Monthly Archives: May 2014

Bluebird Powder Day


While visiting my daughter and son-in-law in Frisco, Colorado, I went cross country skiing for the first time in several years. It seemed like everything was in place. Clothes? Check. Skis and poles? Check, Beautiful snow cover? Check. Perfect temperature? Check. Ability to cross country ski? Not so good!

Julie had moved to Colorado after college for a “one year” teaching position at a science school near Vail. She fell in love with the mountains, the snow—and Sam. They were married in Moab in May 2007, and after completing master’s degrees and finding permanent jobs, they purchased a home in Frisco.

Larry and I visited Julie and Sam at least once a year, usually around the Fourth of July in time for the parade, town celebration, Julie and Sam’s annual BBQ, and the fireworks over Dillion Lake. Julie and Sam had fully embraced the Colorado winter life style and had encouraged us to visit them during the snow season. For many years, we demurred because of our work schedule. After we retired, Larry and I preferred to spend our winter months getting away from snow and cold, NOT heading in the opposite direction to 9000 feet and more snow and more cold. In 2014, as I missed my daughter, I made the decision that I would go to the mountains in the winter, even if Larry wouldn’t join me.

As soon as I entered the kitchen my first morning there, Julie asked me if I wanted to cross country ski. She and Sam live only a couple of blocks from the Frisco bike trail, and the snow was fresh enough for us to ski right from their house. I agreed to give it a try.

Julie fitted me with an extra set of boots, poles, and skis. I snapped my right foot into the right ski easily, but the left boot/left ski didn’t cooperate. Six to eight tries later, both of my skis were snapped in. By the time we finished, the bottom of Julie’s skis were stuck with snow. She took them off, went back into the house to locate scraper chipped the snow off her skis, and put them back on. Then she showed me how to lift up each ski so at a ninety degree angle and balance on the other leg while she removed the snow and ice from the bottom of my skis. Once we were done, we headed out of the driveway towards the bike path.

The snow was as beautiful as anticipated. I naively thought that cross country skiing would be like riding a bike: Once my skis were on, I would be gliding along the path like a pro. However, I was a little older, a little less flexible, and a little heavier. My progress was pathetic. Fortunately, Julie was a good teacher. She reviewed with me how to kick up my heels, how to glide, how to lean forward to get better momentum. But despite my attempts, I always was at least two hundred yards behind her.

A “Vail 11 Miles” sign soon appeared along the bike path. My mind went back to a show on the Travel Channel, where Samantha Brown did a midnight ski from Vail to Breckenridge. Watching her glide effortlessly in the moonlight, I had thought, “We should do that when we go to Colorado!” But after twenty minutes on the trail, I was bathed in sweat, breathing heavily to compensate for the altitude, and seriously questioning my ability to ski another yard, much less eleven more miles. I didn’t want to disappoint Julie. I soldiered along.

We poked along for a mile or so, and Julie suggested we scrape off the sticking snow from the bottom of my ski as we practiced at home. I kicked out my left ski, tried balancing on my right leg, and crashed to the ground. After several attempts to get up, I finally had to remove my skis and right myself. Now I had to get back into the bindings. Multiple unsuccessful tries later, Julie initial patience was wearing thin. She pointed impatiently to the spot on the binder where the boot snapped in. “Right here?” I asked.

“Yes!” she answered. I put my toe in and snapped the binding down—on my poor daughter’s finger. She spewed out a string of obscenities fit for an angry, drunken sailor.

“I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed. “But where did you learn that language?”

After a couple of more tries, I was into my bindings and on our way again. We had to stop a couple of more times to scrape our skis, but I was enjoying the experience.

Forty-five minutes later, we were home, cozy, warm, and sipping tea.

Sam came down from the home office where he had been working. “You’re back! How did it go?” he asked.

“I’m a little rusty,” I said, “but I’m catching on.”

“How far did you go?” he asked.

“Actual miles were around three,” I said. “For me it felt like we went the twenty-two miles to Vail and back. For Julie it must have felt like to hell and back.”

