Vacation Bed and Breakfast snug in the bend of Cross Road. The white, two-story farmhouse was set back a distance, and I could just make out three buildings behind, framing a large yard. The porch had a warm glow from the yellow front light. Our host, Carol Pyle, saw our headlights and ambled out into the yard to greet us. We'd gotten lost on the twisting ribbons of road hugging steep hills in the pitch-black countryside. And now, though we had called, I was feeling a little nervous because we were breaking one of the first "rules" of staying on a farm: Don't keep your hosts up late. She motioned for us to park in the side yard near the house.

As we unloaded our two preschoolers from the back seat, she walked up to the car. The sky was bright with stars and the waxing moon; the southwestern Pennsylvania air crisp and fall-like, full of the smell of cut grass, animals and hay. Carol kindly reassured us not to worry about the time.

I felt her warm, sturdy handshake, and my anxieties over our late departure, the 3]-hour drive, the nearly too-late bathroom breaks, the fights and whines floated into the night.

In the barn, a calf lowed long and loud. "What's that?" asked 2-year-old Julia, raising her head from my shoulder as her sleepy eyes popped open. Carol smiled and said: "That's the baby calf. He thinks it's time for breakfast."

Four-year-old Austin looked up and around from his dad's arms at the endless canopy of stars while we crossed the yard to the porch. The kids watched, delighted, as a cluster of kittens scattered into the bushes.

Carol led us up an ivy-wallpapered stairwell to our rooms on the second floor of this century-old farmhouse. Wishing us good night, she said breakfast would be started once she heard us. I knew that would be long after the day began on the farm.

Simple pleasures

This is a home that has raised farmers for generations, since Paul Pyle's grandmother married at 16 and moved here, to the house her father gave her as a wedding present. With their four children grown, Carol and Paul now have grandchildren coming to play and ride, and they offer plenty for little ones to do, from calves to feed and kittens to find to toys, books and a shiny swing set in the back yard next to a sweeping old elm that shades Luke, the beagle. Perhaps herein lies the secret of Laurel Echo Farm: The visiting family is welcomed like friends, which is not always the case at the swank crop of B&Bs that have grown up in recent decades.

Fancy here means doilies with delicate pansies painstakingly crocheted around the edges; lovely quilts, pieced and stitched by Paul and Carol's grandmothers, decorating beds and racks; a hand-crafted lace headboard over the bed in our room. Knickknacks are ribbons won at 4-H fairs, soccer and riding trophies; the marriage certificate of Paul's grandmother decorated with script and roses, from the turn of the century; and the oversized family Bible, held at the binding with heavy tape and filled with newspaper clippings. The stories tell of a family deeply rooted in faith and the land.

Breakfast was served in the eat-in kitchen, and the Pyles, knowing how shy children can be in a new place, quietly ducked out into the living room. Hearty blueberry pancakes, sausage links, hash browns and cereal filled us just fine. My husband, Rob, and I lingered at the table to talk about our plans for the day while the kids checked out a small wagon full of blocks and a whinnying push pony.

We wanted to be back in the late afternoon to help with the chores - seeing animals in person instead of in picture books was the main reason we decided to bring our city kids for a weekend on the farm.

We are not alone. Farm vacations are becoming popular family vacations. Marcy Tudor, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Vacation Association, says the network has grown slowly over its 35-year history from a handful of properties to its current 22. Bookings at her Weatherbury Farm in Avella, Pa., have increased steadily, too - more than doubling in the past four years. Last month, Tudor doubled the number of available guest rooms at Weatherbury Farm to four. People are coming, she says, to exchange the stress of everyday life for a simpler pace.

"I like to say, when I was a child, Grandma lived on the farm," says Tudor, who is 51. "These days, grandmas live in oceanfront condos. This is the only way many people can experience the joys of farm life."

Down to work

After a sightseeing expedition in the nearby countryside, we returned to Laurel Echo Farm to find Misty the palomino saddled and giving one of the Pyles' grandnieces a ride. Paul put two of his grandkids up next, even the 13-month-old, who bounced along on the back of the saddle while his mom walked alongside, balancing him.

Austin and Julia were content to watch from the swing set, though Paul coaxed Austin away from the glider long enough to pet Misty.

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