Monthly Archives: July 2022

From Golden Books to Goldbugs: Adventures in Reading Aloud

I am nestled in my mother’s arms in a living room chair. As I listen to Cinderella and The Brave Little Tailor, my two favorites from the Little Golden Books collection, her lap feels different. My four and a half year status as the youngest Cohen is coming to a close. Soon, my mother will be busy with the new baby. Not long after that, I would be reading on my own. At that moment, however, with my two older siblings at school, I am wrapped up in undivided love. 

As a lifetime bookworm, it is no surprise that one of my earliest memories involves my mother reading to me. When Larry and I became parents, we wanted to create these same memories.

Adam’s first favorite was also from the Little Golden Books collection. Corky, written by Patricia Scarry, is the story of a little black dog whose contentious relationship with his boy’s favorite teddy bear is redeemed when he finds the lost lovely. We read and re-read that little book until it was held together with scotch tape, hope, and a prayer. Corduroy, Don Freeman’s classic about nocturnal adventures of a shopworn teddy bear’s search for his missing button in a locked department store, became his second choice before lights out.

When we discovered Go Dog Go, Larry morphed into the master story teller. As Adam sat transfixed, Larry emoted each line of P. D. Eastman’s story about a group of highly mobile dogs who operate every conceivable conveyance  in pursuit of work, play, and their final mysterious goal SPOILER ALERT a dog party! Larry’s rendition of “Do you like my hat?” is etched into my auditory memory.His asides—“That’s so silly!” and “ Maybe they are going to the tree to pee?”—kept Adam and, later, Julie entertained for hours. Even today, whenever I see a several canines playing together—a very common site in Colorado—I repeat Eastman’s lines to anyone who will listen: “Big dogs and little dogs and white dogs and black dogs……

When both children graduated from picture books, Larry and I moved onto chapter books. When Julie was in first grade, I introduced to her Anne of Green Gables. She so loved L.M..Montgomery’s classic story of a Prince Edward Island orphan that she was reading it on her own by the next year. Her original paperback collection now has a place of honor on her daughter’s book shelf. 

The chapter books saga continued on a six hour trip from our home in Upstate New York to our Thanksgiving visit to my siblings in Pennsylvania. The miles flew by as we laughed and commiserated over Peter Hatcher’s attempts at dealing with his little brother Fudge in Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series soon followed. We supplemented our own voices with books-on-tape, leading to Adam’s discovery and lifetime love of J. R. R. Tolkien.

The first Harry Potter came out in 2003, years after we stopped reading to our children. Three years later, Larry, Adam, and Julie caravanned cross country in two cars. Julie had J. W.  Rowling’s latest on cassettes, and the two siblings listened together,  often leaving Larry to drive solo. They finished in time for her to peel off in Colorado and for Larry and Adam to drive—Potterless—to California.

And then came grandchildren, and this Gammy was glad to read our Mountain Girl classics that she had read to her mother and uncle. She soon had her own copies of Corky, Corduroy, and Cinderella. Zayde gladly read her Go Dog Go, complete with asides and exaggerated , emotive expositions.

By 2015, a new group of classics had appeared on the scene. I, even more than our Mountain Girl, fell in love with William Stieg’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. I teared up every time the little donkey, who had accidentally turned himself into a rock, reappears as himself and knows that no desire is more important than a family’s love. Since my college Kiddie Lit course, I had loved the illustrations of Paul Zelinsky and purchased several of his books so I could share the artwork with my granddaughter. After reading, Anna Dewdney’s Llama Llama Red Pajama, I stopped some potential tantrums by laughing requesting that she stop her “llama drama.” 

During the pandemic, we were unable to see Mountain Girl in person for over 14 months. Thank goodness for FaceTime! Ever since she was three years old, Zayde had spent hours telling his granddaughter his creative stories about an entire cast of denizens of the forest, including the Big Bad Wolf, his wife Wendy and their triplets; the mayor of the forest Morty Moose and his wife Marion; and an imported Florida alligator named Allie. The Mountain Girl connected with Zayde on social media for up to four to five hours a week to hear his increasingly outlandish tales. When Larry’s voice gave out, I took over with either library or purchased book, culminating in my reading and then re-reading to her the entire Ramona/Beezus collection. 

