Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Cohens Move to Keeseville

1959_05_03 Bill in Keeseville

My father, Bill Cohen, in front of 5 Vine Street, 1961.

As Larry and I packed up our home in Clifton Park, I remembered my mother’s story of our our 1952 move from Potsdam to 5 Vine Street, Keeseville, New York, where they lived for thirty years.

Once we had sold the house in Potsdam, Bill moved to Keeseville to start his new job managing Pearl’s Department Store and to find a house for us while I stayed home with the three children. Unfortunately, there were not many houses for sale that summer. Bill finally called at the end of June to tell us the good news: He had found a large four bedroom colonial just a block from the store. He told us to start packing as we would be moving at the beginning of August, a few weeks before school started. “The house just needs a few repairs that I will take care of before the move,” he said.  He paused, and before hanging up added,  “Oh, by the way, make sure to bring the cat!”

Although we had hoped to be settled in our new home well before Labor Day, the closing on 5 Vine Street was not completed until five days before school started and a day before Marilyn’s second birthday. As a result, Bill had not been able to arrange for the “minor” repairs he said the house needed.

That Saturday morning, movers filled up a Pearl’s Department Store truck with all of our furniture and possessions and arranged to meet us in Keeseville.  After traveling three and a half hours in our red station wagon, Bill, Laura, Jay, Marilyn, the cat, and I finally arrived. As we pulled into the driveway, I got my first glimpse of our new home.

The outside of the house was beautiful. The house, a  white Victorian colonial with green shutters, was situated on a pretty lot with lots of bushes and flowers. A screened-in porch was on one side of the front of the house, and another porch ran along the side. We walked across the lawn and climbed up six wooden stairs onto a small porch that lead to the front door. We entered the house through a small enclosed foyer that lead into a very large living room and dining room with lots of windows that spanned the entire front of the house. A beautiful oak archway separated the two rooms.

But when I entered the kitchen, I faced a disaster.  In the center of the room was a big old fashioned non-working black stove.  Above the stove was one lone light bulb hanging from a wire from the ceiling. That and an outlet for the stove and refrigerator were the only working electricity in the entire kitchen. The unfinished wood floor was covered with torn linoleum.  When I turned  on the single faucet in the old metal sink, there was no pressure, just drips of rusty water because the house was connected to an almost empty well. In place of kitchen cabinets was a filthy, dark pantry.  I knew then why Bill told me to bring the cat:  lots of mice had moved in before we did.

As my eyes filled with tears. Bill tried to comfort me.  “Please be patient.  Nothing can happen over the Labor Day weekend, but by Tuesday, carpenters will be tearing down the pantry and fixing up the kitchen. I promise you will be happy with it”

The children and I went to explore the rest of the house. There was only one bathroom, a small dark room next to the kitchen. Behind the kitchen was an unheated shed. Upstairs, the four bedrooms had lots of windows, which only served to shed light on how shabby the rooms actually were. Like the kitchen, the floors were unfinished, and all the rooms needed to be painted.  The basement was dark and damp, with several small rooms, including one with a large coal furnace and another with a wringer washer. The furniture from the tiny house in Potsdam barely filled the rooms. To add to our problems, Laura’s beloved second-hand piano that we brought from Potsdam had fallen off the moving truck. It had survived, but barely, and it was even more off key than it was in Potsdam.

By Sunday night, everyone was tired, exhausted, and upset. Laura and Jay had not wanted to move in the first place as it meant a new school and new friends. After living her first two years in a tiny box, Marilyn was terrified of the big, dark house and clung to me for dear life. The only one who was happy was the cat, who had already polished off several of the mice in the pantry.

The next day was Labor Day, and all the stores were closed. To cheer Laura and Jay up, we took them to the empty store and selected new outfits for them to start school.  Marilyn, the birthday girl, got a new dress.To celebrate her birthday, we had an indoor picnic in our new dining room with the food and paper plates and cups we had picked up Saturday at the local A&P.

