Gramp’s house was always the gathering place. Every summer. Every holiday. I mostly remember the summers since that’s when we would make our yearly trek to Kinderhook, NY from Miami, FL. You may not have ever heard of Kinderhook, but you probably know a place just like it. It’s quaint and beautiful and nestled in apple orchards. It is the living, breathing backdrop for all Sleepy Hollow folklore (Ichabod Crane is the name of the local high school). Bradley Cooper (one of my husbands) mentions it in Silver Linings Playbook as the birthplace of Martin Van Buren (8th President of the United States) and it’s also the geographic stomping ground for most of my dad’s family to this day.
31 Eichybush was our Gramp’s address. I loved writing that address on envelopes and just saying the name out loud: EYE-KEY-BUSH. It wasn’t the biggest house, but I know it still has a big place in our family’s collective memory. There was a giant pine tree my cousins and I would all take turns climbing. Some of us were good climbers, others were expert; at the end of most days, we all ended up with sap everywhere. Gramp also had this sort of magical wood behind his house and a garden that he personally made beautiful every season. The wood (woods) was infinitely awesome to us. I think the adults cautioned us against roaming around in it too long (the woods weren’t expansive by any means but we definitely felt like they were huge). There was an antique (by then) metal toy truck trapped in one of the trees – the tree, over time, had grown around it. Part of me seems to remember my dad saying that the truck had belonged to him. Gramp’s garden was the complement to every family picnic. Depending on what he had grown, we had the most amazing salads, corn and berries. My aunts would make giant salads with every available vegetable. I could be wrong on this, but I am fairly sure we only had one type of dressing (ever): ranch. A very vivid memory comes to mind of husking corn behind the house and screaming bloody murder when a worm would inevitably inch its way out and on to my hand. To me (the city girl), worms may as well have been cobras. To my aunts and cousins, my reaction was always a source of great amusement.
I can also remember Gramp taking us into the garden to tell us what everything was and when he expected it to be fully grown. On the way in (or out), he’d grab a piece of mint and chew on it as he taught us about the ins and outs of the gardening world. What made our Gramp even more supernatural was that he always had a considerable lift on one shoe and walked with a cane. He was as able-bodied as anyone when he was in that garden. Even then, I marveled at everything he could do and did. He did a lot of things with his famous companion Ben, his hunting dog. Ben may as well have been another cousin. Ben’s fame (infamy) often came at the cost of the local woodchucks. For whatever reason, he was quite intent on extinguishing all of Kinderhook of every last one. We’d find them in the bushes, strewn across Gramp’s driveway, in the backyard. Gramp laughed (I think he viewed the limp little bodies as shows of Ben’s tireless love) – as much as I loved Ben, I often thought of him as a vicious (rodent) killer. Ben was a fixture at 31 Eichybush as well.
Gramp’s house had other memorable things too. Perfectly pruned trees, a windowed foyer bordered with bottles of all shapes and sizes in the colored glass popular of days gone by, and family artifacts he and my Grandmother (she passed away several years before Gramp) had collected over time. A favorite piece of mine was always a wood-set mirror with (I think) ballerinas or dancers painted across the top of it. Somehow, these are all of the memories that lumped themselves together as I was thinking about Gramp this past week (his birthday would have been December 6th). He passed away on September 11th, 2001. While the world was mourning a horrible tragedy, our family was doing the same while also trying to celebrate the humble and amazing life of the great patriarch who made our world a better place for 89 years.
31 Eichybush wasn’t our playground anymore after Gramp died, but its apple-tinged memories still belong to every McComb.
Learn more about The Village of Kinderhook: http://villageofkinderhook.org/
Yes, there really is an Ichabod Crane High School: http://www.ichabodcrane.org/HS/