Sometimes best advocates for those with special needs are the individuals themselves.

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Andrea Pinard

“Andrea will always be in my heart,” said her sister Claudia “Clyde” Lewis.

During our recent stay in Colorado, my husband Larry and I hiked to Adam’s Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park. As we were finishing our walk, we saw a group of young adults with intellectual disabilities hiking up the trail. We learned later that they were on a field trip with Adam’s Camp, part of a non-profit organization which offers intensive therapy, family support, and recreation in a camp environment for children and youth with special needs.

Seeing the group brought me much joy. On that beautiful afternoon in Colorado, the campers were happy, glowing, involved. Less than fifty years ago, they would have had a good chance of being marginalized at best, institutionalized at worst. Claudia “Clyde” Lewis’ sister Andrea Gregg almost suffered that fate.

Clyde’s parents met in high school, and Clyde was born soon after graduation. Her father, Robert Pinard, went into the Navy and would never meet her until she was nineteen years old.

Her mother Iola married Arthur Gregg when Clyde  was ten years old. Andrea was born two years later. Clyde, her mother, and step-father were delighted with the newest member of their New Hampshire family.

When Andrea was about six months old, the pediatrician recommended that Iola take Andrea to the Dartmouth Medical Center, citing ‘respiratory problems’ as the reason for the evaluation.  “My mother recalled Andrea getting a great deal of attention,” said Clyde. “She thought it was because there was only one other baby on the medical center’s floor.”

Then the doctors gave Iola the life-changing news. “You realize that your little girl has Down syndrome, don’t you?” Predicting that Andrea would never walk, talk, or function normally, the doctors recommended placing Andrea in an institution and “forgetting about her.”

The devastated parents reached out to the family for help. Iola’s brother insisted that the family move near them in California, one of the few states at the time that offered special programs for children with intellectual disabilities. Iola and Arthur decided to make the move as soon as Clyde finished her school year in June.

Clyde’s parents didn’t share the news of Andrea’s condition  with her until the family on their way to California. “It was the saddest car trip of my life,” said Clyde. “I cried the entire time, not able to accept that my beautiful little sister was different.”

Once the four of them settled in Santa Ana,  however, Clyde didn’t let Andrea’s differences get in the way of loving her. She took her sister under her wing, mothering her and helping her learn to walk and talk. It changed Clyde’s outlook on life. “If you wanted to be my friend,” recalled Clyde,” you had to accept the fact that Andrea would be tagging along. She was my sidekick.”

Clyde also advocated for her sister when Andrea started special education classes. “Andrea was always bugging me when I was doing my homework,” said Clyde. “So I put up a chalkboard and started her on her ABC’s. Soon she was writing her own name and reading. I went to her teachers and showed them what she could do.” Andrea also learned to write in cursive, which she regarded as one of her greatest accomplishments. “She loved telling people she could sign her ‘John Hancock’” said Clyde.

Clyde graduated Santa Ana Valley High School in 1963 (a relatively unknown band, The Beach Boys, played at her senior prom) and enrolled in UC Fullerton. In her junior year, her birth father, Robert Pinard, connected with Clyde and asked her to come to Vermont that summer to meet him, his wife, and her seven half-sisters and brothers. Clyde agreed to go as long as she could also bring Andrea.

Robert owned and operated the ski shop/shoe store at Norwich University, a private military college. He asked Hal Lewis, one of the  Cadres breaking in the incoming cadets to “watch out” for the daughter whom he had never met. “I fell in love with Clyde AND Andrea,” said Hal. After her college graduation, Clyde flew back East to attend Hal’s graduation. The two were married and settled in New Hampshire.

After she graduated from her special education program, Andrea worked different jobs at Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and a local supermarket. When Arthur retired, the three of them moved to Charlestown, New Hampshire to be closer to Clyde, Hal, and their support. Clyde would drive the six hour round trip  from her home in Plainstov at least once a week to  take them shopping and to doctors’ appointments.

