Jim Chevallier's Web Site



HOME UPON A TIME: Pleasant Valley and Poughkeepsie, New York

Poughkeepsie has no Starbucks. In fact, my sister doesn't even know what Starbucks is. [NOTE: all this as of 2000.]

It's not like the place is a forgotten backwater. Vassar and IBM dominate the town, and New York's a short drive away. Also, there's more than one big mall in the area (notably the Poughkeepsie Galleria).

And yet, no Starbucks.

This minor note is emblematic of an inobtrusive eccentricity in Poughkeepsie, whose very name is shorthand for the ultimate boring small city - "I spent a whole week in Poughkeepsie one afternoon." Another aspect of the area's quirkiness lies in a certain car mechanic/hunter/hippy sub-culture - these guys are pro-pot and pro-gun. They can fix or grow anything and will tell you a complex version of the inside scoop on the Vatican's involvement with the drug trade. Some are obviously artists; others just find it hard not to create.

My sleeping accomodations summed this culture up pretty well. Having made my way through winding, rough paths, I came to a pair of abandoned schoolbuses, one the standard yellow and overgrown beyond use, the other shorter, painted white and named 'The Silver Cloud'. A friend of the friend who now owned it had travelled all over the United States in this vehicle, before bringing it to rest off a dirt road in Pleasant Valley. At the back was a single bed, very comfy, with a bedside lamp. Across from that, in an opening once used to load motorcycles, an extra room, created by backing a delivery van up against it.

Very indie film (ever see "Boxful of Moonlight"?). And, in the summer, surprisingly cozy. (I'd be less eager to try it in the winter.)

Having arrived in this part of the country after seeing so much of the rest, I realized that the Mid-Hudson Valley really is one of the most beautiful regions in the United States. And all the restoration I'd seen elsewhere made me wonder why Pleasant Valley doesn't complete the restoration of its old mill, which sits by the stream at the start of town, with a number of other old buildings nearby. As it is, a sign announcing fund-raising for such a project is itself in disrepair, laying in the dirt.

Millbrook, a few miles north, is another story. Always affluent and at least agreeable, it's now working its wineries and antique stores to the hilt, and the main drag has a number of semi-elegant restaurants. Familiar as the place is, for a moment I thought I was back in one of those restored towns I'd seen driving across the country.

A sign of the times: when I was in high school, a friend's younger brother found a bunch of old bottles while digging on their property. He began to sell them by the roadside, and then opened a store ("The Bottle Shop") in his parent's garage. This looked like a good way to pick up some extra money until he got to college.

Now said brother - once a skinny little kid - is six foot something, with a salt and pepper beard, and his antique store takes up three rooms, with enough visitors to warrant an entrance and an exit for cars. When I dropped by, he was WAY too busy to talk.

My sister had told me that the people who had bought our mother's (crumbling) house had begun to restore it, but when I drove by, it looked depressingly unimproved. The only big difference was that they had cut down all my mother's hedges and torn up her garden. A twinge. But part of the process of ending a story.

As it is, in the year since she's died, it's become more and more clear to me that no matter what she WANTED to remain after her, the one truest, most enduring thing she left is her writing, some of which I've already put on the Web. I spent much of one day going through her old papers, throwing out her extensive but now useless files on various collectibles and packing up her unpublished novels, her articles on antiques and the book on fmaous gardens that every editor loved but none would publish. Lots to read and lots to type as I find the timee.

It was good to see my sister, but there wasn't much here that still was home. I stayed a third night at a friend's new sprawling house, then started on down South.

continue to Virginia

LAST UPDATED: March 2002