The next morning, Bill left for the store. I put Marilyn in the stroller and walked Laura and Jay across the keystone bridge that spanned the Ausable River and then up the hill to the school to register them for classes that Wednesday. When we arrived back at the house, a crew of men from the town was digging up the sidewalk in front of the house to connect us to town water. Inside,the carpenters were tearing down the pantry. Brightening, I realized that, without the pantry, I was going to have a nice big kitchen. I was very encouraged until the electrician came to connect our new electric stove. He told me the stove was fine, but the wiring in the rest of the kitchen was so faulty that if we did not take care of it immediately it could cause a fire and burn down the whole house.

As the months went by, the kitchen and the rest of the house underwent the needed repairs and we began to love 5 Vine Street not only for its rooms but also for all the stories those rooms held. All our children grew up there, and we lived there until our retirement over thirty years later.

Camping It Up

Growing up in Keeseville, I knew of no one who went away to “camp” for the summer. As a matter of fact, when my parents wrote relatives that they had purchased a camp by the lake, my Aunt Pearl wrote back, “Don’t you have enough on your plate managing two stores without running a camp for the summer?” From then on, my parents referred to it as their summer cottage.

We had enough to keep us busy in our small upstate town. From the first week of July through mid-August, the town offered arts and crafts at a building across from the high school. In the morning, buses shipped us off to swim lessons at Port Douglas, where we froze in Lake Champlain’s chilly waters. Every afternoon, another bus would drive us again to Port Douglas beach for recreational swimming. On the days that I didn’t feel like going to the beach, I was totally happy sitting on our side porch on an old chaise lounge and reading Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, or Beverly Cleary. My cousin in Long Island went to a Jewish sleep-away camp for at least four weeks, but that was so “downstate.”

The only opportunities for my friends and me to go to a sleep-away camp were at church-run facilities or at Boy and Girl Scout locations. In 1961, four of us eleven-year-old girls from Keeseville spent one week at Camp Tapawingo at Point Au Roche on Lake Champlain, which was in operation as a Girl Scout camp in the 1960s. Julie, Margaret, Betsy and I were set up with several other campers in bunk beds housed in a lean-to. The structure had three walls and a roof, but the front area was wide open to the elements. “I remember the smell,” recalled Betsy. “Woodsy and damp.”

Meals were served in a large dining room. Each morning at breakfast, we were given a glass of orange or grapefruit juice, which we had to finish before we would get the milk to wash down the bitterness. Peanut butter and jelly on white bread was a staple for lunch. We swam, sang Girl Scout songs, told ghost stories, and ate s’mores around an open fire. We took a day hike. Everyone got sun-burned and lined up for a coating of Noxzema that night. We did crafts, making long lanyards from plastic rope. We attempted archery and canoeing. We got bitten by mosquitos.

And we got homesick. Julie had to go to “Nursey” to have a cry, and I shed my own tears when I didn’t get a letter from home. Why I expected mail when I was away for a week baffles me now, but at the time I felt deserted. But we had fun, despite the rain and the sunburns and the occasional tears.

Soon after our camping experience, Julie and her family moved twenty miles away and Betsy and her family moved to Texas. Margaret and I stopped going to Girl Scouts, and we got involved in band and baseball and junior high angst.

Although I have lost touch with Margaret, I have kept in touch with Julie and Betsy all these years. Julie moved back to Keeseville in time to graduate with our class. Her in-laws had a cottage in Willsboro just down the road from my parents’.place, and we would visit when she and her husband came down from Maine during the summer.

During my second pregnancy, I read M. M. Kaye’s Far Pavilions and loved the main character Juli. I thought of my sweet friend from childhood After some discussion, Larry and I chose the name Julie Rose, after my Grandpa Joe and Larry’s Bubbie Rose. Julie and her husband moved to Austin, and we “see” each other on Facebook.