Andrea enrolled in a sheltered workshop program. She also became involved in a local Special Olympics track and field program. Although she wasn’t good at the sport, her reading and writing skills made her an ideal “administrator” for the team. Her success in those duties resulted in her appointment to the board of the New Hampshire’s Governor’s Council for the Disabled. Once a month, she went to Concord to participate in the meeting and attend workshops on how to handle themselves and their interactions with others.

Both parents passed away by the time Andrea was forty-eight years, and she came to live with Clyde and Hal. They set her up in the lower level of their home in a area with her own private entrance that contained a bedroom, a room, and a kitchenette. Andrea was thrilled. “I never had my own apartment before!” she exclaimed.

Soon after her suitcases were unpacked, Andrea and Clyde made a trip to Walmart to buy needed items for her new “apartment.” After trips through all the aisles, they headed to the check-out line with a shopping cart filled with kitchen items, towels, and bedding. Suddenly, two women pushed in front of Andrea with their cart.

“Move your fat ass,” one of the women told Andrea.

“What did you say to me?” she demanded.

“You heard her,” the second woman said. “She said, ‘Move your fat ass!’”

Andrea pulled herself up to her full five foot height. “People see my disability when they look at me,” Andrea said loudly. “People can see YOUR disability when you open your mouth!”

As the two women deserted their cart and slunk away, the people waiting in line burst into applause and cheers.

Clyde beamed with pride. “I guess you can take care of yourself.” she said.

“And I guess those advocacy classes are finally paying off!” said Andrea.

Andrea lived with Clyde and Hal until her death at 53 from heart disease, a complication of her Down syndrome. Clyde keeps a picture on her refrigerator of  her beloved sister. They are standing together, with their arms around each other, smiling broadly.  “She will always be with me in my heart,” said Clyde.

Scott Hamilton, the Olympic skater said, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” Thanks to advances in public education, the intellectually challenged have opportunities to reach their full potential. Thanks to programs like Adam’s Camp and Special Olympics, these same individuals have opportunities for recreation and personal fulfillment. And thanks to people like Andrea, Clyde, and her family, we all are made aware that every individual—no matter what their challenges—can offer much to our world.

Loveys “Make It Better!”

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Rerun, like his distant English relative Paddington Bear, has had quite an interesting life.

Two days after my daughter Julie was born, “Big Brother” Adam visited her in the hospital with a brown stuffed bear in tow. He and my husband Larry had picked it out at the toy store that morning. They named him “Rerun,” the moniker—hats off to Charles Schultz— we had given my increasingly growing tummy during the pregnancy. Rerun took his place at the corner of the hospital bassinet, allowing Adam to recognize his sister in the nursery. Julie reciprocated the day she came home from the hospital when Adam found a Spiderman doll waiting on his pillow.

Thus began Rerun’s journey through Julie’s life. He was a permanent resident of her crib, her “big girl” bed, and her college dorm room. Rerun traveled cross country with Julie when she started her new life in Colorado. He even had a place on Julie’s bed stand after she married Sam.

And now my daughter’s daughter has her own lovey. Sylvie latched onto Foxy when Julie brought  the big-eyed Beanie Boo home from an airport gift shop. Sylvie carries him with her everywhere, tucked securely under her arm. When he isn’t being held, Foxy watches over Sylvie when she eats and when she takes her bath. And every night, Foxy accompanies Sylvie to bed, where they are joined by Rerun, who now has a special spot in the crib.

While writing this story, I posted a request on Facebook for people to share their  “lovey” story about a toy or item with which they or someone they knew were totally attached. Over a dozen people responded—with tales as far away as Israel. Anne Rothenberg shared that her grandson Amiad is attached to large stuffed dog named “Clavlavi” (“puppy” in Hebrew).  The dog has been a part of their family for almost a decade. “He is pretty bald from years of stroking and washing,” Anne said, “but the whole family loves him so much that he is included in all family pictures.”

