From Floods To Fortune, The Mamaroneck River Has Brought One Westchester Family Both Beauty And Destruction

Returning home from work one September afternoon in 2004, I found what looked like a pile of junk at our curb. On closer inspection, I realized it wasn’t junk at all. It was an odd assortment of our personal belongings: a computer monitor, some books, a television set, family pictures. They were wet and covered with a thin film of mud. Our garage door was closed, but all smashed in. It looked like a bulldozer had tried to blast through it, then changed its mind, turned around, and left.

Our arbor was mangled. Sections of the fence were missing. And, it appeared as if the entire contents of our basement were in the side yard: a box of our children’s artwork, a waffle iron, a crystal vase, and mud-caked laundry were strewn haphazardly on the grass. I also noticed things I didn’t recognize: a golf club, a spare tire, one leather shoe. 

Donna Magnotta is a lifelong Westchester resident whose passions include writing
and baking. She lives in Mamaroneck with her husband and daughters and is a member of the Literary Godmothers of Larchmont, a multicultural, multi-generational group of memoirists who reside in lower Westchester.

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It was only when I looked in our backyard that I began to comprehend the violence and devastation of the flood that had occurred. Our above-ground pool, which had been situated on the left side of the yard when I’d left for work, was now on the right side of the yard, its blue aluminum all crushed and crumpled.

Such is the price we pay for having the Mamaroneck River run through our backyard. Twenty-five years ago when we purchased our home, my husband and I fell in love with the property. Even though the home itself is small, we were enamored with the river. It flows just beneath a stone wall and, in warmer months, offers a peaceful backdrop where my husband spends hours planting impatiens, and I enjoy a glass of iced tea and the latest bestseller. 

I used to smugly think how lucky I was not to live on Knickerbocker Avenue, which is a few blocks away and adjacent to I-95. The soundtrack of that street can be jarring, with the din of honking horns, grinding gears, and the whumpf of massive truck tires rumbling into potholes. I pitied my friend, Barbara, who is forced to listen to that cacophony when she sits outside.

But that was then, and the last 10 years of extreme weather have made me re-think my relationship with the river. Yes, its allure still has the power to charm me, yet I’ve seen its fury too many times. (In 2007 our basement flooded twice in the span of six weeks, and then once again during Hurricane Irene in 2011.)

So we, along with our neighbors, have become weather watchers. We run recon missions to the dam nearby, checking to see if the conduits are clear. When heavy rain is predicted, we trade emails and phone calls, trying to decide if and when we should start moving things to higher ground. My husband and I have become adept movers, able to remove the entire contents of the basement in one hour. 

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But through the years, the river has given me more pleasure than panic. That’s why I stay. It’s like a relationship. It’s nurturing and beautiful, but it can be unpredictable and demands respect. And I know that if I do ever have to leave in a hurry, I have a warm, welcoming, and dry house to go to: my friend Barbara’s on Knickerbocker Avenue. 

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