The next morning, I woke up feeling pain in muscles I didn’t remember I had. But when I went down to breakfast, Julie was ready to try it again. A half an hour later, we were back on the bike path. My skis had clipped in on the first try, and the wax helped me glide smoothly over the fresh tracks Julie broke in front of me. I could not stop smiling. When I fell down, I picked myself up with no trouble.

“You’re doing so much better this morning, Mom,” commented Julie. “Are you enjoying yourself?”

“Every minute!” I responded.

“This is a bluebird powder day,” Julie said.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“It’s a Colorado expression,” explained Julie. “The sun is shining, the sky is a brilliant blue, the snow is a perfect powder, and the temperature is ideal.”

“You’re right, Jules! It is a bluebird powder day!” And we kept on gliding through the powder.

The old camp is destroyed; long live the new camp.

For most people, summer camp means children packing up a trunk and a knapsack and heading off for their own adventure while the parents had a few weeks of freedom.  For my family, “camp” has had a completely different connotation: It was a summer place on a lake. Before my mother Frances Cohen passed away, she recorded many family stories.  This is one of them.  Ironically, today, May 22, Jay and Leslie will be heading up for their summer at their new “camp”  on the same spot as the original purchased by my parents 48 years ago. Jay and Leslie’s new place is absolutely beautiful, but the most beautiful part is the sunset, the same view my parents enjoyed for so many years.  Marilyn Cohen Shapiro

September 17, 2009, was a very bittersweet day for me.  That was the day the Cohen family camp on beautiful Lake Champlain was demolished. Personally it was a difficult day for me to realize that there was a huge pile of logs where our cottage was, where we had spend forty summers.  The cottage is gone, but all the wonderful memories will linger on. The good news is that it is going to be replaced with a beautiful new, modern cottage.

Let’s start from the beginning. Many of our relatives had camps on lakes in Northern New York and Vermont, and we enjoyed visiting them. We hoped that one day we would have one of our own.

In July 1966 we were told that a person we knew had a camp for sale in Willsboro, a very small town on Lake Champlain only 30 minutes from Keeseville.  That evening Bill and I went to see the camp.  The camp was very rustic, just a very large building made of logs that consisted of one big room. Two parts were sectioned off with thin wall boards for the two bedrooms. The wallboards did not reach the ceiling, so there was no privacy.  A large bar with benches for ten people separated the kitchen from the dining and living areas. The small bathroom was the only room that was completely enclosed. Bill asked me what I thought. I looked out on the lake. Just then the sun was setting. The view was magnificent. I said, “Buy it!” Bill was so surprised as I was the one who always said, “I’ll think it over.” By August 1966, we were proud owners of a camp on Lake Champlain.

A few weeks later we received the following letter from relatives downstate in Westchester County made us smile:

Dear Fran and Bill, Good luck on buying a camp.  But we are worried about you Fran. With a large family and working full time, we hope it won’t be too much for you.  Is it a boys’ camp or a girls’ camp?Love, Hilda and Morris

I guess Hilda was right.  I looked up the word “camp” in the dictionary, which defined a “camp” as a temporary place for children out of the city.

Although the camp needed lots of repairs and wasn’t my dream cottage, it was one of the smartest moves that Bill and I ever made.  The property was reasonable and we could afford it.  As our family grew, so did the camp. In 1968, we built on a large family room with huge windows facing the lake. Over the years we entertained lots of company and hosted lots of parties. All our children and our eight grandchildren enjoyed the camp for many, many years.

When Bill and I reached our eighties, we found it was too difficult to keep up the cottage and put it up for sale. We were so happy when our son Jay and his wife Leslie offered to buy it as it would still be in the family.

Ten years have passed. Jay and Leslie are now grandparents. Jay recently retired, and Leslie will join him soon. They plan on spending much more time in Willsboro.  So they are replacing the old camp with a beautiful new one. They are so excited and can’t wait until it is built.  The structure may be new, but the sunset will be the same.  May they enjoy many happy years in their new home on the lake.

My Two Moms

Doris and Fran 1979_Adam BD

My two moms at Adam’s second birthday party. Doris Shapiro is on the left and Frances Cohen is on the right.

