(Cry, Sanitize and Reflect) Under the Nyack Sun
By: Lois Cahall
For fifteen years I wanted Nyack. And, boy did I finally get it! Moving here ten days before the COVID-19 lockdown with barely time for my out-of-state moving boxes to arrive… just in time to cut the cardboard for recycling, but with zero time to explore the community. Yet, I feel surprisingly over-the-Hudson-moon in this very town where I’ve longed to reside.
Ahhhh, Nyack! A formidable winter sun carved through the hills and homes on that nippy March morning.
I’d first discovered Hudson River lighting, when fifteen years ago I convinced my ex, a Hollywood screenwriter, that we might take a day trip close enough to our Manhattan residence. It was here we shared dinner at the home of another screenwriter, Adam Brooks, a [then] resident of Nyack. We wined and dined with movie director, Jonathan Demme, also at Adam’s table who left a beloved Nyack legacy, both during his life and long after his death.
Overlooking the Hudson River that evening –with its combination of twinkling sapphire, denim blues, a Gentleman’s grey, and an independence in its lure – it spoke to my aching heart. As a water baby, and having raised my daughters on Cape Cod, I was smitten. Every Saturday thereafter we escaped Manhattan, popping in and out of the charming shops. At one time we considered a summer home on River Road until a twist of fate halted that plan.
But as I explored restaurants, it was Hudson House that rocked my stomach and my world, becoming my favorite dining experience situated in the former village hall. I adored the snuggle of a banquet on wood plank floors and white tablecloths, reminiscent of my favorite little bistro in Barbizon, just outside of Paris. The food practically Michelin-star-quality, it was over a toast of champagne that I declared to Matt Hudson, “if I ever reinvent my life, it will be here in this Victorian town, with a big ole house and a bigger garden.”
Be careful what you wish for.
The blackened blue of Nyack’s Hudson stayed with me long after I left my screenwriter beau. Now years later, and married to a gentle British chap, here we live masked in the land of hand sanitizer and social distancing. Gazing out any of my fifty-plus windows, I feel so far yet so close to Nyack. Neighbors wave and holler out, “Welcome!” from their porch to mine, apologizing for their inability to bake oatmeal cookies in a time of six feet apart. So wildly befitting that my home is just doors from the Edward Hopper museum, the artist, born here in 1882, who moved from Nyack to Cape Cod, the reverse of my destiny. Hopper was known for his figures of solitude (not to be confused with loneliness); his fields and windows somehow rendered timeless…mirroring today’s pandemic as I stare out of mine.
With summer upon us and as restrictions slightly ease, I still can’t obtain my New York driver’s license, can’t register to vote, can’t find a hairdresser, a gym, and so on; still forced to turn inwardly between the four-floors of walls, not unlike the brooding Hopper characters caught in their windows of shadow and light.
Lockdown has given me a perspective of Nyack – one that no other resident can understand – because I’m learning it under stress albeit utter kindness. Despite doors posting signs of CLOSED or SHUT I can feel the vibe, stretch my imagination of what will ‘be’ again as people soon immerse on street corners at Starbucks, visit their farmer’s market and celebrate with their July 4th parades.
But it’s the contractors who have taught me the most; setting a foundation (no pun intended), molding my vision, giving me perspective in a town that they service day after day, year after year. Just before the pandemic, my painter, Sean Ward, transformed my home’s interior from granny burgundies and anemic greige to light alabasters and white dove. There was my floor guy, Fred; my landscaper Rick, all informing me of social non-distancing events like Halloween which require truckloads of treats if you live on North Broadway. “Okay,” I reasoned. “If we return to the pandemic this October, at least the kids will be wearing masks.”
Since lockdown it’s been my exterior contractors who converse through a window: the gutter guy, the exterminator, the power wash guy, the window washer, and so on. Turns out when you don’t have an emergency contact (well, okay, Matt Hudson) it helps to know the teams of workers who keep this town on its squeaky-clean toes. These men were here for me.
