The Cohens Move to Keeseville

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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.

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