By Kathleen Durkee
“Our garden has been home to countless fairy houses, neighborhood games of manhunt, nesting birds and bunnies, lizard and goldfish graves, and huge winter igloos.”
Honestly, I wasn’t even pregnant at the time, but I remember feeling overcome with waves of nausea as my husband broke the news that we were being relocated from our hillside apartment in the Hollywood Hills to New York. Having spent my post-college years working in Washington, D.C. and New York, I figured I had “done my time” on the East Coast, and relocating back to New York was not part of the script for this California Girl.
A week later we were on a plane heading East on the hunt for our first house. Monday was Westchester, Tuesday New Jersey, Wednesday Connecticut, Thursday we made the offer on a house in Indian Village and Friday it was accepted. By the time we moved cross-country a couple of months later, I was pregnant with our second child. We were the ideal demographic for our new Indian Village neighborhood, newlyweds with a 1-year-old and another on the way, and then a caboose a year later for good measure.
Initially, we were known as the family who had moved into the McBride house, and inherited Dr. Sandy Nussbaum’s phone number. We spent years on a re-education campaign, but realized early on we had to earn our address and phone number here in Rye.
The McBride family lived in our home for more than 30 years. They created what we call our “secret garden”, an idyllic sanctuary we have lovingly restored and maintained over our 20-plus years in our home. “The patio” has been the stage for countless birthday, prom, and graduation parties, as well as our famous fiestas with all the “trimmings”. Our garden has been home to countless fairy houses, neighborhood games of manhunt, nesting birds and bunnies, lizard and goldfish graves, and huge winter igloos. Our beautiful and mature plantings are what make our garden unique and secret, providing privacy not usually found in a neighborhood setting.
Built in the 1920s, our home does not boast 8-foot basement ceilings, a mudroom, or some of the more modern “necessities”. Instead, it has been said to have perfect feng shui, the Chinese practice in which “a structure or site is chosen or configured so as to harmonize with the spiritual forces that inhabit it.” We have made a home filled with the new and the old, filled with light, orange trees, flowers, music, and children. Our sunroom, overlooking the “secret garden” is our little slice of California filled with plants and warmth.
Our home’s coziness is its charm. We’ve benefitted from being physically near our kids, using the dining room every night for family dinner — not to mention using every room in the house on a daily basis. I heard lots of stuff going on through the years in my house, and it allowed me to keep my finger on the pulse. If coziness overwhelmed the kids, they hit the streets of Indian Village, where, at one time, there were more than 25 kids their age on our block alone. In fact, Indian Village is famous for having at least 25 kids per block. Families grow exceptionally close because of this and have established treasured neighborhood traditions and parties. Many of our neighbors have become lifelong friends, and our kids have found their closest friends and prom dates down the street.
Life beyond the garden gate has been ideal. When they were old enough, our kids delighted in walking to town with their friends, and disappearing for hours at a time, hopping from house to house. My husband felt blessed that he could quickly walk home from the train station, and make it home most nights for dinner. I loved my morning bus-stop chats, group dog-walking expeditions, and ladies’ poker nights.
But what is a home? If you have lived in a house a long time, it becomes what my grandma used to refer to as a “memory storehouse”. It is a place where memories reside — snapshots of Christmas morning, Halloween night, and the laughter and tears of childhood. It is eagerly awaiting the colorful march of spring through the garden each year; enjoying dinner al fresco on a warm summer evening; putting the garden to bed in the autumn; and watching the snow blanket the garden from the warmth of the sunroom.
Now that my husband and I are empty nesters, we have decided to begin a new chapter. We will leave this house as reluctantly as we did our Hollywood Hills apartment more than 20 years ago.
Our house is de-cluttered — and a little echo-y in my opinion — and our memories and stuff are packed away in closets, the attic and garage, but mostly in our hearts. Our daughter recently returned from her first year of college and burst into tears, saying she hated our now tidy house, with so much of its personality hidden and tucked away.
We have made room for a new family to fill it with life, and give it a new name. I picture our home’s next family cheerfully building their own “memory storehouse” and no longer having to call it the Durkee House.
Members of the Durkee House
The rhododendron in bloom
Princess on the patio
Light streaming through the sunroom