Monthly Archives: August 2014

Skorts, skirts, and kitty cat shirts: What are you wearing to school this year?

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Julie’s famous kitty cat shirt, 1986.

Every August, newspapers are loaded with advertisements for back-to-school clothes. Viewing the options is an experience for me: lacy tight tops, skinny jeans, and leggings for the girls; t-shirts and jeans for the boys. The choices are a far cry from what I wore to school in the fifties and sixties.

I can still remember the smell and feel of new clothes that I put on for elementary school. I always got a couple of new dresses, sweet cotton prints with Peter Pan collars worn with white anklets and sturdy Mary Janes. Since my September birthday always fell close to school opening, new school clothes were included in my presents. I felt a little cheated, as my siblings and friends were getting new clothes, and it wasn’t even their birthday.

By the time I entered junior high, I became more interested in fashion and studied Seventeen magazine all summer, admiring the “mod” look popularized by Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton. Upstate New York was not exactly the fashion capital of the world, but I tried. My stand-by outfit in the mid-sixties was a solid a-line skirt with a ribbed or “poor boy” sweater; a jumper with a turtle neck, or a blouse and a pair of ‘skorts,’ a skirt/pant combination. However, my favorite outfit was a short sleeve wool ‘Mod’ dress, orange with a white hem and white stripes running horizontally down each side. When I wore it, I felt as if I were one of those beautiful, skinny models.

Skorts were the closest I got to pants, as girls were not allowed to wear slacks to our school. My sister Laura and a group of her friends were sent home in their senior year, 1960, when they all came dressed in pants. This all changed in 1966 when one of Larry’s classmates at Saratoga Springs High School was sent home for “improper attire” when she wore slacks to school on a cold winter’s day. The school’s Board of Education decision was overturned by New York State Commissioner of Education, James Allen, who ruled in the student’s favor, freeing female students across the state to forgo dresses and skirts for the comfort of pants. Of course, what we wore, the tailored solid or tweed woolen styles of the 1960s, is a far cry from the leggings and torn jeans that are so popular now.

Once I had children, my job was to shop for them. Dressing Adam for kindergarten was easy. I got a number of Healthtex polo shirts and pant sets from Larry’s parents’ store in Schuylerville, and Adam was perfectly happy. As he got older, Adam switched to jeans and superhero or Star Wars tee shirts.

Then came Julie. Getting her dressed for school became a major battle each morning, especially in first grade. Over the summer, I had taken her clothing shopping, and we had selected several new outfits. When school started, however, she complained that nothing felt comfortable. Her preferred but limited wardrobe came down to one turquoise tee shirt with an imprint of three dancing cats on the front; two pairs of leggings, white with silver metallic stars in the fabric; two pairs of frayed and graying white socks with holes in the toes; and one pair of worn pink sneakers with ratty shoelaces. We had major fights for several weeks. I finally gave in as it wasn’t worth the time and energy. Every night, once she went to bed, I would wash and dry her “kitty cat” outfit, and every morning she put it back on. She wore that shabby outfit almost every day for an entire year.

When Larry and I went in for a teacher’s conference in the spring, I felt I had to apologize. “Honestly, Julie has other clothes, but she chooses not to wear them,” I explained. “Julie wears the same outfit every day because she is comfortable in it. I wash them every night, so she is always clean.”Julie’s teacher smiled and said that was common with first and second graders. Julie also hated to be warm, and she wore an unzipped light winter coat, usually with no hat and gloves, down to the bus, even if it was bitter cold outside. I finally gave up on that battle as well, deciding that she was smart enough to figure out if she needed to add extra layers.

Because of my experience with Julie, I’ve learned to appreciate outfits worn by other young children. When I see, for example, a little girl wearing a flowered top, plaid pants, a pink tutu overskirt, polka dot rain boots, and a tiara for good measure, I ask her if she picked out her own clothes and then compliment her on her good taste. My favorite picture of my great nephew captured his three-year-old self sitting in his car seat on the way to swim practice with his swim suit, his Spiderman pajama top, and cowboy boots. Guess who picked out his outfit for that day?

