Here I reside, in Rockland County, N.Y., just 20 miles from New York, for many more city than country since, these days, decades after the beginning of the post-World War II suburban push, most of our residents hail from Gotham or are the offspring of urbanites. For these good people, the county is comfortably near New York, close enough to reach in commute and shopping and visiting. Yet for others like me, in a dwindling group, where we live is more country than city. And never a suburb.
That’s because our roots go back to when there was no big bridge called the Tappan Zee linking two shores of the Hudson and providing a puddle jump for a major U.S. interstate. No parkway from New York City either. No large mall. No highway shopping strips. Instead, walkable downtowns like Nyack, Spring Valley, Suffern, Pearl River and Haverstraw where hardware stores, dress shops, shoe stores, small family restaurants, taverns and all manner of mom and pop places could keep you busy on a Saturday ride in from rural places like Pomona, Congers, Airmont, Tomkins Cove.
When the world seems too busy, when the traffic gets heavy, when my suburban tax bill rises, when someone seems suspicious rather than friendly, I get lost in the old Rockland. Sometimes I have tangible help for that.
Last week, on that wonderful 70-ish Friday, with a sun so warm but not so hot that it felt as if you were young and holding a girl’s hand, when there was a slight breeze that brought the promise of spring budding, I took off layered sweaters down to my winter cotton work shirt and sat on a rock.
When I was a young fellow looking for something to do in early spring, after school or on the weekend, I’d head for nearby woods, which were always nearby, and find a rock, catch the sun, feel the breeze and think I was the richest fellow on earth. That touch of nature was repeated, as the gift it always is, at the rock where I rested Friday after working in the Historical Society of Rockland barn at New City.
This ancient structure on the old Jacob Blauvelt place is filled with donated family furniture dating back centuries, well-used farm implements, blacksmith tools, etc., all representative of the farm/industrial/country life in Rockland up until a mere 60 or so years ago. It has the smell of old wood, seasoned by years of heavy sweat, worker and animal. It has an honesty to it, integrity even, sitting proudly on the few hundreds of feet left from hundreds of acres. You can get lost there, lost in the past, especially if your roots sense the nourishment.
Of course, roots are relative to the individual, and later arrivals to Rockland have their own foundation in various urban neighborhoods, with wonderful memories recalled in street games, knowing your neighbors, stores on the block, etc. They are blessed to have them.
And so am I, so are we of an earlier Rockland persuasion where emerging spring, the warming sun, an old rock, a barn setting, recollection and a breeze make you feel as rich as ever.