Our San Francisco Kid was born the week the pandemic closed down his city. By the time he was two, he was fully engaged in playing with, watching, wearing, and reading anything about trucks. Go Dog Go was an early favorite as Eastman’s dogs were illustrated in every mode of transportation. Then he discovered Richard Scarry’s Cars, Trucks, and Things That Go. During our recent visit, we watched as he pored over the pictures with the fervor of a Yeshiva student pouring over his tractates. When I learned that a tiny goldbug was hidden on each page, I became obsessed with finding them. I then passed that obsession onto my grandson. “Goldbug!” he would shout when we located one, and we would slap each other five. A week after we left, Adam reported that his son had mastered finding the goldbug on every page, each discovery accompanied by “Goldbug!” and high five.

As our second granddaughter was born seven weeks prematurely this past spring, she is obviously a long way away from understanding the power of reading. As she was named after my mother, I will be supplying her with all the books in Russell Hoban’s Frances the Badger series.The stories have no trucks, but hopefully her big brother will like them anyway.

This past week, our Mountain Girl celebrated her seventh birthday. As Uncle Adam and Aunt Sarah watched on FaceTime, she unwrapped their presents, two classic trilogies.  Lord of the Rings was Adam’s obvious choice. His Dark Materials was Julie’s suggestion for Phillip Pullman’s strong female protagonist. After everyone signed off, our Colorado family cracked open Tolkien, our San Francisco family searched for Scarry’s Goldbug, and Gammy and Zayde kvelled that the joys of reading to children aloud—whether it be Golden books or Go Dog Go or goldbugs–continues,

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.

Generous Hearts

One of the joys of our lives has been our ability to have the time and luxury to travel. Larry and I have seen Macho Picchu shrouded in clouds, savored coffee and pastries in Vienna, swum in luminous waters in Jamaica, and hiked trails in the Rocky Mountains. Along the way, we have met people who have briefly enriched our lives and, in some cases, have become dear friends. It was on a 2014 trip to Greece, however, that we experienced an encounter that was so special, so unique, so generous, that it will always be considered one of the highlights of our travels.

In September, 2014, Larry and I went to the Greek isle of Naxos with two other couples that we had met through our trips to Jamaica, Peter and Margaret from England, who had recommended the island from their previous visits, and Linda and Rob from Alberta, Canada. We spent our first three days enjoying the beautiful beach across from our rented rooms above the owner’s restaurant. In the evening, the six of us would pile into our rented van and drive the three or four miles into town to eat at one of the many al fresco restaurants available in the town center. 

Peter and Margaret had told us that the people of Naxos were known for their generosity, and we saw this from the first day we were there. Every morning at breakfast, our hostess Anna always brought us “a gift” of donuts or pastries or biscuits with our eggs and toast. At dinner, along with the bill, our waiters brought out a special treat —a glass of wine, some fresh fruit, a small parfait—that was always presented as “our gift to you for eating in our restaurant.”

On the fourth day, Peter and Margaret suggested we take a day trip into the mountains to visit the Temple of Demeter, a site of ancient Greek ruins dating around 5300 BCE. We climbed up narrow paths to a lovely site overlooking green pastures and rolling hills on both sides. After viewing the site and taking numerous pictures, we headed into the town of Filoti for lunch. 

We all dined on gyros, the national fast food of Greece, in an al fresco restaurant in a bustling town square.  After lunch, we walked through the town’s quiet, narrow streets with marble steps leading up to residential homes and the town’s Greek Orthodox church.

The outside of the church was in the iconic Greek style, white walls with blue doors. Inside, we found a small room decorated with the icons, statues and other symbols of Greek Orthodoxy.  We each dropped a euro into a contribution basket, thanked the elderly gentleman who was serving as the church greeter, and started to leave. The  man stopped us, thanked us again for our contribution,  and in very broken English, asked from where we were.  We explained our nationalities, and, after introducing himself as Georgio*, he said “Come, come see my home!” We followed him out of the church, up another flight of marble stairs, and in front of a lovely three story white building with the classic Greek doors. 