To this day, Julie hates the heat. She lives in Colorado at 9000 feet, which only has three months of summer. Yes, she is happy as a big horn sheep living in the mountains. To her credit, however, she has become a sharp dresser. Now when I visit her, she takes me clothes shopping, and I am happy with her suggestions. And, thankfully, not one of her choices has included dancing kitties or white leggings with silver metallic stars.

Ice Cream Cone

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My maiden name is Cohen. In all honesty, however, it should have been Cone. As in ice cream cone. As in my favorite summertime/anytime treat. As a matter of fact, if I were one of the Israelis wandering the desert with Moses, my manna from heaven would have tasted like Breyer’s Natural Vanilla.

My love for ice cream is in my genetic makeup. While I was growing up, a day wasn’t complete in the Cohen household without our dishes of ice cream. In the 1950s in our small town, choices were limited. Our freezer usually held one or two half gallons of Sealtest Neapolitan. Having all three flavors for six people worked out well. My father chose vanilla topped with a huge helping of strawberry preserves. My mother went for the strawberry. The four children took whatever we could scoop up with our vintage gray aluminum Scoop Rite ice cream scoop.

Our favorite food also played into all of our family’s special occasions. We dished out ice cream at birthday celebrations, Yom Kippur break-the-fasts, the first post-Passover meal, and Thanksgiving—what was apple pie without the a la mode! As an added treat, my parents would take us for ice cream at the Frosty Dairy Bar, a restaurant on Route 9 in Plattsburgh. Going there allowed us to go beyond Neapolitan, giving me my first tastes of “exotic” flavors like pistachio, chocolate chip, and cherry vanilla.

Fortunately, I met and married a man who, although not as fanatical as me, enjoys ice cream. He loves me enough to tolerate my addiction. Otherwise, I doubt if the marriage would have lasted. Our first date was a movie and a trip to Friendly’s. Larry had a chocolate Fribble, and I had a hot fudge sundae with—you guessed it—vanilla ice cream. It became our go-to place after every movie or play for many years.

Once we had children, we usually kept at least one half gallon of ice cream in the freezer, vanilla for me and Stewart’s Swiss chocolate almond for Larry—he still hasn’t forgiven Stewart’s for phasing out his favorite flavor. Once they could hold a kiddie cone, we would bring Adam and Julie during summer months to the Country Drive-In, a popular hamburger/soft-serve ice cream stand off Exit 8 of the Northway. Julie took Larry there every Father’s Day for a hamburger, fries, and an ice cream cone from elementary school until she graduated college.

My now-adult children don’t place ice cream as high on their favorite food list, but they take care of their mother. Julie and Sam makes sure they have Haagen-Dazs ice cream or gelato waiting for us in their freezer when we visit them Colorado. Adam humors us by taking us to Bi-Rite Creamery for a waffle cone whenever we visit him in San Francisco.

As empty nesters, we usually have a half gallon of vanilla ice cream in the freezer. I will have a small scoop once a week. Larry will indulge a little more often using his own “in-house ice cream routine.” First he softens the ice cream by putting the whole carton into the microwave for a few seconds. He then uses the Scoop Rite ice cream scoop we inherited from my parents to transfer one or two scoops into a cereal bowl. He squirts on Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate syrup, throws on a few Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips, and tosses on a healthy handful of chopped walnuts and sliced almonds. When Larry was laid up with a leg surgery, I tried to cheer him up by ‘recreating’ his masterpiece. I failed miserably as I messed up the proportions of ice cream, chocolate syrup, and nuts. To be honest, I think Larry treats ice cream as another way to eat nuts.

For me, however, a simple unadorned dish or cone of vanilla ice cream is my favorite food, a link to my childhood as well as one of life’s great pleasures. Ice cream even has played an important role during one of the most poignant times of my life. When my mother fell gravely ill four days before she passed away, she lost her desire for food. I asked her if she wanted anything special to eat. She whispered, “Strawberry ice cream.” The cafe at Coburg Village, the independent living place where she was living, had none. The wonderful young woman working behind the counter, upon hearing the story, went up to the main restaurant and brought me back a huge dish of strawberry ice cream to honor my mother’s request. When I got back to Mom’s bedside, she ate three or four spoonfuls before she pushed my hand away. “That was delicious! Thank you!” That was the last food she ever ate, a true Cohen to the end. I can only hope that I, like my mother, will a long, happy, healthy life that concludes with the sweet taste of vanilla ice cream on my tongue.

