By Dan Levitz
My family and I moved to Chappaqua 10 years ago last month. Leaving Manhattan was a difficult decision and it was a somewhat chaotic time for all of us. We weren’t able to close on our house until early October which meant driving our son from lower Manhattan to Roaring Brook Elementary every morning and back to the city every afternoon. As disruptive as the move would be, we wanted him to start first grade at the same time as his classmates. This strange and long commute wasn’t unpleasant at all and, ultimately, got our son, and us, off to a nice start in New Castle as we got into a kind of rhythm with our new community.
When we finally reached the closing, the room was filled with a strange tension that seemed to come from the elderly couple that had lived in our, soon to be, house for at least 25 years. My wife and I were excited to finally be concluding this transaction and beginning the next chapter of our family’s story. I understood that leaving the home one has raised their children in could be bittersweet, however, I felt the extremely large check they would be receiving that day would certainly dull the sting to some degree. Apparently not.
When the time came for us to take the keys from the sellers, the older gentleman, tossed them across the table to me in a small, looping arc. They clanged before me and just missed sliding into my lap. This little abrupt gesture was so clearly fraught with sadness and, perhaps, disdain that whatever excited anticipation I felt about our new house was now eclipsed by surprise and a bit of anger. I wanted to say, “Are you kidding me? Look at the check we just gave you for your nice old house. If you can’t be even a little gracious how about some common courtesy?” I looked to his wife but her expression remained calm if a little bit somber.
The strained closing scene soon faded away as we moved into our house and began adjusting to suburban life in beautiful Chappaqua. The kids assimilated amazingly well and we were all busy getting into our new routines. Not long after we settled in, there was a block party on the cul-de-sac where we live. The beautiful fall colors created a stunning backdrop as we met many of our new neighbors. With kids jumping in piles of leaves, dogs barking and warm cider being served I thought of a Woody Allen line where he asked someone if they grew up in a Norman Rockwell painting.
What I remember the most from that afternoon was meeting some of the other Dad/Husbands. There was a group of them and after the handshakes and “how are you doings,” the small talk began with occupation inquiries. Turns out four out of five of my new acquaintances were lawyers with the fifth working on Wall Street. When I told them that I am an art & antique dealer with a specialty in Japanese pieces, there was more than a pregnant pause.
While they didn’t do the “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil posturing,” I think I may have literally heard crickets in the silence. I quickly recovered and noted that my wife is a tax attorney at a big firm in Manhattan so, not to worry. We’re alright.
Cut to this previous weekend. I’m displaying (and hopefully selling) my wares at the Chappaqua Antiques Show at West Orchard Elementary. It’s another beautiful Westchester autumn weekend and I’m stuck inside drinking too much coffee and making chit-chat with browsers I’m trying to turn into customers. I take a well-needed break and buy a hot dog from the snack bar which is staffed by very friendly volunteers from the New Castle Historical Society. As the kind older woman slaps some sauerkraut on a frankfurter I realize that I know her. She is the previous owner of our home and the last time I had seen her was at the closing 10 years ago. I reminded her who I was and we had a nice conversation about the house and neighborhood and what a wonderful place it was to raise a family.
As I started to say goodbye and head towards the condiments she told me that selling their home was a painful decision and that she was happy that a nice family had moved into and thrived at the house that had once been their’s. She said they still drove by from time to time to look at an oak tree they had planted and see how it had grown.
The antique show is a nice community event. Not everyone is interested in old things but for those who are, it’s a great opportunity to hunt and gather, amongst neighbors, and search for whatever it is that may be enticing to an individual. There’s a feeling of like-minded good will between the vendors and shoppers because antique collecting is as much of a cult endeavor as is Grateful Dead music, bird-watching or NHL Hockey. I never really expected to have any contact with the previous owners of my house. It was such a pleasant two minute little exchange that it made me reevaluate the slightly unpleasant closing and realize that, of course, it’s a tiny footnote in our story and that perhaps their attitude was absolutely understandable.
Dan is an antique dealer and writer who has lived in Chappaqua for 10 years with his family. He has an ongoing blog on The Huffington Post.