When we were children we were uprooted from the place we knew and moved far far far away from the friends who were family and up up into a new place, a village on the banks of a certain river that ebbs up and flows down so the waters move in two directions, a feature not lost on the Natives who called the river Muhheakantuck.
We lived not far from the River Muhheakantuk in a large yellow house. The house was different than the one we left behind in suburbia. It had no heat outside of a few rooms on the first floor. No running water most of the summer. And the backyard had been for generations been used as a private landfill so that there were parts of the ground that bounced from buried bed springs and places that went crunch crunch crunch as one walked atop rusting beer cans. Not to mention the broken glass. And the poison Ivy. And the weeds. And the house itself where the carpets and stink of the previous owners was not cleared out before we moved in. The wind and the ghosts and the mice all conspired to make very strange noises not just that first winter of discontent, but for years after.
While our green acre was a devastation of modern life and a home we lived in as squatters, it inspired my lifetime interest in environmentalism and perpetual misanthropic state since I could not imagine in my childish mind how people could just dump trash outside their door and live on top of it. So we kiddies took to rambling about, sneaking outside the confines of our crappy “yard” (much larger than that little lot we left behind in suburbia but less verdant and beloved than our inland empire) and we would sneak. Out past the first trash heap, the second one and across the glass-infested swamp. Through some woods and more woods until we came to a stream next to an apple orchard. The stream no more than a seasonal drainage, part natural, perhaps somewhat influenced by the generations of farmers dating all the way back to the Dutch and the estates.
The stream marked the boundary of the village property owners of Lefferts Corners where a collection of rotten houses and economically distressed families scratched the grounds and apparently dumped trash outside their doorsteps. The woods we sneaked upon were owned by a family that had their own children play in the woods from time to time – this was a long time ago when children could play on their own and not call their parents every few moments with an update or be part of some structured activity set intended to get Zoe and Xiamano into high school/early college so they can die fat, happy, on several trendy medications, and in an aroused state, as we all should so perish. We kiddos found a rope swing. Thinking back this was totally ridiculous. The stream was no more than a trickling smattering of manure and pesticides from the various fields and orchards, but it had a rope and we would swing and jump and play and frolic and….
Wait… Someone’s coming.
Into the marsh. Into the woods. Melt into the rocks of the waters itself.
Since it was not our land and we did not belong there one bit.
We loved the stream and my brother and I drew maps to it. Made up little signs and places them about the woods naming various areas. We once built a bridge, a little structure we secreted into the forest and covered another trickle in the attempt to “freak out the other kids.” That was us then. Freaking out the village children by building faerie bridges and putting up strange signs.
We named the tricklet stream Apple Blossom Rock. Since, while we very inventive, sometimes you name the place after what it does, like a river that runs in both directions. There were apples, in the orchard, blossoms that filled the waters but once a year, and being in the country and nature… rocks. Lots of rocks. So much different than those sandy shores and grounds we had grown up so so long ago it makes my teeth hurt and ears grow longer.
And one day, we did not pay attention.
We were surprised not by the village home owner and their brood, but by a lady on horseback… The daughter of the Estate. On one side of Apple Blossom Rock was the village. On the other. The orchard and the estate of the Lady Martense.
Lady Martense had been (allegedly according to the dark mutters of the people of Lefferts Corners) a cigarette girl born in Queens New York from a family of swarthy troglodytes who one cocaine sodden night in a club, met Mr. Lord Sir Martense, a stock broker (we kids had no idea what stock brokers did, but we did know what a troglodyte was). We were once told by a neighbor that Lord Sir Mr. Martense had married the (then) girl and moved upstate with his money and connections and bought the palatial estate of which the border was, not that he knew the name, Apple Blossom Rocks. We were told he had a “direct line to the city” and could see his stocks on a ticker all day where he still made trade. This blew our mind. Not the cocaine part. The “direct line to the city.” We were but simple children and we knew the city was far away and back then, cell phones were still part of science fiction.
The young lady on the fine horse looked at us. I felt about one foot tall. A ragamuffin and all wet and all muddy and all pathetic in front of this fine young lady, the daughter of the Lady of the estate.
She shooed us away. Or maybe we melted away after telling some bullshit story about knowing the people of The Village.
Do you parents know you’re are here? She may have asked.
In terror and lurking fear, we vanished.
And for some time, we remained away from the rope swing before again playing there. And then one day, the rope swing was cut down. And then another day, the orchard was cut down. And before we knew it, our childhood was over.
It was years later, perhaps a decade when we got reports that in the old orchard a house was being constructed. The Lady Martense’s husband, a man of seven feet tall who wore only kilts – it is strange how children form memories that replace any truth – died and as he lay on the pyre she swore she would no longer live in the 18th century manor overlooking the river Muhheakantuck but build a new place, a house to rival even the finest Glambox or McMansion ever seen.
And with her warm hands, she started to dig. Actually, she paid several people to dig using huge machines. These machines dug and dug. We kiddos had all grown up and old by this time. We heard reports from the parent that still lived in the yellow house. We heard the machines worked all the time and at odd hours. It dug and shaped the land. It moved the blessed Apple Blossom Rock and cut down the last of the remaining apple trees.
As I was gone away I had reports that a house grew up over years.
A large house.
Spanish in style, yet Miami it would have been all in place however, in the old Dutch Mountains this house stood out on the grounds out of place and outside of the local world. Which it was. The owner of the land had worked hard to build this house. To put in an infinity pool. To put in expensive windows. To put on a tin roof of fake Spanish tile. On paper, at least as a list of items and materials, this was a fantastic house. Work went on it for years. And from the village, we could see this fantastic house sitting as if positioned for all to see. And many wished it gone, to the point that some planted trees that over time would shade or occlude the view of this monster house from view.
Then, one day, the Lady Martense, died.
And the house, having been complete a mere year or two, lay fallow for a little over a year, before something quite fantastic happened.
Large machines, driven by unknown hands, came to knock down this structure. The huge dinosaur machines went crunch, crunch, crunch and in a matter of five days, one day for each year the mansion was under construction, was torn down, sorted into boxes, and the remainders buried under the land. The machines scooped up all the plantings and took them away.
And dug at the earth. Hard. They dug and dug and restored the drainage ditch, the little stream to where it used to run, not in front of the grand manner but behind where it once stood, restoring Apple Blossom Rock to a pathway we as children would have recognized.
We do not know why this house was vanished. It was effaced as if a pharaoh had come to chip away at the previous God-King to anathematize all memory.
While the rope swing is gone, our youth over, the bridges and little signs long since rotted away, the little stream is returned to those old days of long ago.