Georgio led us into the first level, where his wife was in the kitchen cooking at her stove.  “Guests!” he said to her, and introduced his wife Athena. She greeted us as if having six strangers come into her home was an everyday occurrence, and joined Georgio on the tour.The first floor was the living area, filled with ornate furniture with floors covered in beautiful white marble and walls decorated with pictures of their parents, grandparents, and their two sons. The next level, accessed through outdoor staircase, led to a bedroom off a balcony. The third level had another bedroom off another balcony that offered views of the church’s bell tower as well as the the surrounding mountains.

We posed for pictures with Athena and Georgio, thanked them, and began our leaving when Athena* said, “Come! Come see our museum.” She grabbed a set of old fashioned keys and led us down the stairs  to another white building with the ubiquitous blue doors. 

Inside was a large room meticulously recreated by the local women’s guild to look like a Greek home from the 1800’s. A large table dominated the room, with walls covered with pictures of families from the 1800’s, tapestries, and all sorts of embroidered dresses and linens. In the corner was a lovely canopied bed with embroidered nightgowns laid out as if someone was to slip into the warm comforters for the night. We felt as if we had stepped back two hundred years. 

Again, we thanked her profusely and started to leave. “Wait!” she indicated, and pulled out of the cupboard a bottle of liqueur, which she poured into small glasses and passed out. We all raised our glasses with shouts of “Oompah” and “Cheers” and “L’chaim.”  She turned down our offer of Euros for the museum, but when Peter pressed money in her hand and said, “For your church,” and she smiled and accepted it.

As we walked the short distance back into the center of town and back to our van, Peter and Margaret, seasoned travelers, commented that in all their years of seeing the world, never before had they encountered such generosity and openness. “Can you imagine,” Rob mused, “if I walked into my home with six strangers and said to Linda, “We have guests!” The six of us left shaking our heads in awe. In a world filled with so much hatred and fear, we found in a tiny town nestled in the hills of a Greek island friendliness, warmth and two very generous hearts.

*Not their real names.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.

From Go Fish to Rummikub

“Let’s RummiKub!” read the email blast from my friend Hedy. She and her husband Harvey loved playing the game, and she decided to start a club in our community.

RummiKub! The last time I had played the popular tiled game was with my mother, Frances Cohen, over seven years ago.  She had played weekly with a group of women friends when she lived in Florida. When she and my father moved to an independent living community four miles from our home in Upstate New York, her game set came with her. Within a month, she had found another RummiKub group. She loved the socializing, challenging her mind—and winning. My mother was very good at finding ways to dispose of all  her tiles by adding to other accepted combinations of straights and matching numbers on the game table.

Before cell phones, before computers, adults and children played games —card games, board games—with real people. My siblings and I gathered around the old oak dining room table and played Old Maid, Go Fish, War, and—my favorite—Gin Rummy. We also enjoyed beating each other at board game as Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land gave way to Clue, Scrabble, and Monopoly.

Once my parents purchased their cottage on Lake Champlain in 1966, those games became even more important. When bad weather kept us inside, my mother would pull out a deck of cards or the Scrabble set to keep us—and eventually—the grandchildren busy. One Monopoly game was good for an entire rainy afternoon.

In college, my friends and I would gather a few times a week for pinocle. We would sit around the round table in the common area outside our suites in Paine Hall at SUNY Albany. I left college and pinocle behind, but games were still in the cards for me. 

The first time I met my future husband Larry’s family, his Bubbe Rose challenged me to a game of gin rummy. She let me win almost every time those first few months.Once Larry and I were engaged, the gloves were off. I rarely won again.

Playing card and board games against each other have always been part of our marriage—with varying levels of success. When we first were married, we tried Mille Bourne, but Larry always won, and I refused to play anymore. We played Scrabble on snowy nights while the children were asleep. He once put down four tiles to spell “oije.” When I challenged him, he said it was a popular word in New Jersey as in “I had the oije to go out for a hamburger.” I urged him to remove the tiles. He still won the game.