Betsy and I kept in touch with letters, holiday missives, and, more recently, Facebook. In 2014, I received an unexpected email from Betsy. She and her second husband were coming to New York to see their son, who was a chef in New York City. They decided to take a side trip to Glens Falls to see her grandmother’s house. Would we like to meet them for dinner? Yes! I emailed back.

A few weeks later, Betsy came in my front door. We hugged each other, and almost fifty years apart melted away. “My best friend!” she whispered in my ear. We talked and talked, went out to eat together, and had a wonderful evening. We still keep in touch, and I promised her and Julie that I would stop by to see them in Texas on one of our future summer cross-country trips from Florida to Colorado.

When I was packing up the house for our move to Florida, I found on the bottom of an old trunk my green Girl Scout sash with the cloth merit badges along with group picture taken at Camp Tapiwingo. Betsy is front row center; I am next to her, smiling a toothy grin; Julie is at the end. For a moment, I was eleven years old again, homesick, sunburned, and happy.

There Goes My Heart

Camp Tapawingo 1961. Julie is sitting on far left, I am third on the left, and Betsy is next to me on left. Camp Tapawingo 1961. Julie is sitting on far left, I am third on the left, and Betsy is next to me on left.

Camp? What is a camp?

Growing up in Keesevile, I knew of no one who went away to “camp” for the summer. As a matter of fact, when my parents wrote relatives that they had purchased a camp by the lake, my Aunt Pearl wrote back, “Don’t you have enough on your plate with two stores without running a camp for the summer?” From then on, my parents referred to it as their summer cottage.

We had enough to keep us busy in our small upstate town. From July first through mid-August,  the town offered arts and crafts at a building across from the high school. In the morning, buses shipped us off to swim lessons at Port Douglas, where we froze in Lake Champlain’s chilly waters…

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Freezin’ for a Reason


Camp Tapawingo 1961. Julie is sitting on far left, I am third on the left, and Betsy is next to me on left.

I had always been intrigued by stories and pictures of polar plunges, where hundreds of smiling people clad in only bathing suits head into a body of water in the middle of the winter. Participants say they are having fun. I never understood their enthusiasm until I found myself diving into Lake George, water temperature around 50 degrees, on a brisk November day. Crazy? Yes! Glad I did it? Double yes. Because I was ‘freezin’ for a reason. I was raising money for Special Olympics Capital District.

Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympics Capital District Region provides year-round training and competitions to more than sixteen hundred athletes from twelve counties in fourteen different sports. For a number of years, Larry and I were involved as Saratoga County Special Olympics track and field and bowling coaches.

We also participated in Special Olympic fundraisers. One of the most popular and well known in the Capital District is the Polar Plunge, where hundreds of people plunge into Lake George on the third Saturday of November.

In a moment of insanity, I had signed up and participated in the plunge in 2011. Larry had a list of reasons why it was not going to be a joint effort: He needed to be on the shore to hold my bathrobe and towel. He needed to take pictures. He needed to drive me home as I would be too cold to handle the wheel. He didn’t want to take the spotlight away from “my” event. Maybe he had more common sense than the rest of us, or maybe he just didn’t know how to have fun. Within minutes of coming out of the water that first time, however, I swore to anyone with ear shot that I would never do it again. Our schedule in 2012 prevented repeat plunge, and I was thinking of finding another excuse for 2013 until……

In a second moment of insanity, I committed to participate in the 2013 event. I rejoined Freezin’ Friends, a team of plungers headed by Joni, whose son Nick participated in several Special Olympic events, including our track and field program. It was time for me to again raise money to support athletes like Nick

In the middle of September, I began a fundraising blitz, mostly through emails and Facebook. The response was overwhelming. I had pledges from family and friends across the country and even from England. Most pledged on line, but many others handed me checks or cash, commenting “Better you than me!” and “Boy, you are brave!” By the day of the plunge, our team had raised close to $5000, and the region total was approaching $77,000.

