GRANVILLE — Robert and Margaret Ayers left their 400-acre dairy and poultry farm in Whitehall for a 14-by-16 square-foot room at the nursing home.
And they couldn’t be happier about it.
They are currently the only married couple living together at the Slate Valley Center in Granville.
Margaret, 82, was a resident first and Robert, 79, moved in after he fell ill in November. Now the two are able to say grace together before they eat meals. They attended a nurse’s wedding. They hold hands from their side-by-side beds as they fall asleep at night.
“It’s just been so nice that we can be together,” Robert said, tearing up behind his bifocals.
Robert Ayers met Margaret LeClaire at a square dance in 1957 at Clemons Town Hall. Robert was a college man at the time, home for a visit. They dated for nearly two years before getting married on Oct. 25, 1959. Robert took over his family dairy farm.
A farm wife, Margaret wanted something to do and started a poultry farm with 1,000 chickens in the early 1960s. While Robert ran the dairy, Margaret sold cage-free brown eggs at Ayers Egg Farm on the honor system.
Eggs were kept in a refrigerator, and customers would drive out to the farm at the intersection of routes 10 and 11 and leave their money in an envelope. She also sold eggs to Putorti’s Broadway Market and the former Roma Restaurant.
The egg business persisted on the honor system all those years, Robert said, until he took ill in November and someone stole some eggs and money from them.
“It wasn’t perfect,” he said, “but most of the time, it worked well.”
Robert and Margaret raised their two daughters on the farm and loved living the farm life out on Wescott Road. They now have four grandchildren.
Robert was headed to help out in the poultry barn back in 2002 when he saw a flashlight on the floor.
“It didn’t take me very long to see that something was wrong,” he said.
Margaret had taken a fall and suffered a broken hip. She endured a hip replacement, which never healed right. She eventually moved to the Slate Valley Center.
Robert wasn’t able to maintain both the dairy and poultry farms by himself, so he sold off the cows and focused on the chickens.
“Maybe the cows are gone, but they didn’t take all the cow out of me,” said Robert, wearing denim overalls, a green plaid shirt and a green baseball cap that read, “Make Our Farmers Great Again.”
Large eggs were $2 a dozen. The freshness of the eggs kept people coming back for more.
“There’s a difference between most store eggs and the farm eggs,” he said. With store eggs, he said, “It might be a couple weeks to maybe a month or better difference in time from the time they’re laid until the time they’re purchased.”
Living alone on the farm, Robert, who just turned 79, had four different “episodes,” before they decided he couldn’t live alone on the farm anymore.
“Three times they picked me up right in the barn itself,” he said. Luckily, he kept a cordless phone or a cellphone in the barn with him.
Robert was able to secure a place in Slate Valley Center in the same room with his sweetheart. He sold off pieces of the farm — some to the Nature Conservancy and some to other families. An Amish couple lives in the cow barn and is working most of the farm. Someone is raising sheep on a part of the farmland.
The farm isn’t being run just as he did it, but he is happy it’s being used for agriculture.
“I was hoping to be able to sell it as a working farm,” he said.
Nursing home employees have reported a dramatic change in Margaret since Robert moved in.
“Margaret is just acting so much nicer and everything just because I was here,” Robert said. “I thought, ‘Gee, I meant that much to her.’”
Margaret agreed she was happy to have him as her roommate again.
The couple is looking forward to celebrating their 60th anniversary together at the Slate Valley Center in October.
“I feel very nice about it that we can be together,” Robert said.