Yahtzee is hands down our long-time favorite. The game, which requires the players to roll five die three times each turn to get one of the eleven  required combinations is part chance, part luck. Larry usually wins. (Do you see the pattern here?) No matter. I pack Yahtzee into my suitcase every time we go on vacation. If the need arises to fill in some free time, we can resort to an activity together, infinitely better than burying our heads into computers and playing Solitaire (me) or Angry Birds (Larry).

We also played games with our children. By age four, Julie was so good at Memory that Larry was the only one who enjoyed losing to her. Clue, Uno and Sorry! dominated our lives for many years. Adam and Julie pulled out Monopoly to play with friends and each other until the sets literally fell apart. 

The tradition continues. Larry and I joined Julie and her husband Sam for an overnight stay in a hut buried in the woods at ten thousand feet in the Rockies. The hut had no running water, a wood stove, and an outdoor bathroom but —it had Monopoly. Julie gleefully proclaimed victory after a two-hour marathon game. Over one Thanksgiving, I taught Adam gin rummy, and after the first hand he won the next four games against me. (Do you now see the pattern?)

When I lived in Upstate New York,  several of my friends were in Mah Jongg groups. “Do you Mahj?” they would ask. No, I didn’t. My mother-in-law Doris had played, but I didn’t have a “Clue” as to what the game entailed.

 It wasn’t until I moved to Florida and was asked again if I “Mahjed,” did I give the ancient Chinese game a try. I loved it! It had, in my mind, the best elements of every game I had had ever loved: Go Fish, Gin Rummy, Yahtzee, and RummiKub. As my sister-in-law inherited her mother’s set, I quickly purchased my own. I even brought the set with me—along with Yahtzee—on a recent cruise. I played with friends four mornings while at sea, so it was worth schlepping the three pound tote on board. 

Initially, Larry and I took Hedy up on her offer. About forty people meet every other Sunday in a community room to play RummiKub. Larry and I  realized after we had played a couple of games that Mom’s set was missing a tile, a blue three. A friend lent me her unused set, but it didn’t have the same meaning as playing with the same tiles that my mother  had used for so many years. (If anyone has  an incomplete RummiKub game with a blue three still in the bag, send it my way please! My mom and I will thank you! ) Alas, I had been spoiled by Mah Jongg. It challenged me more than Rummikub, and we haven’t returned since the pandemic closed the meetings down.

Surprisingly, Larry and I didn’t resort to games to get us through the pandemic. For the first month, we played Yahtzee every night. I was losing too many matches, however, so we switched to crossword puzzles. Larry would print out two copies of the same puzzle; we would work solo. Larry often finished first, but if we were both stuck, we worked together to complete it.

My Colorado granddaughter has also developed an early love for games. She has played with her Gammy and Zayde Pete the Cat, Fish, War, Old Maid, and Candy Land. When she turned seven, we gave her Sorry!, the the most adult game we have played with her. We love the challenge, and she is good! I recently asked her if she would like to learn Mah Jongg, and she said no.  Considering I don’t have a set up here in the Rockies, that will have to wait. Maybe we can start with Rummikub?

In the end, just like my mother and my mother-in-law, I love meeting regularly with friends and family to share a game, food, and conversation. Games not only bring people together but also bring back memories of time spent with those you love and with whom you share a history. As they say in New Jersey, I “oije” everyone to give games a try.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.

A Father’s Day story: Boats, Bugs, and Bats

In June 2008, my father and I spent our last Father’s Day together. He and my mother had moved up to an independent living facility in Upstate New York four miles from me. Two years later, his health had deteriorated, and he passed away November 2008. People may remember Bill Cohen for his stores in Keeseville, his community service, his pride in his family. What I remember—and treasure—most about my father were the stories about him that my siblings and I share again and again. Many of them centered on boats, bugs, and bats. 

Having spent summers as a child with his grandfather Archik Pearlman on Lake Champlain, my father always dreamed of owning a boat. In 1965, he purchased a pink indoor-outdoor that my mother immediately “christened” Nisht Neytik, Yiddish for “not necessary.” During the summer, Dad rented space on a public dock in Port Kent, five miles from our house. And each Sunday, Dad would coerce us all to take a ride—when we could go. Unfortunately, the boat spent more time in the shop than in the water. And when it was in the water, Dad was always panicking about the weather or the gas situation. One time, we took a long ride out to a nearby island, and my father realized that we may not have enough gas to return. We were nervous wrecks until we finally pulled back into our slot.

