If ever there was a set for a sitcom, I just left it, up in New York’s Hudson Valley. It’s where Winona is living while away at her internship.
The sitcom would be a little bit “The Bob Newhart Show” (the one where he runs the inn – remember the brother Daryl, and the other brother Daryl?) crossed with “Friends” with just a hint of “The Facts of Life” (and coincidentally the house isn’t far from Peekskill, where that show took place). And maybe with a dash of “Cheers” thrown in.
She’s living in a late-1800’s farmhouse that was originally set on 100 acres of land. Though most of that land has been sold off, there’s still about 8 acres to the property, including a pond, a barn, a bon fire and picnic area, and several courts for sports and games. I saw very little of it this week because the farm is still covered under a thick blanket of snow.
I knew when I booked the room through Airbnb that there were others living in the house, but of course I didn’t know who they were or what their stories were. And so as the week unfolded, so did the characters’ backstories.
When we arrived last Saturday, we first met Callan, a fresh-faced, blonde young woman with granola-ish tendencies. She lives and works in Manhattan but escapes upstate as much as possible to spend time with her horse, who boards around there. In addition to welcoming us to the house, Callan was quick to volunteer directions to the nearest natural grocery store, while making herself a hemp drink.
Next we met Danielle, who coolly greeted us with more than a bit of trepidation. She’d had a bad experience with another house guest who had a dog, and didn’t know how this whole thing with Oak was going to play out (and frankly, neither did we).
It wasn’t until the next evening that we met Maggie, the homeowner. She and her husband Marty own the farm together. Marty is a professor at Stanford University and also runs a consulting practice, so apparently he’s on the road much of the time. I didn’t get to meet him while I was there.
Maggie is everything you’d hope for in a proprietor – she’s warm, welcoming, vibrant, helpful, but not too helpful, know what I mean? Because part of the experience of being away for two months is just figuring things out on your own. And I have a clear sense that Maggie is keenly aware of this.
The house is full of mementos from their joyous child-rearing days, and cards, pictures and drawings from grandchildren compete for precious space on the refrigerator and note board. None of their children or grandchildren live in the area, so I suspect the assortment of long-term houseguests help fill that void.
The next day we met Shake, a married father of two who works at IBM nearby. His wife and daughters, though, live in New Hampshire, thus far unwilling to uproot their lives to move to upstate New York. So he stays at the farmhouse Monday through Thursday, returning to New Hampshire to spend weekends with his family.
Early Tuesday afternoon I met Briana in passing, we only got to chat briefly as she was heading off to work. She’s a fourth year medical school resident at a local hospital. I asked her what her specialty was and she nervously shared that the next day she would find out. She was hoping to work in Obstetrics, but those are coveted positions and she wasn’t feeling secure about her placement. I didn’t see her again after that.
Late Tuesday afternoon I minded Oak in the kitchen while Winona took a college midterm exam online in her bedroom. Danielle flitted in and out of the kitchen, by this time making good friends with Oak and Oak thought the feeling was mutual. He adored her, while she maintained that Oak was more of a gentleman than most men she’d dated.
Danielle is a poet and a singer/songwriter who has eeked out a living for years, traveling the country performing her original music. She had stayed at the house many times before over the past many years, though I’m not sure why. This time she was there to work on her graduate school application to Bard College, hoping to build on her experience as a poet and become a secondary school English teacher.
This night, though, she was taking a break from writing and getting ready for a night out. Maggie came in and poured them both some wine, saying they were headed out to an open mic night and Danielle was hoping to play the piano and sing some of her original works, even though it had been years since she’d performed.
She sat down at the piano in the living room in an attempt to find her musical groove before heading out, and Maggie, Oak and I joined her. Oak, who’d been anxious with me in the kitchen, sat mesmerized by his new friend playing the piano, and quickly melted into the rug, dozing off. Maggie and I were treated to a private concert of Danielle’s songs, and we gave her feedback on which ones she should perform. Oak snored away.
Later than night when we came back from dinner out, we caught up with Shake, finishing his own dinner at the kitchen island and winding down by watching some TV. We talked about his job, his home in New Hampshire, and his kids. He said his oldest daughter was starting to look at high schools in the New York area, near where he worked. He anticipated his whole family would move to the area in the next couple of years.
I guess we’ll need to find a replacement for him in our sitcom, eventually.
Meanwhile the farmhouse drama unfolds, one day at a time, one character at a time.
I think it just might be a hit.