Our grocery clerk at European Market gives a warm greeting, where squinting eyes still produce smiles under masks. There’s the emergency dental surgeon – bless him – in gloves and face shield when my implant decided to fail week one of lockdown. Twelve weeks later it had to be removed or I’d risk heart infection or brain damage. “Sure,” I joked, “But at least I can say I took my last dying breath in Nyack.”
All these locals are Nyack, because our new celebrity is no longer the George Clooney’s of the worlds, but my postal guy, Joe. Thank you, Joe! I taped a note to my front door: “Heroes deliver mail here!”
Living in a turn-of-the-century home that’s arts & crafts, but feels ship captains’ inn, has given me a perspective of yesteryear. A time when we hunkered down with family, tended our gardens (I’ve planted an English garden in the otherwise full-of-weeds beds on my property) and decorated our living space (granted at the hit of a button Amazon makes that happen without cursing Manhattan traffic.)
Repeatedly I mantra these questions: When this is all over what am I going to change? When my social distancing has gone back to human touch, when my bad hair months return to a bad hair day, what will I keep from the old me, and what will emerge as the new me in Nyack?
As Netflix stocks rise, I’ve worked on meditating to newness. Giving back to my new community…the one that gave to me without even a handshake. They don’t know it, but the people of Nyack have given me, well, ‘me’ back. Me, myself and I in isolation. A time to cry – happy tears – a time to sanitize both my soul and those grocery cart handles but mainly a time to reflect. In this slow, deliberate, life I’ve learned to move to a gentler less demanding zone. Maybe it’s about something new. Self-reliance. Contentment. Enjoying with restored appreciation what’s always been right under my nose; like my green Bokhara rug that graced the front door of my many homes; my deceased mother’s silver for the day when I finally will entertain again, and all these bedrooms now decorated like a contemporary Nantucket inn. A photograph by Matt Hudson graces my fireplace wall. Its Hudson River colors a symphony of blue, a haling of navy, and a beckoning grey surrounding what was once the Tappan Zee Bridge (if you’ve dined at Hudson House, you know the photo.) But as I polish and clean antique tables and staircase bannisters, restoring them to luster, my favorite possessions are my cleaning rags. Yes, my rags. I’m fairly low maintenance. Cut from the shirts I once wore to jog around the Seine, or my daughter’s torn college pajamas. Fabrics faded and worn that like me, get a second life. My collectible, my antiques, my children’s memories, my years. Old, tired but wise. Just like this home.
There’s the cardinal on the branch, the yard deer eating my newly planted Hosta like a starter salad, and the robin with four blue eggs nesting to birth babies at my porch. Funny thing, Americans are always so hasty. Europeans utter “Prends ton temps,” French for “Take your time.” Pressure seems lifted here when people let other people off the hook; when family dinners are forced together in a time of lockdown, and prayer comes full frontal. Yes, Nyack has given me space to think about how my final chapter will play out in this very house, where the elderly lady once lived with her dying husband. I feel her in every room. I feel him, too. I feel the love they created and the love lost with his passing. Lucky for me other potential buyers passed on this house that beckoned me back one, two and three times over two years. The listing agent, Frank Mancione, required patience. My agent, Ryan Paige, young, vibrant and full of energy, exhibited a vision for my vision while my best friend, Elizabeth, wanted to strangle me, ‘What are you, crazy! It’s so dark, it’s so big!!” As she spoke, I was all the more determined…imagining how to restore it cosmetically to date while maintaining its integrity.
As the virus slowly lifts, my will-be carpenter – a masked man – Steve Lubeck, agrees with my assessment. It’s a home with master carpentry details long since abandoned by today’s standards. The quadruple layers of crown molding, the six panel doors, the intricate staircase spindles, the stained-glass windows now giving off a white, clean, ethereal light. But it’s the library off my foyer that sold me. You see, after my life in Manhattan I took a temporary detour to Florida where I built the Palm Beach Book Festival. A non-profit that focuses on children’s literacy by bringing in my rolodex of NYTimes best-selling friends to nurture a community. As each of my collectible books find a home on my library shelves, my mind wanders: Should I own a bookstore? Help the school children? What will my final chapter be?
I’m here Nyack. And, I’m all yours. You spoke to me before. Speak to me again.