People reached back decades into their own childhood to talk lovingly of their favorite toy or blanket. Lee Ryan, my former student, wrote, “At age sixty, I still  have Teddy.  Of course, I can be without him, but I am grateful he’s still around.”

Susan Lenigan recalled that over sixty years ago, her sister Judy had her “Kitty.” As time went by, the stuffed animal’s eyes fell out and his face became faded. During one of her visits, their grandmother  decided to “fix” Kitty while Judy was in school. She sewed on new button eyes  and painted on a new face.When Judy came home and saw Kitty, she cried and ran away from her precious companion. She gradually—and grudgingly—accepted the imposter.

Linda LaFlure Nelson also learned that loveys often were best untouched. She and her daughter still remember the sad day that Linda washed Sara’s beloved “blanky” “Sara burst into tears sobbing that it no longer smelled like her.”  Linda said. “I felt like a bad mommy.” Blanky ended up as nothing more than a smelly knotted ball of tattered material. Nevertheless, Sara, now in her thirties,  has “Blanky” tucked away in a drawer in her home.

And like Rerun, loveys have traveled the country—and world. Becky Silverstein’s daughter Evey had a crocheted pink blanket with yellow edging that Becky received at her baby shower. Whenever Evey was hurt or fussy, Becky would sing “Mr. Blankey makes it better, yes, he does.”  Evey held it all day, flipping the corners back and forth repeatedly, self-soothing and settling herself down.  It went everywhere: in the car, in the crib, in the high chair, in the playpen, on every family vacation.  Eventually, Mr. Blankey also went with sixteen year old Evey for a two week stay in Scotland and for a three month trip Israel after she graduated from the Jewish Day School in Maryland. Mr. Blankey then went to college in Boston, moved with her and her fiancee to California, and went on their honeymoon cruise in the Mediterranean.  Now Mr. Blankey has a place of honor on their bed in San Jose, California, providing a cozy napping spot for their dog, Kiwi. As Becky said, “Mr. Blankey still makes it  all better.”

Losing loveys can become  a major emergency. Sharon McLelland’s daughter’s cow, which still is “alive” with more stitches than body, once was FedEx’d overnight soaking wet as he was so needed. And those emergencies sometimes spill over to adulthood. Lynn Urgenson’s daughter Sue had a hand crocheted  “Blan-key”that she slept with even up into her adult years. When Susie moved to Israel, it was the one item Lynn forwarded to her. Unfortunately, it got lost in the mail. When the package finally was returned to Lynn six months later with “Address Unknown”  stamped on it, Lynn decided to avoid further heartache and deliver the tattered blanket in person next time she saw Sue. “My granddaughter Sarit has a beautiful one I made for her,” said Lynn, “but she doesn’t have same attachment!”

Can one avoid disaster with back-ups? My daughter has two more Foxy’s tucked away in case Sylvie loses her constant companion. Sometimes, however,  even that plan backfires. Judy Lynch’s daughter Katie slept with a stuffed panda. When Katie was twenty months old, Judy went back to work and bought a second Pandy so one bear could stay at home and the other could stay at the sitter’s. Katie became attached to both Pandys and had to have both of them in both places.  Judy recalled,”Who knows how many times we had to drive back to the sitter’s when we realized we’d left a Pandy behind!”

Fortunately, some children accept change. Jackie Betters’ grandson had a blanket named “Meme” that he slept with every night. His mom washed it so much from his dragging it everywhere with him that it got really thin. She folded it in half and sewed it. After several more washings, it got thinner. So she folded it again into a twelve inch square and, eventually into a six inch square. His mom has it tucked away in her dresser just in case he should ever need it again —even though he is a grown man with a newborn son of his own.

Now that children and parents are gearing up for school opening, don’t be surprised to find loveys hidden away to provide needed security. Over thirty years ago, Julie Thompson Berman’s son had a beloved “blankie.” All through kindergarten he carried a tiny piece of it in his pocket. He never took it out, but  he would just put his hand in his pocket, touch it, and be comforted.

