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Growing Up In Gaithersburg


By Marien Helz

“I can have as many toys as I want!” Ginger exclaimed. She was talking about an Arabian Mare that an acquaintance wanted to buy and board at Ginger’s farm. They went to look at the mare, but the prospective buyer never came through. Ginger phoned the sellers who said they had other people interested in buying the horse. “Strange,” they said, “they keep asking how much she weighs.”

“Oh, don’t sell her to them,” Ginger pleaded. “They want her for the meat!” So she bought Bonnie who now grazes in unbridled bliss on the green meadows of Ginger’s farm in northern Maryland.

Ginger belongs to the rare category of gentleman farmers and the even rarer subcategory of gentlewomen farmers. “I don’t know why you think we’re so rare,” she remarked. “There are a lot of us around here.”

Ginger bought the old farm when her children were in college and she had ended a marriage that had been unsatisfactory for some time. Her father was aghast at her purchase of the run down ancient farmhouse, but she persevered and turned it into a haven for herself and a number of lucky animals. Appreciating the age of the house, she restored all the special characteristics of it. In decorating, the wide window sills set in the more than foot thick walls become a display case. She thinks it’s worth it enough that she commutes thirty-one miles each way to work at a small insurance agency.

Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

One of the out-buildings is an office that holds most of the twenty-first century items contained on the property, such as a computer. A number of awards and pictures of current and past adored animals decorate the walls.

I had always thought that it would be really great to get a Clydesdale or Percheron colt. The elegance of those gentle giants is entrancing. When I half seriously mentioned getting one and keeping it at her farm, Ginger was all for it. Then she rattled off a litany of shots, medications, treatments, trainings, hoof care, tooth care, mane care that you have to do for a horse. It seemed that every cubic inch of the huge animal needed distinct care. I realized that it was too late for me to ever know enough to responsibly own such a magnificent creature.

One of the joys of visiting the farm is the stories and explanations, such as—when breeding horses, you have to use a breeding halter and pull the stallion away at just the right time. “Sometimes a mare gets testy, and if she kicks him in the wrong place, it can end his career.”


One day, she looked out of her window and saw her stallion standing in the middle of the road. He had managed to unlatch the gate. Since he didn’t have a halter on, she used locks of his mane, bringing them around his neck and joining them as a bridle to lead him back to the pasture. She never had him gelded because he has a wonderful temperament and is easy to handle.

Many other animals found a home on Ginger’s farm, and none will ever experience the terror of a stockyard. The white mule keeps the stallion company since he has to be separated from the mares, cows graze languidly, cats wander under the fences, goats and sheep wait for special treats, ducks waddle fearlessly, one of the dogs yips at the stallion’s hooves. Ginger rebukes the dog, but he attends only briefly, and she doesn’t insist because she suspects that the stallion actually enjoys the diversion as he raises a front hoof and slams it toward the dog who quickly ducks away.


I don’t remember meeting Ginger. When I was growing up in Gaithersburg, the town was a small, distinct community, and people never came into your life; they were always there, and you happened to notice them either suddenly or gradually. An isolated memory I have is driving on Central Avenue (I don’t think that was the name of it then) to Washington Grove when she and I were on the props committee for our high school play. She remembers my mother’s car which was a transition between a standard and automatic shift. Even though I was driving, I can retrieve but a dim memory of it. I reclaim only the feel of the steering wheel, the house out my window to the left, and Ginger to my right in the passenger seat.

Gaithersburg was an isolated farm community then, and people I knew from Rockville, Silver Spring, and Bethesda thought we were all hicks. Our high school had the pettiness endemic to most, yet the people we knew there have become world travelers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, realtors, and parents of fine children. There was even a girl in our school who became a gentlewoman farmer.

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