By Rick Reynolds
As my only child heads off for college, suddenly my head is filled with dreamscapes of her growing up in Chappaqua. Chappaqua was, in essence, my gift to her. And unlike me, she’d get to begin life there.
The Hamlet was a haven for me when I arrived as a skinny 8th grader from Long Island to rebuild my young life. North of White Plains, the landscape seemed to open up. For me the congestion, cement, smog , and well, badness of megalopolis released its grip, giving way to an oasis of frog-filled swamps, fishable ponds, pristine reservoirs, and yes—the mighty Saw Mill River. Like my pitch-perfect hero, Clemens (Samuel, not Roger), I dreamed of sidewheel steamships plying the tricky currents of the bifurcating Saw Mill River— admittedly a stretch, but soothing as I acclimated to my new home. Chappaqua had scale. Okay, it wasn’t the vast plains of the frontier, as Horace Greeley aptly pointed out, but with a little squinting, one could imagine being at Walden—not in the 12X15 foot cabin sense—but in the modest, 5,000 square foot Eldorado ranch vein, surrounded by old growth trees and lawns greener than Kermit.
It was into this gauzy image I wanted my child born. Having moved up from Greenwich Village in NYC, where I had met my wife, Chappaqua beckoned as the perfect incubator for our little hatchling.
And she took it like a true amphibian. She was catching frogs and dressing them up as ballerinas at age 2. And wrestling snakes by the age of 3.
“Look who’s living with us now, Da Da,” she’d say, holding up a confused-looking (later indignant) water snake. Turned out the snake was pregnant, and the resultant fingerlings had migrated under our house shingles, coming out to sunbath on our patio from time-totime— but I digress.
By the time she was entering kindergarten, my daughter was collecting a menagerie of dogs, parrots, rabbits, squirrels, turtles, toads, and crickets, when not riding horses at the various stables ringing North Castle. The country life Chappaqua afforded her was the Petri dish in which she evolved. Now it’s part of her DNA.
Of course, for my daughter, these romanticized images would give way to romantic interests and the angst of onset, childhood puberty, when the pool club was no longer a warm, round, splash pool to pee in—but a parade ground of lean, tan, shirtless boys in Speedos serving up hamburgers and Airheads.
She cruised right through the year I first set eyes on Chappaqua, never knowing there were belching factoryscapes and towns crisscrossed with ribbons of interstate interchanges. Where your house address was a highway exit. She was spared this.
Sitting up here in sunny New Hampshire, it’s all a blur to me now. What is it that Chappaqua does to us? Lord knows, when you wipe the Vaseline from your lenses, the town wasn’t Shangra La, but it was, and is, damn nice. The affluence that allows the town to remain bucolic does not prepare one for the realities of the rest of the country, let alone the world. But as my little girl leaves the nest, I know she’ll be drawn back someday to that Peacible Kingdom—Chappaqua—as I was, 24 years ago today.
Chappaqua alumnus and 35-year resident, humorist RICK REYNOLDS resides in southern New Hampshire with his wife, daughter and dog.