PEABODY— Billy Murphy’s first child, a daughter named Madison, was born last month, eight weeks early. She’s in great health, but Murphy has been splitting his time between the hospital where the baby is (Maddie doesn’t want to come home until her nursery is fully painted “blush pink,” he jokes) and Tillie’s Farm, where he’s worked since he was 14.
Tillie’s is situated right on Lynn Street, a busy, main road in town. The shop is filled with an assortment of gourds and apples and honey and cider — the leftovers of a successful fall harvest courtesy of both Tillie’s and a partner, Brooksby Farm. Out the back window, the greenhouses dusted with snow are visible in the foreground of a sweeping field.
“You should see these greenhouses in the spring,” said Murphy’s mother, Shelagh Murphy, who has worked at Tillie’s for upwards of a decade. “When you’re back here you can’t even tell we’re right off a main road. It’s so quiet.”
Spring is the Murphys’ favorite season at the farm, though they are always busy during the holidays. Tillie’s is a favorite destination among Peabody residents for Christmas trees, and this year was no exception.
“We sold out in two weeks,” said Billy. “We didn’t get as many in because of the tree shortage, but we were very busy, very early. We sold around 300 trees.”
Tillie’s holds a lot of family history, not just for the Murphys (Billy’s younger siblings Maureen and Aidan, who often volunteer around the farm, even swung by to check in) but for the town, too.
One of Shelagh’s favorite stories is about one loyal customer who used to come by the farm to survey the trees ahead of time. Then, she’d come back with her grandson, and he’d select their tree by searching for his Elf on the Shelf, who was always patiently waiting for him in the branches of a particular evergreen.
“I always like to say that Peabody is a city, but it really feels like a small town,” said Shelagh. “We know everyone — our usual customers, the regular walkers who go by in the morning — and they know us.”
When COVID-19 hit earlier this year and Tillie’s had to close, the Murphys were able to reach a new customer base with the help of their college-age employees, who created an online ordering system.
“People were so nervous to go to the store or the market, myself included,” said Shelagh. “But now they could just order online, pay over the phone, and pick it up curbside!”
And, in a close-knit town, having Tillie’s remain open as an anchor for the community meant everything.
“Customers would come by and drop off thank-you notes. They were just so grateful,” said Shelagh.
Customers have even been coming by with cards and well-wishes for baby Maddie now that she’s made her grand debut in time for the holidays. And, at a farm where there already isn’t a lot of downtime, Billy now has even less as a brand new dad.
“I just said to Billy how much he is missed when he’s not here. It’s a lot for one person while Billy has been out,” said Shelagh, “but there was nothing like getting that call at 1 a.m. and being woken up with that news,” describing how she and her husband found out their granddaughter was coming to town.
“Best gift ever,” said Billy.
Alex Ross can be reached at email@example.com.