Larry has a very special relationship with Mother’s Day: He was born on this Hallmark Card Holiday on May 9, 1948.

I can only imagine the joy Doris and Ernie felt when their second child, a son, was born. He was a beautiful baby. From what I heard from his mother and still hear from his three sisters, Larry was an easy child: quiet, never got into trouble, spent time either in his room or with his friends on the baseball field. He grew up, went to college in Boston, and completed his master’s degree at Syracuse University.

By the time he finished graduate school, Larry’s parents were more than anxious for him to meet a nice Jewish girl and settle down. After meeting me at the Purim party, Larry kept me under wraps until that May, when he invited me to his house. I had a major strike against me; I had completely forgotten his birthday, which fell on Mother’s Day that year. But Doris let that pass once Larry brought me home. Jewish? Check! Nice family? Check! Single and available? Double check! By the end of June she and Larry’s Bubbie Rose, began to put some pressure on him. So what if we had only been dating for three months?

“So what is your relationship with this person?” Doris asked.

“I guess we’re going steady,” Larry replied.

“Steady, smeady,” huffed Bubbie Rose. “She’s a nice Jewish girl.You don’t go steady. You get married.”

Larry and I dated through the summer, and August, we were already talking marriage. Of course, we didn’t share that with our families, but Doris was still working on it. One day, she showed me her engagement ring. “Whoever marries my son will wear this ring,” she told me. Very subtle!

When his first attempt at proposing to me in Saratoga National Battlefield was thwarted by a bee sting, Larry tossed romance out the window and asked me to marry him on our walk home from Rosh Hashanah services on September 28. We shared the news with my parents over the phone, but we saved our big announcement for his parents at the Yom Kippur Break-the-Fast on October 6, which coincided with Ernie’s birthday.

“I have a special birthday present for you, Dad,” Larry announced over coffee and birthday cake.

“Another ugly tie?” snorted one of his sisters.

“No, I’m giving you a daughter-in-law.”

Everyone started hugging us and yelling “Mazel tov!” Doris was true to her summer promise. She ran into the bedroom, grabbed the engagement ring, and put it on my finger. I am sure I am one of the only people in the world who had her future mother-in-law place an engagement ring on her finger. Again, very subtle!

After that day, Mr. and Mrs. Shapiro became “Mom and Dad.” I was really fortunate in that I now had two sets of parents who loved me deeply. Larry’s parents treated me as well as, if not sometimes better, than their own children. Mom, happy with Larry’s choice, often kiddingly said, “If you two ever get divorced, I get custody of you.” I may not have been able to make a brisket or a bed as well as my mother-in-law, but for the most part, I could do no wrong. When we delivered two grandchildren, it was the icing on the cake.

Throughout their lives, Mom and Dad were wonderful in-laws. They took great joy not only in their children’s accomplishments, but also in the accomplishments of their daughter/sons-in-law. They adored their seven grandchildren and showered all of us with their love and their generosity for many years.

My parents and in-laws hit it off from the first time they met, and they spent many happy times together as dear friends as well as mishpocha. When they both retired, my in-laws purchased a condo a minute’s walk from my parents. Ernie and Bill golfed; Doris and Fran shopped and shared confidences over coffee.

When Mom died during heart surgery in April 1994, we were all devastated. And when Dad followed her a mere eight months later, the grief was overwhelming. Since their passing, so many wonderful events have occurred where they were not there physically but were there in our hearts. At so many occasions—bar and bat mitzvahs, graduations, weddings, the birth of their great-grandchildren—at least one of the children or grandchildren have said, “Mom and Dad would have been so proud!”

A few years before Mom passed away, I gave her a framed poem entitled “My Other Mother.” The first lines read, “You are the mother I received/the day I wed your son/And I want to say/Thank you Mom for the loving things you’ve done.” She kept it on the wall in her bedroom. When she passed away, I took the poem and hung it in our bedroom, next to our wedding picture. So on this Mother’s Day, I want to tip my hat to my two moms, the one I received at birth and the one I was given through marriage.