In 1966, my parents bought a cottage on Willsboro Bay. Soon after, Dad purchased an outboard with slightly better reliability. Larry and I were married in 1974, and in 1975, we went up to the lake for Memorial Day. Dad gave Larry a pair of waders Dad had picked up second hand and asked him to put up the docks for the boat. Before Larry was knee deep, the waders-riddled with tiny holes filled up with water. Think Lake Champlain in May, when the water temperature barely reaches 60 degrees. Larry has never forgiven him. 

For the next several years, the boat was anchored either on the dock or on an anchor about 200 feet from shore. Dad still loved boating, but only if the weather was perfect. For hours before we were supposed to go out, Dad kept his ear near the radio next to his chair, which was set for the weather station. If there was the slightest chance of rain, he refused to go through with the ride. When we children and eventually our spouses were old enough to go on our own, Dad installed a CB radio in the outboard so he could check up on us every few minutes. In an blatant act of defiance, Larry would turn it off. Dad never forgave him.

As much as my father loved boats he DESPISED bugs. He kept a can of Raid next to his favorite chair on the back porch of the cottage and used it frequently—and liberally— to kill any passing fly or wasp. When the Raid wasn’t enough, he got a outdoor fogger which he used with the same careless abandon that he used the aerosol can. One beautiful summer night, Laura was putting food on our set table when my father passed by the outside of the window with the fogger in his hand. A potent cloud of pesticide permeated the air. Laura never forgave him. 

When the Raid and the fogger failed, Dad called in the Big Guns. He purchased an electric bug zapper and hung it on the limb of the huge oak in front of the cottage. As the sun set across the lake, we heard from inside the cottage a quick zap as the first bug hit the grid, then a second, then ten, then twenty. Before we knew it, every bug between Willsboro and Burlington five miles across the lake was headed for the bug zapper. It took about 30 minutes for the ten foot machine to become completely clogged. So much for Dad’s war against the bugs.

Dad was more successful with bats. The cottage was always a gathering place for the family. One summer weekend, Larry and I were in one bedroom; my sister Bobbie and her husband and Emil were in another; and my sister Laura was in another. In the middle of the night, I headed to the bathroom. As I reached for the toilet paper, I realized that a bat was sitting on the top of the roll. Trying not to wake anyone, I ran back into our bedroom and shook my husband Larry awake.

“There’s a bat in the bathroom!” I whispered.

Larry awoke groggily with a “Wha……t?” He climbed out of bed, checked out the bat in the dim light of the night light, and suggested we close the door and wait until morning. 

“But what is someone else has to go to the bathroom?” 

“What are you two doing?” Our whispered conversation had woken up my sister.

The bat, tired of squeezing the Charmin, flew out of the bathroom and began swooping through the cottage. 

“Damn!” I cried.

By this time, Emil, Laura, and Mom were wide awake. We watched the bat circle above us, all of us talking at once with suggestions .

“Hit it with the badminton rack?” 

“How about a broom?”

“Does Raid work on bats?”

“How about the fogger?

At that moment, my father, who can sleep through a five alarm fire a block from our house (Yes. He did. Keeseville, New York, February 14, 1964. But I will save that story for another time), finally appeared in the doorway of his bedroom in his teeshirt and boxers. Without a word, he crossed the room, grabbed the fishing net that he kept in the corner explicitly for this purpose, and in one fell swoop, caught the bat in its web. He opened the front door, shook the frightened but still alive bat out of the netting, and came back into the cottage.

“Now everyone go back to sleep,” my father stated. 

Boat lover. Bug hater. Bat rescuer extraordinaire. But most importantly, My Dad. Whether he is with me or not, I will celebrate every Father’s Day in his memory with love.

Note to my readers: While editing my blog, I realized that I had never published this story I had written in 2019 for Father’s Day about my beloved father, Wilfred “Bill” Cohen (Z’L). It’s a little late for Father’s Day, but it’s never too late to honor my father’s memory.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.

