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Meet us at the milkhouse

Local family shares food and fellowship at meetinghouse forged from milking parlor

Local family shares food and fellowship at meetinghouse forged from milking parlor

February 06, 2005|by ANDREA ROWLAND

KEEDYSVILLE - Delightful food and fellowship trumped frightful weather on a recent Saturday, as more than 30 people braved snow-covered roads to attend a weekly milkhouse meal at the Price family farm in Keedysville.

Dozens of Terry and Ruth Price's family members and friends came in from the cold on Saturday, Jan. 22, bearing edibles including roast beef, noodles, macaroni and cheese, green beans, baked beans, corn, sweet potatoes, stewed apples, iced tea, pineapple upside-down cake and chocolate pie. They warmed themselves by a roaring fire, set several tables with dishware and cutlery, fried potatoes on a woodstove, and engaged in friendly conversation.

Children, red-faced from playing outside in their hand-built log fort, shrugged off their snow boots and coats in the vestibule before settling down for the potluck meal that Terry and Ruth Price have been hosting in their milking-parlor-turned-meetinghouse since 1988.


An average of 45 family members and friends gather at the milkhouse for a noon meal every Saturday year-round. That number swells to more than 100 people during such special gatherings as weddings, funerals and holidays, Ruth Price said.

Three or four couples - including grandson Michael Leatherman and his wife, Hannah - met at the milkhouse and later married, she said. Children grow up together there. And three generations of the Price family maintain tight bonds through the ritual that Terry Price's mother, the late Nancy Price, started nearly a half century ago.

"It's been like this for 46 years. It's just grown as the family's grown," said Jim Barger, who's been married to Terry Price's sister, Wanda, for almost 43 years. He started dining with the Price family on Saturdays when he was 17.

Passing the torch

Terry and Ruth Price took over the weekly meals after Nancy Price's death in 1988.

"She always had 30 to 35 people - and there was always room for one more at her home," Ruth Price said. "The family wanted to continue getting together after she died, so it started here."

The Price family, who started farming in Washington County prior to the Civil War, purchased the Keedysville Road farm on which Ruth and Terry Price now live in 1963. They continue to raise crops, but they gave up dairy farming in 1986. The Prices covered the milking pit with plywood to create a uniform floor surface for the long dining tables that fill a room once used to milk 18 cows at a time. They've covered the walls with items from Nancy Price's estate - horseshoes, photographs, vintage bottles, a fence stretcher, an antique scythe. Terry Price pointed to the "hot rock" his mother used to warm her feet during cold buggy rides, and to his father's old water keg - a wooden barrel Chester Price used to fill with cool water to drink under a shade tree on the farm during his work day.

"It all means something because we know where it came from," Terry Price said. Even the cutlery his mother used for her weekly meals remains in use at the milkhouse.

"There's a lot of her here," Ruth Price said.

Everyone pitches in

Family members in 1990 built an addition that includes a large fireplace and woodstove on which to prepare the fried potatoes that are a staple of the milkhouse meals. Kenny Barnhart assumed responsibility for that task after his father, Fred Barnhart, passed away in 1999. Every Saturday - except when turkey or fried chicken main dishes demand 20 pounds of mashed or boiled potatoes - Barnhart fries about 15 pounds of sliced spuds in a giant cast-iron skillet on the woodstove.

"If I'm not here, it's my responsibility to find somebody to do it," he said.

Ruth Price and her sisters-in-law - including Janice Barnhart, Celia Nunemaker and Wanda Barger - take turns preparing the meal's main course. Barger always makes her popular macaroni and cheese. Nunemaker and Barnhart make enough tea syrup to quench the thirsty crowd.

Ruth Price said all who attend contribute in some way - washing dishes, setting the table, making side dishes, brewing hearty "cowboy coffee" over the open fire. She said her grandchildren prepare each meal's desserts, and assume responsibility for the entire menu the first Saturday of each month "to prove to us that they can keep it going." Members of the youngest generation also have assumed cleanup duties following the meal.

"We trained 'em good," Nunemaker said.

Family members such as Coy Price of New Market, Md., begin arriving as early as 6 a.m. Saturdays for coffee and conversation. Price son-in-law Dave Wyand said family and friends of all ages enjoy playing volleyball outside the milkhouse during the warm-weather months. Cousins, including Chet Price, 13, and Cory Wyand, 14, said they can't wait to arrive at the farm to eat with family and camp out at the two-story fort they built with lumber harvested on the land.

"We even spend the night in it," Chet said.

"We have a lot of fun here," added his friend, 13-year-old Spencer Draper of Williamsport.

His mother, Emilee Draper, called the Price farm an ideal place to raise kids.

"It's like 'The Waltons,'" she said.

Eighteen-year-old Angie Wyand, Terry and Ruth Price's granddaughter, said the milkhouse meals have been a cherished part of her childhood.

"As long as I can remember, we've been here. I love it," she said. "A lot of people can't say they see their family as much as I do."

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