Happily, life in city, country a paradox that works

Originally published in The Poughkeepsie Journal on June 21, 2015 

The 62.3 miles between my city mouse and my country mouse are well appointed. We lose WNYC.org at about mile 56 on the Taconic and pick up WAMC.org at about mile 61. During the middle five we are plagued by Christian radio, which occupies the airwaves in our middle time and our middle journey.

I am a Christian. When I say plagued I mean that I am not the punishmentalist kind of Christian who buys airtime. I am the more quiet kind. Thus I turn off the radio between public stations and get ready for the best view of my cradle Catskills that I have.

I am here to quarrel with the great fabulist, Aesop. The city mouse visits the country mouse and hates his food. The country mouse visits the city mouse and is equally disdainful. My paradox is different. I love the city and the country, both, and can only find work in the city and play in the country. I am a spatial schizoid and lead a happy double life going up and down.

We found our place in Hopewell this way. We hoped well. I spent three years on my midweek days off driving in concentric circles around Manhattan looking for my country mouse. My budget was $200,000 for a place. There were a few in that range, usually without indoor plumbing or stairs connecting up and down. I persevered. I weekly scoured early Jersey, early Long Island, and my favorite upstate to Route 84. A native of Kingston, I would love to have gone back there, but that was too far for someone who gets one day off a week and doesn’t want to spend it in the car.

It was an April day, just warming. My husband rarely came with me on these adventures, being an improbablist himself. He was convinced that we could find nothing in our price range. He is Jewish but that is not the reason he thought my quest improbable. His religious background joins his academic training to make him a realist. On this day he was in reluctant attendance. We saw a for sale sign at Horton Hill Road.

As I made the awkward turn onto the Horton Hill Road, 90-degree-angled exit off the Taconic, Warren said, “This will never work. We don’t need any kind of place up this kind of hill. Think snow. Think winter. Think this turn.”

My feelings were hurt. I was motivated by hope and three years of scouring; he was motivated by realism and was starting to pity me, that stop on the road beyond humoring me. The Horton Hill sign was pure fiction: no house, no for sale, only a bad hill on a bad curve on a busy road.

We got back on the Taconic and I pulled off, 1 mile later, at Miller Hill Road, the next available location for the kind of marital meltdown that people long acquainted are long acquainted with. Warren got out his cellphone and read his messages. I huffed and puffed in circles looking for my lost hope. Then I looked up from my pout and there it was. An old stagecoach house, built in 1759, was peering shyly out of last winter’s vines. I knew that Warren was good with his cellphone so I stumbled around the covered-over place. I knew it was empty, but I didn’t know that the “for sale” sign had collapsed from too much winter. I entered the phone number on the sign in my cellphone and walked to the back where the door was open.

Difference No. 1 between upstate and downstate: open up, locked down. Was it possible there was a modern kitchen in the house? Or wide board pine floors that hadn’t been destroyed by time? Or two bathrooms? Hope met realism. I called the agent and put an offer on the house. Later that night I told Warren all about it and he looked it up and sure enough for $245,000, it was ours. He said, “Let’s put an offer on it tomorrow. It looks really good.” I agreed that we should definitely put an offer on it “tomorrow.”

We have been in the house five years. Our chickens, dog, cat and caretaker all love it. After hundreds of dollars in worms and manure, the long-buried perennials have emerged.

My Brooklyn-born daughter-in-law brings my grandkids up occasionally. “Where will we find coffee or a bagel?” Back home, I tell her. We who love density and horizon, bagels and bagelessness, we who love city and country and don’t know how not to — we occasionally find a way to marry hope and realism, luck and living.

Unlike Aesop, my doubleness, undivided, is paradox lost and paradise found.

 
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