Rerun. Foxy. Teddy. Clavlavi. Kitty. Pandy. Assorted pieces of tattered, smelly blankets. Each one treasured, loved, and often still part of their owners’ life.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

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According to the Bipartisanship Policy Center, our country’s history of working across the aisle can be traced back to as early as 1787. Our founding fathers, struggling with congressional representation regarding the populations of the colonies, reached what later was know as the Great Compromise. It was decided that our new government would exist with a proportional House of Representatives and a Senate with equal representation. Once adopted, both sides felt vindicated.

At their best, and despite their differences, presidents and parties have work together to use compromise for the common good of our country. Lincoln created his “team of rivals” because he believed that he had no right to deprive the country of its strongest minds simply because they sometimes disagreed with him. In the last sixty years, the Civil Rights Act (1964); putting man on the moon (1977);  the Endangered Species Act (1973); the American’s with Disabilities Act (1990); welfare reform (1996), and No Child Left Behind (2001) all were put into effect because of compromise.

In the current political climate, compromise appears to be all but impossible. Lines have been drawn in the sand, pitting the Republican majority against the Democratic minority with unprecedented rancor. Nuclear options, closed door sessions, and  a proliferation of  what is regarded as “fake,” exaggerated, and even inflammatory news have torn our country apart in ways that many of us — from gifted historians to concerned citizen—cannot remember.

The battle has spilled over to our personal lives, dividing family and friends. The situation has become so flammable that recommendations on how to get along with family and friends with differing political views have become hot topics on everything from television to newspaper articles to Miss Manners. How do we deal with its aftermath when where one stands—whether to the left, to the right, or in the middle—when politics become personal?

I myself had become caught up in the “us versus them” mentality.  In the months before the election, I had spent hours watching television, listening to podcasts, and reading articles—usually with left leaning perspectives. Sharing all this news became my first priority, either through social media or animated, face to face conversations.

And it hurt me. I had cut off contact with a relative after a  Facebook fight about the election last fall, reconciling only after four months of protracted tension. One of my new neighbors, knowing how I felt about the November 8th outcome, had purposely avoided me with little more than a smile and hello. Friends invited me to their get-togethers  but suggested I leave my politics at the door. As a result, I decided that I could still do what I need to do—stay informed, call my legislators, volunteer to work during the next election cycle. However, as Miss Manners suggested in her June 25, 2017, column, I was no longer going discuss politics in social situations without mutual consent to do so.

While organizing a small dinner party, I realized how difficult the situation had become. One of the guests, whose leanings were unreservedly to the left, called to see if I was inviting a couple known for their strong Republican views. When I asked him the reason for his request, he told me that he recently had had a heated exchange with the couple regarding politics. He and his wife would feel uncomfortable attending if they were going to be there.

Even though the “Republicans” were not on the guest list for that evening, his request troubled me. Since the elections, I had heard similar comments from other friends who had questioned my continued friendship with any of “those people” who didn’t vote the way they had. I also observed many friends drawing lines in the sand. I came to the realization that enough was enough.

I didn’t have a good response for my dinner guests during that phone call, but I do now. When the issue comes up, I tell people, “I will be friends with whom I want. Politics will NOT be a decision in my friendship.”

In his book, “Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked,” Chris Matthews, the former Chief of Staff for House Speaker Tip O’Neill and MSNBC journalist, reported that the political battles between the House Speaker and President Ronald Reagan  were “legendary,” but they respected and even liked one another. Reagan often had both Republicans and Democrats—including O’Neill—over for cocktails. “After six,” O’Neill would insist, “we are all friends.”

The only difference with me, the avowed liberal Democrat, and Tip O’Neill is that I won’t limit my friendships to after six o’clock.  As Thomas Jefferson so wisely said over two hundred years ago, “I never considered a difference in opinion on politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause enough in withdrawing from a friend.”