By this time, you would think that I would be mentally and physically ready to dive back into Lake George. I hadn’t died the first time; my heart had held out; I didn’t even catch a cold. But in the days leading up to the plunge, I had nightmares about going into a freezing lake. In addition, this year I was going to top what I had started in 2011. In my first year, most of my supporters congratulated me and praised my bravery for plunging up to my neck. However, a few people kiddingly questioned as if I had ever gone in the lake, as my hair was still dry and the water droplets on my body didn’t show well on the photos. This time, I was going to make sure that pictures showed a soaked bathing suit and a wet head so that no one would doubt my commitment.

We were fortunate with the weather. The morning of the plunge was a beautiful, sunny, calm day, with air temperatures in the fifties. Larry and I stopped at the registration desk and then headed down to Shepard’s Park Beach. Over my bathing suit, I had flannel pants, a thermal shirt, my Polar Plunge sweatshirt, and a warm terry bathrobe. Under my water shoes were heavy woolen socks. I found Joni in her traditional Dr. Seuss hat she had worn for each of the seven plunges in which she previously participated. I recognized most of my teammates from 2011, a mix of Neil’s family, friends, and Special Olympics coaches. In addition, a large group of students from Schuylerville High School had signed up for the fundraiser to support Nick their classmate. Joni provided all thirty members of the team with a choice of colors in Santa hats.

Several other teams of plungers were also on the beach, including Max’s Buddies, Freeze Duchenne, Brian’s Bashers, and the Siena men’s baseball team. We spent the next couple of hours munching on bagels, sipping hot coffee, taking pictures, and connecting with members of our team and the other plungers. Several were in costume: capes, polar bear hats, boas, and, in the case of one man, a skimpy beige bikini bathing suit. “My Miley Cyrus look,” he explained.

At ten minutes before noon, all the plungers stripped down to their bathing suits. Shivering despite the warm sun, we lined up to wait for the signal to hit the water. At exactly twelve noon, led by three athletes holding the Special Olympics torch, over five hundred and fifty crazies—including me— streamed into Lake George.

As my ankles hit the water, I faced my first obstacle. As our team was near the end of the line, we were going into the lake when the members of the Siena men’s baseball team were coming out. Fast. Blindly, with no concern for who was in their way. I darted through hurling bodies until I found a clear spot in the water, took a deep breath, and dove in, orange Santa hat and all.

OH MY GOD! Why didn’t I remember it was this cold! I immediately thought of those poor people on the Titanic. I had visions of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack clinging onto the edge of the makeshift raft that held Kate Winslet’s Rose. I could not get out of the water fast enough. I ran onto the sand, hair and body dripping, searching desperately for Larry and, more importantly, my bathrobe and towel. As soon as I found him, I asked, “Did you get a picture?” Larry said yes, but I must have had ice in my ears. I didn’t hear him and headed back into the water for a second totally unnecessary photo opportunity.

I have to say that the second plunge that day wasn’t as bad as the first time. Maybe the sun had warmed my body. Or I was so numb I couldn’t tell the difference. Larry took a couple of more pictures, and I was finally able to head for the women’s warming tent, where I quickly changed into dry clothes. We drove back to Clifton Park with the car’s heater going full blast.

Later that afternoon, Larry and I talked about the plunge over large bowls of steaming chicken and rice noodle soup at a local Chinese restaurant. “Next year, I need to wear a different bathing suit and a pair of shorts as those pictures I posted on Facebook are just too embarrassing,” I said. “And maybe if I start fundraising earlier, I can raise more money.”

Larry nodded, “Let’s just see what happens with our schedule next year.”

I was not able to plunge in 2014, and by 2015, we had moved to Florida. Joni emailed me in October to ask kiddingly if I would like to come up north to participate, but I declined. Not surprisingly, there are no polar plunges in Central Florida. Maybe an alligator wrestling fundraising event? We’ll have to wait and see.