Oshinsky Story Published in The Forward

I am proud to announce that my three part story about Harry Oshinsky, a World War I Jewish immigrant, was published in The Forward, one of the most influential American Jewish publications.

Over fifty years ago, the Forverts published a series of stories in Yiddish by Chonie “Harry” Oshinsky, describing his childhood in a shtetl in Lomza Gubernia, his two-year trek to Brooklyn and his life in “di goldene medine,” the golden land. 

Many years later, Oshinsky’s son, Lenny Oshins, brought an English translation of the story to me, his friend and  a writer, for a potential article. Using the manuscript as a basis, I retold his story in three chapters, including details I discovered during my own research that help shed light on the history surrounding Harry’s extraordinary life. 

The three articles were originally published in The Jewish World, a bi-weekly subscription based newspaper located in upstate New York. The original article may be found on the web at I appreciate all the support Laurie and Jim Clevenson of The Jewish World has given me and my writing over the years.I also appreciate the help of Rukhl Schaechter, the editor of the Yiddish Forverts, in preparing the story for publication in The Forward.

Here are the links to the article as published in The Forward:

To read Part One: “From Bialystok to Brooklyn: A Jewish immigrant’s trek across three continents,” click here.

To read Part Two: “Two Jewish teenagers escaping Bialystok arrive in Harbin, China,” click here.

To read Part Three: “A Jewish teen from Bialystok lands in a Chinese prison,”  click here.

More about Marilyn:  Since retiring from a career in adult education and relocating with my husband Larry from Upstate NewYork to Solivita, I is now writing down my own family stories as well as the accounts of ordinary people with extraordinary lives. I have been a regular contributor to the bi-weekly publication, The Jewish World (Capital Region, New York), since 2013. My articles have also been published in Heritage Florida Jewish News and several websites including the Union of Reform Judaism, Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, Growing Bolder, the Memorial Scrolls Trust (England), and Jewish Women of Words (Australia). I am the author of two compilations of my stories,There Goes My Heart (2016), Tikkun Olam: Stories of Repairing an Unkind World.(2018), and Fradel’s Story, (2021) a collection of essays co-written with my late mother, Frances Cohen. All three books are available in paperback and e-book format on Amazon. My fourth book, which will be published in late 2022, is entitled Keep Calm and Bake Challah: Surviving the Pandemic, Politics, and Other Life’s Problems. I am also working on a fifth book, Under the Shelter of Butterfly Wings: Stories of Jewish Sacrifice, Survival, and Strength.

More about The Forward: Founded in 1897 as a Yiddish-language daily newspaper, The Forward is considered one of the most influential American Jewish publications. I, along with many of my friends and family with Jewish heritage, remember my own maternal grandparents reading Forverts, the original daily Yiddish paper, when I visited them in Coney Island in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1990, an English-language weekly offshoot began publication; in 2019, it became an online newspaper. A more detailed description of The Forward  may be found on Wikipedia.

Mature or aged, venerable or old?

Outside the window of grandparents’ apartment on Coney Island Avenue, the subway zipped past. I watched it as it sped away, wishing it was taking me to the bus station and back to our home 300 miles north on the Canadian border.

I was fifteen years old, and my mother Fran, my sister Bobbie, and I were in the middle of our annual summer visit to our maternal grandparents. Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Joe were in their mid 80’s, old by my teenage standards. They were Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, and they had both had hard lives. They conversed with each other and my mother, their “Fradel,” in Yiddish, their English passable but unmistakably foreign to American ears. Grandma Ethel was short and soft and wore baggy house dresses and support hose rolled down to her orthopedic shoes. Grandpa Joe was just as short, with stooped shoulders and a scratchy beard. He smelled like a combination of pickled herring, old clothes, and dried urine. 

I had just gotten off the phone with a girlfriend, who told me she was having a party that Saturday. Would I be home?

We were scheduled to leave on Sunday, but I begged my mother to leave two days early. A typical teenager, I loved my friends more than my family.