So I will continue to have friends for dinner, no matter our political affiliations. We will break bread. We will drink wine. We will laugh and enjoy each other’s company. And maybe, just maybe, once in a while we will “reach across the aisle.” We will discuss politics, learn what divides and unites us, and, if necessary,  agree to disagree. I only wish the same for our president and the members of our United States Senate and House of Representatives.

Misplacing things, but holding on to the small stuff

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I have spent  half my life looking for things I’ve misplaced. I have spent the other half finding things for Larry that he claims I lost to make his life more difficult.

Recently I was visiting my daughter Julie, her husband Sam, and my granddaughter Sylvie in Colorado. That morning, I had unplugged my charging cord for my phone from the power strip next to my bed. I was sure that I had plugged it into a kitchen outlet. Later in the morning, however, the  only charger, looking mysteriously larger than mine, was connected to Julie and Sam’s iPad.

“Sam, are you using my plug to charge your iPad?” I asked.

“No,” said Sam. “That one is mine.”

I spent a good chunk of the next few hours looking for my missing cord. I looked in my traveling charger case, my pocket book, my suitcase. I rechecked the outlet next to my bed and every other outlet in the house. After we returned from a walk and lunch on  Main Street, I rechecked the outlet, my charger bag, the pocketbook, the suitcase. Then I pulled off all the bedding (maybe it got tangled in the sheets when I was making the bed?) MIA. Julie just rolled her eyes. Mom has lost something-AGAIN.

Misplacing something is part of my personality. Keys.Cell phone. Favorite water bottle. Sun glasses. Larry has grudgingly accepted that every time we head out, we have to allow enough time for me to make one more frantic trip into the house to search for my frequently lost or left behind items (which I refer to as FLI’s)

I know that my misplacing things is not tied to cognitive impairment, a concern as I work my way through my sixties. I have not yet found my cell phone in the freezer or my keys in the microwave. Thankfully, my losses are usually a result of multitasking or not giving myself enough time to put the item in its proper spot in the first place.

To compensate, I have established assigned places for the FLIs. My keys go on the key rack next to the door. The cell phone goes on the kitchen counter, plugged into the permanent charger. My favorite water bottle gets rinsed and put back into the refrigerator. On my good days, the system works.

I’ve given up on the sunglasses. After several last minute scrambles,I finally purchased several additional pairs for my pocketbook, each car, the beach bag, the lanai. This system also works—on my good days.

Larry, on the other hand, rarely loses anything. His keys, his wallet, the checkbook, even his clothes, are organized in such a way that he can find them quickly and without angst. He even has a system for items on his desk, where he can locate exactly what he needs from the piles that totally defy my sense of order.

Unfortunately, as we share the same house, our lives—and stuff—intersect. For example, we share laundry duty, but it is usually on my watch that one of his socks goes missing.

“What did you do with my Smart Wool?” he demands.

“You’re missing one?” I respond. And the search begins. The washing machine. The dryer. Then the rest of the laundry to see if it got stuck to a recalcitrant tee shirt or pair of shorts. The loss is yet to be permanent.

The second most FLI is the checkbook. Larry has a particular Spot for it. There are times, however, that I need it. Invariably, I either don’t put it back in the Spot fast enough or I don’t put it exactly where it belongs. Then, the scenario begins.

“MAR-i-lyn! Where is the checkbook?” The situation is quickly resolved. (EXCEPT when we moved into our Florida house, and one of us put the checkbook in a “safe place” before we left for a long trip to Colorado. If anyone has any suggestions as to where our “safe” place was, please contact me! Two years later, and the checks are still missing.)

Remember I said that Larry rarely  loses anything? Let me relate the Famous Missing Fleece Incident.

While still living in Upstate New York, our son Adam came home in July for a visit. One surprisingly cool morning, the three of us went on a bike ride. Larry had Adam use his road bike, and he took his hybrid.

A couple of weeks after Adam left, Larry asked me what I had done with the University of Rochester fleece he had worn on the bike ride.

“I have no idea,” I said. “I probably washed it and put it in your closet.”

