The 90-minute ride to the “charming village” followed the Hudson River due north from New York City, where I lived with my daughters in a mid-19th-century loft with fir beams, steel columns, and the original factory floors. You don’t get more industrially charming than that. More interested in the aesthetic arts than home crafts, I was a deeply urban creature. The only thing I had ever built was a fierce career. The only thing I raised was my consciousness—and of course, my daughters.
When I did fantasize about a place outside the city, it was rarely a cottage. I imagined myself in an eco-chic structure—perhaps prefab, even—that was distinguished but indistinguishable from the landscape, welcoming sunlight from every window. Not an inaccurately described cottage (it was nowhere near Nantucket) with a fussy garden in a too-quaint village.
Nevertheless, Mary Lou and I hopped aboard Amtrak’s Empire Service line and headed upriver. In less than two hours, we were lunching on homemade bread and soup at a Main Street café and shopping in the notions department of a five-and-ten, an almost museum-quality replica of another time. Finally, we headed to The House. “If it has a trellis with roses, that will be the tipping point,” I said. “Tipping toward ‘Get me out of here.’“
We approached the corner of Mulberry and Chestnut streets (am I on a movie set here?), and there it was: the world’s cutest cottage. It had lilac French shutters (I could already see them in Farrow & Ball’s Studio Green), a white picket fence, and trellised roses. We were well beyond the tipping point. Inside, the two bedroom, bath-and-a-half house was tastefully decorated and pristinely maintained. (A rigorous inspection turned up a tiny chip in a soap dish.) Did I mention that the garden shed reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s writing shack at Monk’s house in East Sussex? I was certain the seed of a book idea I had been contemplating could florish there.
On the train ride back to the city, we hypothetically considered the house’s merits. It was easily reachable along a glorious train route. (I didn’t have a car.) It was in great condition. (I wasn’t handy.) It was enough for one (I was one) but big enough for my daughters to visit. (Later I would reprise their childhood room, complete with canopied cast-iron beds and their Steiff bear collection.) For the past few months since my mother’s death, I had been debating how to invest a small inheritance that sat restlessly in my bank account. Add some of the severance I received from a job I had loved and lost and the house would be mine. By the time we returned to Penn Station, I was ready to make an offer.
There were two other bidders, it turned out, but my all cash offer sealed the deal. (Thanks, Mom). The owners, a couple in their 80s, didn't attend the closing (which happened to fall on my late mother's birthday) and hadn't wanted to sell (their son insisted they move closer to him). Dottie and Joe were sad to be leaving their cottage, and that afternoon, when I visited my new house for the first time I found a welcome present: tools for the garden (from Dottie, a passionate gardener) and for the house (from Joe, a talented handyman), along with a directory they had compiled of local service people, including a slipcover maker and a septic tank repairman. Sometimes you choose a house--and sometimes a house chooses you. You just have to get on the train.
Thanks to all our commenters for expressing interest in the ending to my previous post, to my daughter Annie who typed in this entry and to Huck Hill who had the house photographed when I couldn't make it up this weekend because of snow.