At first my mother refused to change her plans. Grandpa Joe had been increasingly more disoriented and forgetful, showing the first signs of dementia. Grandma Ethel, who had a history of heart problems, seemed particularly frail. In the end, my mother acquiesced to my selfish demands, and the three of us left early Friday morning.

We got back to the North Country in plenty of time for the party. But plans had fallen through, and it had been cancelled. “I guess we could have stayed longer,” I told my mom. Mom only shrugged her shoulders.

Late one evening three weeks after we returned. Mom got the phone call she had been dreading. Grandma Ethel had prepared a Shabbos dinner, put the covered challah on the table, lit the two candles in their silver holders, and then sat down for a minute to take a short nap. She never woke up. 

My mother flew down to New York the next morning, her first plane ride. When she got there, Grandpa was bereft. “The paramedics hadn’t tried hard enough to save her, Fradel!” he cried bitterly. All my mother’s attempts to explain that any effort to revive her 83-year-old damaged heart would fail did not heal my grandfather’s pain.

Right after the funeral, my parents packed up the remnants of my grandparents’ life into the trunk of our station wagon: Grandma Ethel’s good china, the Sabbath candlesticks, some photos, and Grandpa’s personal belongings. Everything else was given to relatives and friends. We then drove the back to the North Country.

With my two older siblings in college, my mother moved Grandpa into my brother Jay’s room. Consumed with grief, Grandpa Joe was a sad figure. He spent most of the day sitting on our living room couch, weeping. His only two forms of solace were the car rides on which my mother took him several times a week and my playing Yiddish songs for him on our piano.

For the most part, however, I resented my grandfather’s presence. He was old, sad, frequently unshaven, and “smelled funny.” One of my most regrettable memories: He was walking around the block to my father’s store, and I intentionally walked on the other side of the street as I did not want to be associated with him. 

Within a year after Grandma Ethel’s death, Grandpa Joe’s cognitive abilities had further declined. We had to keep the front door locked after he walked out of the house in the middle of a cold winter’s night in his pajamas.His continuing physical decline also made it difficult for my mother to continue as caregiver. Grandpa Joe was moved into a nursing home less than a half mile from our home, where his grief and unhappiness only increased. A few months later, he passed away, I am sure happy to be reunited with the love of his life.

As I write this story, my husband Larry and I am in California meeting my six week old granddaughter, who is named after my beloved mother. and reuniting with our son Adam, daughter-in-law Sarah, and our two year-old grandson. We soon will be flying out to Colorado to spend time with our daughter Julie, son-in-law Sam, and seven-year old granddaughter. All three of our beautiful grandchildren are young—too young to be more interested in friends than in family. They are hopefully years away from being teenagers who are embarrassed by grandparents who will at that point be not that much younger than Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Joe.

Larry and I pride ourselves in being “young” septuagenarian. We can still walk around with our infant granddaughter on our shoulders to help her burp, play on the floor with our San Francisco Kid as he pushes his multiple trucks, and hike with our Mountain Girl up trails close to their Rocky Mountain home. But will they ever look at us in the same way I saw my own grandparents?

Recently, I had a conversation with one of our Special Olympic athletes.

“I am THIRTEEN,” he said proudly.

“That’s wonderful,” I said, “I am a little older than you. I am 71.”

“That is SO sad,” he replied. “Don’t you wish you were young again?”

“No,” I told him. “I love this age. I have children and grandchildren. I have a lifetime of good memories with plans to make many more.”

This brief conversation brought home to me the fact that in the eyes of my grandchildren and yes, even children, we are old. At least six years ago, my niece shared with me her and her husband’s concerns regarding the future of “taking care of” her recently widowed mother-in-law as well as her own parents, who are a few years older than us. I told her how glad I was that my own children did not need to have this conversation. “Don’t kid yourself, Aunt Marilyn,” she told me. “All of us first cousins worry about all of you older people.” Ouch!

I have already made Larry promise me that no matter where life takes us, he will make sure that the long hairs that grow my chin are plucked and I never smell like urine. Meanwhile, I hope that our three grandchildren love us despite how we look or smell or talk. And no matter what, I will love them and their parents to the moon and back.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.