“Well, it’s missing,” Larry said.

Thus began a three-month intermittent search. I checked our closet and every other closet and dresser in the house. I called Adam and asked if he had taken it back with him to California. Nada.

“Maybe you gave it to the Salvation Army,” Larry said. “I can’t believe you would give away my favorite fleece.”

At the end of October, Larry and I decided to go on a bike ride. The roads were wet from a recent rain, so we took our hybrid bikes for better traction. Halfway through the ride, it began to rain again. Larry paused to put his phone, which was in a case on the handlebar, into the saddle bag to better protect it.

“Hey! Look what I found!” Larry exclaimed. “It’s my missing fleece! I must have put it in there in July when it began to warm up on our bike ride with Adam!”

“YOU misplaced it!” I said. “Don’t you feel bad for accusing ME of losing it?”

“No, that’s okay,” said Larry. “All’s well that ends well.”

And the charging cord I “lost” in Colorado? Turns out that Sam had rolled it up and put it into a canister where he and Julie stash all their extra cords. So I actually wasn’t at fault that time either.

Elizabeth Bishop wrote: “The art of losing isn’t hard to master; /so many things seem filled with the intent /to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” In my world, losing “stuff” may be a problem. As long as I keep what is important—my family, my friends, my memories—it will just be small stuff.

Living My Values

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Larry and I at Special Olympics in Florida

The Shabbat prayer book in our synagogue includes the following meditation: ”I harbor within—we all do—a vision of my highest self, a dream of what I could and should become. May I pursue this vision, labor to make real my dream.”

On Tuesday, January 20, Donald Trump was sworn in as our forty-fifth president. Leaders as well as friends have asked us to give the new president an opportunity to prove himself. Based on his appointments, his actions, his continued negative rhetoric, the growing scandals, however, I refuse to stand with this man.

As an American and as a Jew, I shudder at the uptick of racist acts, xenophobic proclamations and bans, and the proposed loss of funding and support for public education, the arts, health care, civil rights, the disadvantaged, the environment—the list is endless.

Despite or maybe because of the current political climate, it is more important than ever for me to find “my highest self.” I must do what I can to live my values in a time where our country is led by an individual whose values do not come close to mine. I must use my moral compass  to point me in a direction that counters his rhetoric of hate. “Not all of us can do great things,” Mother Theresa said. “But we can do small things with great love.”

Up until this past presidential election, I did not consider myself a “political” person. I was—admittedly—marginally involved in the Vietnam War protests and the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment fight. Although I have voted in almost every local, state, and national election, I  have minimally involved in campaigning. The possibility of Trump becoming of president, however, stirred a level of activism in me that had me expressing my concerns on Facebook and becoming actively involved in supporting Hillary Clinton.

Now that Trump is president, I continue to be an activist. I have joined a local grassroots organization to effect change at a local level. Along with contacting my legislators through phone calls, emails, and letters, I have met with my United States House representative in House to express my concerns.

I volunteer at Special Olympics and support financially other organizations that align with those values. I subscribe to the New Yorker and the New York Times to stay more informed with media that does not provide “alternative facts.”

And I continue to subscribe to The Jewish World. For fifty years, the Clevenson family has been the voice of the Capital Region’s Jewish community. Their bi-weekly not only gives local news and events but also fair and unbiased information about the United States, Israel, and the world. If you have not already done so, subscribe to their fine paper, and consider giving a gift subscription to a friend or family member.

Tikkun Olam, the Hebrew expression translated often as “repairing the world,” is the Jewish  moral principal that states every individual should leave this world better than he or she found it. This is the vision of my highest self.  Through my voice and through my actions, I hope “to do small things with great love”—to make our country and this world a better place for our own and future generations.

Mazel Tov! Six Couples Celebrate Fifty Years of Marriage!

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Four of the happy couples: Goldbergs, Grossman’s, Plass, and Secans

What does The Jewish World have in common with the following six couples? All are celebrating their Fiftieth Anniversary!

