By Janice Llanes Fabry
This year has been a cauldron of volatility and turmoil. Adding moving out of one’s home of twenty-five years into the mix has brought it to a full boil. On top of all the changes and restrictions the pandemic thrust upon us, I’ve had to come to terms with bidding our beloved family home farewell.
Having made the decision to downsize before the pandemic, my husband and I acknowledged it was the next logical step. After all, our three kids had places of their own and we can go weeks without entering most of the rooms in the house. And simplifying sounded pretty liberating. There was one stumbling block, however. We treasure our storybook house and cherish our neighborhood.
The moment we discovered Greenhaven, a pristine coastal enclave in the City of Rye where white-tailed deer and the occasional flock of turkey roam, we were smitten. At the risk of sounding like a realtor’s sales pitch, what’s not to love about tree-lined streets and magnificent homes with mooring rights and two private beaches? That we found a charming house with old-world arches and gabled rooflines one would expect of a 1939 Tudor, plus an abundance of natural light pouring in, was a dream come true. While I was enthralled by the fireplaces, my husband was drawn to its craftsmanship and “good bones”.
In an extensive restoration years ago, we even added a fairytale turret and multiple stone porches, installed a new timber roof trusses and slate roof, replaced steel casement with leaded glass windows, and excavated the lower level. Despite the incessant dust, noise, and doorways sealed in plastic and duct tape that the cats always managed to break through, fond memories prevail. All five of us would hunker down in the only rooms shielded from the work zones and I’d cook burgers on our life-saving George Foreman grill.
Before putting the house on the market, cosmetic updating and decluttering were in order. Empty shelves and stark white walls sell; busy prints and mantles with dozens of picture frames don’t. Of course, we couldn’t have laborers in the house as a result of Covid, so I rented a wallpaper steamer and learned to strip the florals and the stripes right off the walls myself. Think water, glue, and a whole lot of patience.
Although I’m not a saver by nature, there was still plenty to purge, 25 years of accumulation to be exact. The only “treasures” I couldn’t bring myself to part with were the 60-plus photo albums I meticulously compiled chronicling our three children’s lives. I know, I know, a digitizing service will preserve photos forever, but I’ve had a Legacybox email in my inbox for years that I can’t bring myself to open.
Therein lies the rub. It’s all about the memories. How do I say goodbye next month to a house full of them? I remember moving in and our 2½-year-old son waking up in the middle of the night disoriented by unfamiliar surroundings. He sprinted from his little racecar bed and ran smack-dab into our bedroom door. That calamitous night notwithstanding, this old stucco and timber abode has been really good to us.
Last Christmas Eve, which we dubbed “The Last Supper”, our children and grandchildren shared fond memories about the old house. We went around the dinner table, festive, in spite of my having prematurely packed the fine china, with crystal goblets, red cloth napkins, and twinkling lights. We recalled birthday parties, from Sweet Sixteens to Papa’s 85th; backyard barbecues and pig roasts; watching meteor showers in the middle of the night from our front porch; fireplace s’mores during snowstorms; our cats Holly and Jingles barely tolerating our Bichon Mimi; bridal and baby showers; the frenetic buzz getting ready for our two daughters’ weddings just before they ethereally floated down the stairs in their wedding gowns.
A few years ago, we welcomed our daughters and their husbands back home while they were in transition between apartments and houses. Pregnant at the same time, they had their babies three days apart. I’ll never forget them all departing for the hospital crossing the same threshold they did every morning on their way to elementary school. This was the very first home of our grandchildren, Cora and Cole, who learned to say “Mama”, eat solid foods, and take their first steps here.
If that was our house’s proudest achievement, its crowning moment would have to be ameliorating even the pandemic by providing us with a spacious, warm retreat. Fleeing the city, our son and fiancé moved in and the four of us together — cooking, wine-tasting, playing cards — made the very, very best of a historically horrific time.
Although social restrictions precluded us from gatherings, we managed to share some memorable evenings around the firepit with our wonderful neighborhood friends. There’s nothing more conducive to kinship and meaningful conversation than sitting around glowing embers on a chilly evening, despite being six feet apart. We’ll be leaving our neighbors behind, but most certainly not our lifelong friendships.
Another silver lining of having to slow life down was the opportunity to rediscover our neighborhood while we’re on the cusp of leaving. Greenhaven abuts the Marshlands Conservancy, Jay Heritage Center’s 23-acre park, and Otter Creek Preserve on the Mamaroneck side. How invigorating and life-affirming those long walks were.
Greenhaven is a hard act to follow, so tough, in fact, that we’ve decided to rent first. If home really is where the heart is, I suspect a little part of mine will always be here.
The author on a stroll through Greenhaven with her grandchildren.
The Tudor home Janice and Jan Fabry will say goodbye to next month.