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Barbara Gunn Headshot

City Boy Meets Country

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When we bought a place in the northern Catskills, we had our reasons. It had stunning views from almost every window, but also it was near my aging parents, my siblings, their children. Our son was 5 when we found the 100 acres with a smattering of buildings. He was born in New York City while I am from upstate New York and my husband, New Mexico. We felt he needed to know country. After a trip to the Rockies in Wyoming to meet his great-grandmother when he was little, we drove back over the Triborough Bridge. He saw the Manhattan skyline out the window and jumped up in his car seat -- "Lights." "City." We looked at each other. Who IS that in the back seat? We loved that he cared so much for his city, but thought a little more time in the country might not be a bad idea either, and he would get to know his cousins better as well.

We bought the modest estate we all now just call Potter Hollow. The small, old farmhouse is far from the road. It is very still on that hill, but for the coyotes at night, the hawks during the day, the stream, which is born and runs fast down the hill only after a rain. To our dismay, we thought we heard traffic soon after settling in; it was the rushing water. We needed a little more country as much as our son. We have hay fields, which our neighbors tend, woods, a pond, a great sledding hill, a nearby a ski resort, a local lake, and all the nearby cousins live within 45 minutes or so.

I am from a big Irish Catholic family. Cousins are not in short supply and, more importantly, are wonderful friends, particularly special for an only child. In the June after we bought the house, my sister, her three daughters and husband came for dinner. We hadn't known that the fading light in June would remind us of the light one sees in the Hudson River School paintings. The top of each stalk in the hayfield was tipped with yellow, the sky the blue of the gown the Virgin Mary statues always wear, and of course the clouds were wispy, pink and white. The girls decided they would take him through the hayfield down to the pond.

He joined them on the little hike, but was appalled at the odd feel of the hay on his legs. My niece carried him piggyback down the hill. Later that summer, my sister helped them find and pick strawberries, but our son was very suspicious: these were small, light red and you could almost taste the sun in them, nothing like the grocery store strawberries in the city. He joined a swim team with his cousins, and found he was not fond of swimming in meets, but liked playing with them by the pool. He went to the large rural school playgrounds with my brother and the cousins, and was the only one who didn't hop out of the car and run across the parking lot to the jungle gyms. He saw asphalt and assumed it was a busy city street. He clambered slowly out of the van, carefully looked both ways in the parking lot, like any good city child, and then carefully navigated the asphalt.

Much later, he liked to sit by himself on the fieldstone terrace wall, his feet dangling, just looking at the mountains, contemplating in the quiet. He would lay on the grass on his stomach on a hot summer day and read his book in the shade of a maple, his dog panting nearby. The whole travel baseball team came up a few times, to go to nearby Cooperstown, swim in the pond, play games and sleep in the studio building near the house. Christmas Day dinner for the whole family at Potter Hollow has become a tradition. This child melded a life of large city and rural countryside, as we had hoped, as did his parents.