Susie and Ed Goldberg met each other at a dance at The Laurels, a resort in the Catskills. Susie, who had just turned seventeen, came back to the room that she was sharing with a girlfriend and found several young men sprawled out asleep in the beds and couch of her hotel room. She called security to have them all thrown out. The story of the “Good Girl with Chutzpah” quickly spread through the guest grapevine. Ed was impressed “if I ever go steady again, I want my girlfriend to be just like you,” he said,and then asked for her number.

After casually dating for eighteen months, the two started “going steady” once Ed was drafted into the army. When he got his orders to go to Vietnam, Ed proposed. Despite parental pressure to wait until he returned, Susie and Ed chose to have a small wedding at Temple Israel in New Rochelle, New York, a month before Ed shipped out. Fifty years later, Sue and Ed agree that many factors that constitute a great marriage:  love, communication, empathy, patience, compromise, quality time with family, with friends, and especially with each other.

“Bubbemeises”—tales from a Jewish grandmother— brought Hedy and Harvey Flechner together. They were just sixteen and seventeen when they started dating as freshmen at CUNY City University of New York. The first time she met him, Hedy’s grandmother said he was an incarnation of  her own late husband, Frank. “I’ve dreamed about this day,” she told Hedy. “He’s the man you’re going to marry. Just finish your college degree first.”

On their one month anniversary, Harvey gave Hedy a red rose, a tradition he continues every month to this day. “When he was too poor to buy a rose, he’d steal one from a neighbor’s garden,” said Hedy. Six hundred and fifty roses later, they attribute their long marriage to carefully picking their battles and following Hedy’s beloved grandmother’s advice. “Never go to bed angry,” she told the young couple. “It will take away the fun of being in bed together!” Smart woman, that bubbe!

A grandmother also had a hand in the Plass’s marriage. While spending her summer on Far Rockaway on Long Island, Mickey was introduced by her girlfriend to “the cute boy who works at the penny arcade.”  After their first date, Grandma Spitz told the soon-to-be college freshman  to finish her teaching degree before marrying Richard. “I told her I barely knew him,” Mickey recalled, “but she insisted he was The One.” They were married—the summer after Mickey graduated college The Plass’ advice: Don’t marry anyone with expectations to  change them. “Why would you want to change someone you really love?” Mickey asked rhetorically.

Chris and Bernie Grossman met at a dance at Grinnell College at the beginning of her freshman year. Bernie, a junior,  was about to ask another girl to dance when Chris “got in the way.”  They dated while at college. As they both were from the Chicago area, they continued their relationship during school breaks and even after Bernie graduated. They got engaged during the summer after her junior year. Chris took Jewish conversion classes through her senior year, and  they were married the following summer after her graduation.  Chris and Bernie follow the advice that Chris’ parents’ offered at their fiftieth anniversary: “The secret of a long marriage is to always keep in mind that the little things that annoy you about your spouse are not that important in the grand scheme of things.”

The Secans met on a blind date. Phyllis’s sister-in-law and Joel’s sister, who were friends, gave Joel Phyllis’ number. Five months later, he finally made the call and invited Phyllis to lunch at Nathan’s in Oceanside, Long Island. They had such a good time that lunch was followed by a movie,dinner, and a commitment for a date on Monday night. By Tuesday morning, Phyllis knew that this was “the love of her life.” Ever since that first night, Phyllis and Joel have built on their immediate mutual attraction by anticipating each other’s needs staying “up” when the other was “down,” and, most importantly, finding ways to keep the romance going. “Having a date night is a must,” Phyllis said.

Betty and Steve Schoenberg were fixed up by their fathers, who knew each other through their jobs with the United States Postal Service. “Eighteen year old” Steve (he was really twenty-one) asked sixteen-year-old Betty to join him on a boat ride on the Hudson River. At first regarded as passing summer romance, Betty and Steve continued to date that fall. “It was hard to say we didn’t like each other when our own parents had set us up,” recalled Betty. They got married after Betty’s sophomore year at NYU. “A good marriage takes a great deal of patience, said Betty,” and a good sense of humor—a VERY good sense of humor.

