Goodbye My Hudson: A Letter from a Long-Time River Town Resident

The view from Dasha Serniak Piwinski’ former home in Yonkers (Photo: Dasha Serniak Piwinski)

This is the last thing I should be doing now!  The list of things to do and prepare before the movers arrive tomorrow is endless!  Yet, like I’ve done so many times in the last year, I feel practically paralyzed to move out of this spot on my comfy couch, in a sunroom that offers a partial view of the Hudson River.  I don’t want to go.  Neither do my adult kids.  So despite signing a lease on a very nice new apartment and with the closing of our house looming, we drag our feet on things that need to be done and we tell ourselves it’s the oven-hot heat of late August causing our lethargy.

It struck me this morning as I came down the back steps (our house is 120 years old and has “back” steps – used by long-ago servants – as well as a formal staircase in the front) that this was one of the very last mornings I would come downstairs and be greeted by a view of the Hudson at the end of an “alley” of houses on either side.  Some mornings there were tugboats slowly pushing barges close to the banks.  Or maybe a little sail boat, and I wondered who was lucky enough to spend the day sailing!  Some mornings the sun was glistening and sparkling on the water.  Or the river’s beauty was enlivened by the gorgeous autumn colors on the Palisades.  Some mornings, you couldn’t see the river at all through an opaque veil of fog.  And when it snowed…Oh, when it snowed – how beautiful it was!

My backyard is bordered by the yards of several neighbors’ houses – one of whom hangs laundry on the line almost daily, regardless of weather conditions!  (We’ve often wondered what they did with frozen underwear!)   Over the years, some visitors have found the laundry an annoying obstruction to the river view.   Somehow, I never looked at it that way:  Laundry waving on the line was always part of living in Yonkers.  In fact, it’s a type of freedom:  “This is my house, my yard and my laundry and if I want to air dry it in the sunshine….I darn well will!”  As a child living in Yonkers’ Dunwoodie section, everyone, including my mother and grandmother, hung wash outside on a pulley line strung from a window to a tree or pole across the yard.  But there were some self-imposed restrictions:  My mother told me there was an unspoken agreement with our neighbors that laundry would not be hung out on Sundays.  Of course, such considerations long ago went the way of the “blue laws”.  In our search for a new place to live, we came across many housing rules that forbid outdoor laundry drying on any day.  In a way, that’s kind of sad.

But not as sad as today, tomorrow and next week will be.  Next summer, I will not be able to spend time in the mornings with coffee and a book, out on my upper porch, still dressed in my bathrobe, looking out over the river.  What a luxury that was!  Gazing out at a historic river from the porch of a historic house, in glorious privacy!  So sorry to lose this privilege, but so grateful to have had it.

Often, on those beautiful mornings, I thought about the people who preceded me in this house.  Someone has been living here since its first owners in 1897.  Someone celebrated the turn of the 19th to the 20th century here.  Someone lit the coal stoves that were once in the house.  Someone rejoiced at the end of WWI and cried during the Depression. During a kitchen renovation, we came upon the original back door.  It was now completely invisible from the outside and walled over on the inside.  As he peered through a hole in the wall, my then-husband wondered why anyone would use a black shade to cover the window of a door.  But I remembered my mother’s stories: “Everyone in the city – in the country for that matter – had to cover their windows with black shades during the blackout drills of WWII.  Darkness would make it more difficult for an approaching enemy plane to see its target.”  So that shade had been hanging on that then-visible door since 1941.  I imagined milkmen and icemen coming to that door with their deliveries.  We’d also heard that in the 1950s, a famous baseball player lived in our house – with his wife and their nine children!   I could only imagine the daily noise level and stair-stomping in a three-story house!

Of course, history never stops –and we are as much a part of history as any predecessor.  We purchased the house in the winter of 2001 and did some renovations prior to moving in permanently in October.  Sometimes, when enjoying my morning time on the upper porch, it has crossed my mind that had we moved in a month earlier, and had I been sitting on that same porch on the morning of September 11th, I might actually have seen the low flying jets, using the Hudson as a directional on their demonic rampage towards mass murder.   Surely the shadow of the planes passed over my house and all the others along the Hudson’s banks on that brilliantly dark morning.

