Thursday, November 19, 2009

Leaf Me Alone

Green Acres is the place to be.
Farm living is the life for me.
Land spreading out so far and wide.
Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.
New York is where I'd rather stay.
I get allergic smelling hay.
I just adore a penthouse view.
Darling, I love you, but give me Park Avenue.

The chores! The stores! Fresh air! Times Square!

You are my wife. Goodbye city life!
Green Acres, we are there.

We may not be Oliver and Lisa Douglas, but my husband Brian and I did make our own foray into rural America nearly 15 years ago. Our life in Queens, New York had become cramped and congested. Even the additional storage unit we rented couldn't accommodate the seasonal pile of snow tires under our table. Reaching the "it's time to stop throwing money away on rent" fork in the road, we decided we were ready to stake our claim in the name of home equity. Our search for a house began and ended in upstate New York.

There was never any doubt that our flight from the city would lead us northward. Brian's job near White Plains ruled out a laborious commute from Long Island and we weren't lured westward by the song of New Jersey. The fond memory of day trips to Rhinebeck drew us to the Hudson Valley; it was beautiful, within a reasonable driving range and, at the time, affordable.

When asked how we wound up in Stanfordville, I laughingly reply, "By mistake." We had come to the conclusion that the village of Rhinebeck itself might be a bit pricey, so we began to look at the surrounding areas. Off the beaten path and just south of Rhinebeck, the hamlet of Staatsburg emerged as the strongest contender. It was quaint, quiet, and within striking distance of the Hudson River, which appealed to me as I had hoped to reacquaint myself with my passion for landscape painting. A listing in a local paper caught Brian's eye, and soon we were off and running towards our new life in the country.

As we followed the realtor, I was struck by the absence of a river. We had begun to head east off the Taconic Parkway, and even I, in all my directionally dysfunctional glory, was doubting the promise of a sunset over the Hudson. Sure enough, the property was listed as being in Staatsburg, instead of its actual location in Stanfordville, 16 miles northeast of Poughkeepsie, in the heart of "Hunt Country".

Keeping an open mind, we looked at only two listings before we decided that this mistake was the happiest of accidents. The second property included a well-maintained, yet simple ranch on a potentially lovely setting of 5 acres. Hidden by trees, a small stream traveled through the back yard; we were certain we would be able to clear the land to secure a view of the water from our picture window. Although the house was conceptually stuck in the seventies, we were not frightened off by the burnt orange wall to wall carpeting and the amber plastic inset into cutouts in the wall between the hallway and living room. On his first visit, my brother-in-law dubbed the kitchen's wrought-iron enclosed orb of a light fixture a fine example of "Mediterranean Sci-Fi". I think you get the idea.

Curiously, these dated decorations added to the appeal of the house, as did its owners. I might as well have been visiting my parents-she was sweet and personable, he was straightforward with a touch of cranky practicality. Unfortunately, this comparison may have lessened our clout at the bargaining table; we were ineffective hagglers who let sentimentality get in the way of a great deal. No matter, we had our first home.

Fifteen years, four dogs, and two cats later, we are still here. The transition from the urban center of the universe to the middle of nowhere was not as difficult as we had imagined. Brian's 1 1/2 hour commute is a straight shot down the Taconic Parkway; far less stressful than the same trip on the Long Island Expressway would have been. Initially, I worked at a succession of restaurants and odd jobs, but have dodged the full time employment bullet for some time now. My days are spent maintaining my home, my creative pursuits, and until recently, the care and feeding of elderly parents. Although I can be heard bitching about my indentured servitude as a "yard slave", I have inherited my father's pride in a well-maintained property. I suppose I can thank him for the energy I can summon up to haul 30+ tarps of leaves into the surrounding woods. I suppose I can thank him later.

My folks loved to come and visit, but would admit that our location was too rural for their tastes. There is a compromise of distance and convenience; Mom would have found it difficult to indulge in her shopping obsession with a 40 minute drive standing in the way. The closeness of neighbors comforted them, while I prefer to hide my quirks behind a tree line.

When someone would ask my father where I lived, he would tell them "Hooterville". I rarely corrected him and had my own chuckle as I saw the irony in such a jab coming from a man who had lived nearly his entire life in a town called "Trucksville".

Back at ya, Dad.

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