Until we relocated to Florida, one of my favorite stops was the three-mile trip to the Country Drive-In for a vanilla soft serve. As a matter of fact, I needed to make a trip there to take a picture of my eating my cone for the Jewish World, It was a cold, rainy, day, making it quite tough to buy that cone and eat it. Someone had to do the job, however, and who better than Marilyn Cone Shapiro?

Repairing the World

In 2014, my husband Larry spent eight days in New Jersey as the New York State triathlon coach at the Special Olympics USA National Games. He described his experience as “incredible” and “life affirming.” As soon as he arrived home, he tried to catch up on his sleep as he got less than five hours a night for the entire trip. How he got to this nirvana of sleep deprivation is part of Shapiro family lore.

Almost twenty years ago, Larry announced at the dinner table that he had signed the family up to volunteer at the New York State Special Olympics Summer Games that were being held at University of Albany in early June. My children had been involved in sports for a long time, and Larry recognized that many volunteers had made their swimming, cross country, and track and field meets possible. He felt the four of us should pay it forward by contributing our time to the intellectually challenged athletes at the state-wide event in the track and field competition.

We enjoyed our experience enough to sign up to volunteer again the following year. While at the games, Larry was asked to help out with the Saratoga County track and field program that met April through mid-June at the Saratoga Springs high school track. Larry’s co-worker also volunteered, and the two of them drove up every Monday and Thursday from downtown Albany. After a couple of years the two of them extended their time commitment to include helping at local Special Olympic meets.

As the years progressed, Larry took on more and more responsibilities. He became head coach and held additional practices for athletes who exhibited high levels of skill in an event. He started a cross country running program, volunteered to coach for the Clifton Park bowling program, conducted coaching certification classes, and served on various Special Olympic committees. Larry knew that his involvement in Special Olympics would give him focus and purpose after he retired. It was shortly before his last day of work that he found out he was chosen as one of the track and field coaches for the National Games in Lincoln, Nebraska, in July 2010. One of our athletes came home with silver medals in the 1500 and 3000 meter runs.

Along the way, Larry had convinced me and a number of friends to become track and field coaches, and we all gained much from our participation. The best part for all of us was being with the athletes at practices. Twice a week every spring, over forty athletes ranging in age from sixteen to eighty years old, several coaches, and numerous parents and group home staff would gather at six o’clock at the track.  The athletes ranged in age from eight to seventy-five, with their intellectual and physical challenges ranging as widely as their ages. Larry started everyone off with a team cheer P-A-C-E-R-S! Then the activities began. On the field, some athletes threw a softball and had their distances recorded by the coaches. A group of stronger athletes worked with a coach on the turbo-javelin and the shot-put. Others were practicing the standing long jump. On the track, athletes, depending on their levels and abilities, participated in runs, walks, wheel chair events. The visually challenged ran twenty-five to fifty meters holding a baton strung through a 50 meter rope that was held in a straight line by cheering team mates. Practice ended with Larry gathering up the athletes for one more cheer before they went home. Two or three times a season, coaches and members of the team participated in local competitions on a Saturday morning. Whether we were at practices or at our meets, our athletes’ times and distances were secondary to just having fun. The cheers were as loud for the athlete who threw the softball two meters as it was for the athlete who came in first in the 1500 meter run.

Larry took pride in the accomplishments of every athlete and was always recruiting new team members. While helping with Special Olympics bowling during fall 2013, Larry watched an athlete decimate the pins with his powerful swing. Larry persuaded Rich to join track and field and use that strength to throw shot-put and the turbo javelin. By the end of his first season, the athlete impressed officials at the state games in Buffalo enough for Rich to be chosen to compete in Nationals in New Jersey. While there, he not only won a gold medal in his division in the shot-put but also came home with gold in the turbo jab with the longest throw of anyone in the country in the turbo javelin finals.

Saying goodbye to the Pacers when we moved to Florida was one of our hardest moments.We follow their accomplishments on Facebook and through emails. In honor of our athletes, we have named the small body of water in our backyard “Pacer Pond.”

Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew expression that means “repairing the world,” the moral principal that states every individual should leave this world better than he or she found it. I take pride in knowing that Larry’s involvement in Special Olympics is his way of making the world better for so many athletes.