But on another day, a more exciting historical sight above the Hudson:  The Challenger space shuttle was being retired and enjoying one last “joy ride”.   The TV said it was moving north over Manhattan and would circle back over the Hudson.  Knowing that for the space shuttle, that distance would be covered in a few minutes, I ran up to the porch and yelled for my daughter to come out and see!  Sure enough!  There it was flying low over the water!  I waved and shouted like a child!  After all, I had actually been a child of the “space race” era: Sitting in the auditorium of PS 17 with the whole student body, watching rockets blast off from Cape Canaveral on a small black and white TV perched on a tall cart.  Everyone cheered as it fired its way into the sky!  So now, in middle age, to see a rocket in flight, so close that I was waving from my porch, was amazing!   My daughter however, was only mildly impressed and went back inside.  I waited till it circled over New Jersey and came back around one more time…and waved again as it disappeared forever along the Hudson!

And to think – I almost missed this view entirely!  When we purchased the house, there was a row of overgrown and scraggly pine trees bordering the back of our yard.  A few years after moving in, I got tired of looking at the unhealthy trees, so I had two of them taken down.  The job was completed while I was out and when I returned, I stared in disbelief:  We’ve got something of a river view….and we didn’t even know it!  And I have loved it ever since!

One of my favorite books is an obscure novel entitled: “New York, The Novel”.  Its opening paragraph described a Dutch fur-trapper paddling a canoe up the Hudson.  I always tried to imagine at what point on the Hudson he might have cast off from and how far was “far” up the Hudson at that time.  The very first line of the book said:  “So this was freedom….” – gliding up the Hudson, before the City or Yonkers or any river town existed.  What quiet and peace it must have been!

Strangely enough, this scene often came to mind when I looked out the dirty windows of the Metro North Hudson line train from Yonkers to Grand Central.  Hardly a quiet and peaceful trip!  Yet – if I could get a window seat, I loved looking out at how close the train went along the water and how God and nature still ruled the river and Palisades, no matter what kind of idiocy we humans were up to!  Looking around at the other passengers at those moments, I was glad I still had my old flip-phone and was not tethered to the screen of a smart phone.  I might have missed the Hudson!  I often wondered if some of the people so engrossed in the phone’s screen were looking at pictures of the Hudson…while the real thing was passing by out the window!

Some might say:  If you loved the river view house so much, why sell?   Because, like it or not, things change.  Once, we were a reasonably happy, traditional family living here; bringing up two adolescent and teenage kids; busy with school, church and community.  But now an ugly divorce, for ugly reasons, broke us apart…and we have to go.  I never would have believed it had someone told me the day we moved in that this is how it would end.

Well – the early morning is becoming late.  Dark clouds are moving in from the west over the water.  Hopefully, rain will bring some relief from the heat! And no matter how much I stall, that overwhelming amount of preparation for the move isn’t going to do itself!   It’s a nice apartment we’re going to:  Everything is brand new; neatly kept property; nice neighborhood – back in Dunwoodie, where I started out!  But it isn’t my house – and it has no river view.   I pray the new owners will be good to my river view house and enjoy their chapter in its story as I have enjoyed mine.

So goodbye my Hudson!  From my place on the porch, you were freedom; you were peace.  You were already here for eons before I came into this world at the old Yonkers General Hospital, and you’ll continue to roll on long after I move into my “final address” at Oakland Cemetery.  I’ll come visit when I can, and you’ll always be in my heart!

Epilogue:  After 18 months in the Dunwoodie apartment, I wanted to purchase my own townhome.  But the high price of real estate and the small number of townhomes available within Yonkers made it impossible to accomplish this in the city, or surrounding river towns.   So after being forced to sell my home a year earlier, I was then compelled to leave the city altogether and relocate to the northern-most part of Westchester.  We moved into the little condo two weeks before the world shut down!

My new place is lovely and peaceful – even has a pretty lake view.

But if the pretty lake will ever hold the same place in my heart as my Hudson, remains to be seen.

1 Comment

  1. So beautiful. So heartfelt. It made me cry… I understand the ache in Diane’s soul… No other place will ever hold the same place in her heart as her Hudson River “home”… It always will be her real home.

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About the Author: Dasha Serniak Piwinski