Six couples. Six decades of marriage times five. Eleven children and twenty-one grandchildren later, all have no regrets. Phyllis Secan summed up all the couple’s life-long romances in her outlook on the future: “Our marriage just keeps getting better and better.” Congratulations to happy couples and The Jewish World on their Fiftieth Anniversary. May you all go from strength to strength.

My house was a very, very fine house….

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And Marilyn makes five….Me in Potsdam 1952.

 

My mother Frances Freydl Cohen wrote down many family stories to share with her children and grandchildren. The following story describes our home in Potsdam, New York.

In 1948, my husband and I were living in New London, Connecticut. Now that the war was over, my husband Bill was concerned that his job was insecure. When my brother Eli offered him an opportunity to become a partner in his retail-clothing store in Potsdam, New York, we decided to make the move.

The big problem was that there was a big housing shortage. The only place we could find to live was a small new two-bedroom house that was barely adequate for Bill, me, and our two children.

Our first winter in Potsdam was a very traumatic one. Our six-year-old daughter started first grade. She came home with everything but an education. First she came down with measles. One month later, she came down with the chicken pox. Each time, she gave the illness to her two-year-old brother.

Spring finally came and my parents were finally able to visit us. The couch in the living room opened to a bed, so our living room became our guest room. We bought a double collapsible bridge table and our living room also served as a dining room.

Laura wanted to take piano lessons, so my parents bought her a small reconditioned upright piano that just fit on one wall.

Things were running smoothly. Our children made friends. We made friends. We especially loved going to the outdoor movie theater in the summer. The admission for a whole family was nine dollars. We would dress the children in pajamas and they slept on pillows in the back of our red station wagon while we watched the movie.

Things changed when I realized that I was pregnant with my third child. Babies are little but take up a lot of room. The kitchen was so small that I could stand in one place, open the fridge and take a chicken out, turn around and wash the chicken in the sink, turn again and place the chicken in the oven. Where would I put a high chair in that small kitchen?

But Bill and I always planned on more children, so all the family was thrilled when our daughter Marilyn arrived in September.

Picture our home nine months later. In addition to our couch, two chairs, and a piano, we had the following in the living room:  a playpen, a baby carriage, toys, and shoes and boots on the floor as we did not have a foyer or a garage. The master bedroom now had a crib and a dressing table for the baby. As it was a new house with no trees and situated on top of a windy hill, the house was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. In addition, the basement always had water, the depth depending on the weather. Despite the crowded and less than ideal conditions, we were happy in our little home, which we called the “Rubber House” as it stretched.

We were even happier when my brother’s wife announced that they were going to have their first baby. Two months before the baby arrived, I planned a baby shower for her. The day of the shower, we collapsed the playpen and the baby shower and opened the double bridge table. Bill took our three children to my brother’s. I served tea sandwiches, dessert, and coffee to eight women. We all enjoyed opening the baby gifts.

Soon after that, I could no longer put off the gall bladder surgery that I needed since my first symptoms appeared when I was pregnant with Marilyn eighteen months earlier. The surgery was difficult and the recovery even more so, especially with three children. Fortunately, Bill and my brother waited until I recuperated fully to tell me that the store could not support two growing families.

In a short time, we decided to open a store in Keeseville, New York. Bill went to Keeseville to plan to open the new store, and I stayed in Potsdam to sell the house.

One day the agent called to tell me that he was bringing a couple to see the house. The sun was out, and it was 90 degrees outdoors and indoors. But miracles do happen. By the time they arrived, the sun went down and a strong wind came up. The basement happened to be fairly dry that week. When the couple arrived, they said our place was the coolest in town and our basement had the least amount of water.

Now that the house was sold, our family was ready to start a new chapter in our lives in Keeseville New York in our eight-room house.