My parents live in one of the busiest neighborhoods in Billings, so it’s hard to believe it was once one of the most rural parts of the city. In the Heights, just a few blocks from Main Street, was Starner Country Gardens, a 20-acre plot of land where all kinds of fruits and vegetables were grown and sold throughout the county. My maternal great grandparents started it in 1930 and it is what carried them through the Depression. Their family ran it for a couple decades before my great grandparents passed away and my grandparents took over, eventually rented it out as pasture and built a house on it in the 1950s. This is where my mom and aunt were raised. When my grandmother passed away (quite a few years after my grandfather had died), my parents and I (my older siblings were already in college) decided to make the move from Minnesota back to Billings and back into my grandma’s house. I used those same fields for my horses, but after moving away for college and starting a family of my own, my parents once again leased the pasture out and by that time, all the farmland surrounding it had turned into subdivisions.
Using the old Gardens for pasture wasn’t what my grandfather had in mind when they initially hoed over the last row of peas and closed the gate on Starner Country Gardens. He dreamed of having some sort of community building on the property and was in discussions with the city to build a high school for the Heights on it. When access wasn’t where it needed to be, they talked about building something to benefit the VA. As a veteran, he saw the need for a place to support people of past wars. With none of these ideas coming to fruition, he leased it out until another opportunity would hopefully come along.
Fast forward 35 years. While visiting my parents yesterday, I could barely turn into their driveway for all of the gravel trucks driving in and out of that pasture road. Although the grass/weed mixture had turned a crispy shade of brown when I was there a few weeks ago, now there isn’t a blade of anything to be found. The beginning steps of building an affordable senior living home are in full swing and it’s quite a spectacle to behold. Before long the “back lot” as Favorite Farmer calls it will be a sweeping expanse of lawn, buildings, community gardens, walking paths, play areas for visiting children and everything else a senior living community could need.
It will be a huge benefit to the community when it’s all finished, but in the meantime, I can’t help but get sentimental about the whole thing. My parents house, the same cheery yellow one built by my grandfather seventy years ago, sits in the forefront, in all of its glory with flowers growing everywhere, vegetables popping out of vines planted wherever there was room left in the garden and a bright green lawn that is in drastic contrast to the yellow machinery and fields of dirt that now completely surround it. Eventually it will once again bear the name “Starner Country Gardens,” a great homage to the man who always wanted to see this little chunk of land become something more. (For now, it’s quite an eyesore.)
The irony is that after all these generations of trying to find the best fit for these 20 acres that are now the middle of town, my parents are currently cavorting in the British Isles and are missing all the excitement. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea that they were gone when all of this breaking- ground chaos began. However, after seeing it yesterday, I think it’s for the best. I emailed them a picture of the progress that has been made and noticed they responded to every other part of my email but not one comment was made in reference to the picture. I had to double-check my email to make sure I had included the image.
My parents have been waiting for this decades-long dream to come to fruition but no matter how ready they think they are, the first time they pull up into the driveway and see the old pasture that is no more, it’s going to be tough. Just like meeting your baby after eagerly awaiting its arrival for nine months or having to say goodbye to a loved one who has been living on borrowed time, you think you’re well equipped for these big moments, but when it’s actually upon you, you aren’t. No matter how prepared you are, when the finality of whatever life event is happening slaps you in the face, it’s never enough. That’s when we have to step back and take some deep breaths and appreciates what life was before this moment; realize the breadth of what’s currently happening and get excited for the next chapter of life because that’s when the fun really begins.