Monday, December 1, 2014

I Don't Know Why You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello - Ossining, New York

Ossining house and its screen door is open. Come on in!

One of the main reasons I wanted to move back to the US and specifically the northeastern part of the US was because I wanted to be closer to friends and family. While my parents live in Chicago, I grew up in Westchester County, New York and over the border in Fairfield County, CT. And I largely grew up as a member of two families--my own and that of the Hudsons (names changed for privacy purposes).

The Hudsons became friends with my parents as newcomers in the town of Somers--I was only four or so, my brother five, and their three kids ranged from 2 to 9. The parents played tennis together, drank wine together, hiked most of the peaks of the Hudson river valley together and stayed close even as my family moved to Connecticut, and they moved to Ossining, New York.

When the Hudsons bought their home in 1976, it was a dilapidated 11-acre estate with overgrown gardens, an abandoned pool and a decrepit house (a circa 1600 farmhouse!) and outbuildings. In typical Hudson style, they called in their friends to help. Because when I think of this family, I think of all the people who swirl in their orbit--they have friends literally everywhere. There is no other family that I can think of that so obviously understands the word inclusion. All were welcome: the international students and scientists, the wacky, the poor, the rich, the rescue dogs, us, whoever. Well, minus the deer that ate their magnificent gardens--Rob would sit up in trees and shoot them with bow and arrow. At one point he even had a trip-wired security light that would shine in his face and wake him up if a deer came by.  Before all the Bambi-lovers get crazy, this was not sport-hunting--Rob would use or give away every last bit of venison. 

After that first work party in 1976, the Hudsons held a summer party every year until about five years ago when the house went up for sale.  Two weddings were held there--one the ceremony in the garden, one with giant tents on the lawn where we danced the night away. I got ready to be a bridesmaid for Julie's wedding there. I can hear the screen door slapping as we walked in the mud room door, around the corner to the giant round kitchen table where Rob would be sitting reading a paper and drinking a coffee and Gretel would already be mid-rise to ask if we were hungry or would we like some tea.

And then suddenly we were grown up. Rob and Gretel were tired of taking care of the house--something was almost always breaking and they moved part-year to Naples Florida while selling the house. For the years that the house was for sale, we still came back to visit--all three of the Hudson kids and myself and all of our kids and spouses and friends. 

One of many lazy pool days
The pool was an ongoing scene always--Julie and I grew up bouncing off the diving board, putting on swim shows on innertubes, singing out of tune, saving frogs lost from the pond next door, and freezing our butts off in that unheated water. The pool itself was the Waterloo of Rob who could really fix anything--keeping it painted, leakless and repaired took much of the spring every year. I have countless photos of one person or another in the bottom of the pool cleaning the murky waters or painting it white some years, light blue or royal blue others. And the year of the titanium oxide pool water mix--sparkling clear one day, neon green the next. How I loved that pool.

Over the years, various changes to the property were preparing us to lose the childhood home. First one giant tree that held the hammock died, then the other. The pool garden grew over with grass. The bath house collapsed in a pile of rotted wood and was slowly carted away. The things that never changed--the magnificent gardens. The friendly faces. The kitchen table and chairs and its occupants. 

Then finally, a month ago, a buyer appeared. We don't know much about this buyer and what are his plans for the house. It is such an old house that needs constant care that it would be more cost efficient to crush it. I don't know how Rob and son Dan cared for it themselves all these years. The 11-acres and its outbuildings are all in question--what next? But we can do nothing about those plans. Instead, it was time to move out the forty years of stuff.

The three Hudson kids have been helping with move out for some time. Deciding what should be given away, moved to Florida, sold or moved to one of their houses. They've done an incredible job helping their parents and frankly just keeping it together. I admit that I was less than helpful myself during these days around Thanksgiving. I couldn't stop wandering the halls and rooms with their many memories--and I was never technically a resident of the house. But it was, of course, my childhood too.

The pool iced in.

A last swing on the backyard swing.

The site of one wedding

The things you can take with you: I took the office rug, some paintings, a couple of lamps. The recipes taped up inside the kitchen cabinet.

Recipes in the cabinet

The things I couldn't: the warm smells of wood and the outdoors which came in the uninsulated old windows, the creak of the old staircase, the view out the windows. Rob sitting at the kitchen table. Gretel offering me food (okay, if I visit her in Naples she will continue to offer me food). My friends and family gathered around the glass living room table talking about nothing and everything. The winter white snow covering the hillsides and hanging off the trees.

View out bedroom window

Making the giant snowball

On one of the last days, my twins and Charles, Julie's youngest child (age 9) played in the wonderful wet snow. They rolled huge snow balls into the pool. Charles fell in, floated to the side on an icy snowball and ran up to the house. As I opened the door to let him in, and he asked me for a towel, I flashed back to the millions of times that we had done the same (but in the summer, hello!)--"mom, can I have a towel?" His mom Julie was the first in the pool forty years ago. Charles was the last in the pool last week. Full circle? I guess so. I only wish we had had one more summer around that pool--I guess I expected it to always be here when I was ready for it. I say hello...but it's time to say goodbye.

Thanks for the memories: I carry you in my heart.


  1. This reminds me of when my grandparents (mom's parents) had passed away and we had to sell their house. It wasn't too hard for my mom to sell it as this wasn't the house that she had grown up in but it was the house that my grandparents had moved into the year I was born. The house was sold in 1994 when I was 21 so it was definitely hard for me. But like I keep telling myself and can only say to you about this'll always have the memories!!

    1. My parents also sold the family home in the early 90s. It was tough but I was in a different part of my life--trying to get away from my home, moving to California, etc. I don't think I appreciated then what I appreciated now. And yes, there are always the memories!

  2. Saying goodbye is always hard but you have such great memories to share. As Julie said you will always have the memories. <3

    1. Yes, the family and friends are always here with me and now we get to embellish the memories--remember, the pool was thiiiiiiiis big, etc. :)

  3. We lived on Pines Bridge Road too. This house has so many memories for us too...the summer party, dancing in the new year, Rod's beautiful flowers... especially sitting around the kitchen table...but it's so much to keep up. I hope the new owner has such pleasant memories of a beautiful place.
    Ella Mae
    PS: I couldn't figure out the comment as choice thing so I am anonymous with a name.

    1. Hi Ella Mae, I know blogger has some quirks on the commenting....thanks for coming by...yes, you are one of the neighbors that were in orbit there. The kitchen table has been taken by David, so hopefully we have new memories to be made around that one. And it will be interesting what the new owner does--hopefully some physical piece will be left of that marvelous garden...some of the bulbs have been dispersed among the kids, of course. xo K