Author Archives: shapcomp18

About shapcomp18

After thirty five years in education, I have retired and am free to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a freelance writer. Inspired by my mother, who was the family historian, I am writing down my family stories as well as publishing stories my mother wrote down throughout her life. Please feel free to comment and share.

Bye bye Boomer? Who shall live and who shall die?

Was it time for us to retire Boomer to that Stuffed Bear Den in the Sky?

A couple of days after our son was born, my husband Larry came to the hospital with a huge brown teddy bear, his first gift to Adam. We named the stuffy “Boomer,” the moniker we had given to my ever expanding stomach during my pregnancy as well as a salute to our Baby Boomer status. 

Boomer occupied a place in Adam’s room in our family home through nursery school and beyond When the shiny nose fell off, I sewed on another one with black yarn. When the paws got torn up after too many rides on Adam’s Big Wheels, I covered up the bear’s bare spots with yellow felt patches. On Adam’s first day of kindergarten, we took a picture of Adam holding on to his bear before boarding the school bus.

By his bar mitzvah, Adam relegated Boomer to the top shelf in his bedroom. When Adam headed off to the University of Rochester in 1996, he left his companion behind. [Three years later, our daughter Julie brought her lovey Rerun with her to college. It now has a place of honor on her daughter’s bed.]. We put the brown bear on the pillow on Adam’s bed in the quiet, empty, amazingly clean room. Boomer waited patiently through Adam’s grad school and first jobs and trips across country and to Israel and Belize and law school. Alas, Adam never sent for him. 

When we packed up to move to Florida, I sent texts to our children with pictures of the things they left behind with the simple request: “Toss or send to you?” Adam claimed his Star Wars action figures, Zayde Ernie’s World War II helmet, and a couple of framed pictures. Boomer got a thumbs down.

In the end, Larry and I loved Boomer more than Adam did. Larry and I didn’t have the heart to throw Boomer in the trash. After some discussion, we carted him to Kissimmee, where he earned a spot on a bookshelf with our other cherished tchotchkes: Larry’s Otto the Orange mascot, a plush toy I had given him one Chanukah that played the Syracuse University’s marching song when we squeezed his hand. My two 7 inch high dolls in Mexican attire my father had purchased for me at a gift shop in Montreal’s Chinatown after wontons and fortune cookies at the Nan King restaurant; Julie’s doll with the green dress and matching bonnet that had prompted our then-fourteen month old daughter’s first complete sentence on the way back from a shopping trip to buy her a bed: “Oh-oh! Left Baby Bobbie on mattress at Macy’s,” she cried behind me from her car seat. “Go Back!”

I thought Boomer would find his way back home to Adam when our son’s wife Sarah delivered their own little Boomer in 2020. My hopes that I could pack him up in a box and ship him to California were quickly dashed. “I really don’t want it,” Adam told me. “And after 42 years, goodness knows what germs live in that toy! Toss it!”

Taking a good look at Boomer, I almost had to agree with Adam. I took pride in the fact that the black nose and yellow felt paws and feet I had sewn on over forty years ago were still intact. After too many years dealing with Florida humidity, however, the poor stuffed animal was definitely worse for wear.His now graying stuffing was peeking out of his right leg and exploding out of a side seam. His head wobbled, held onto the body with unraveling brown thread. His “fur” had begun to resemble that of a mangy dog. Still, we put him back on the shelf.

Eighteen months later, Boomer’s future was again jeopardy. Larry and I had managed to fit all that was needed for a seven week trip to visit our children in California and Colorado in two medium sized suitcases. If we had survived all summer with so little, why were our closets and drawers still packed with all the clothes we hadn’t bothered to bring?

It wasn’t just the clothes. Despite our purge when we made the move to Florida from Upstate New York in 2015, we (especially me) had somehow again acquired too much stuff. A kitchen full of housewares. Closets filled with unworn clothing. Old books that I was finally going to read while sheltering in place. A two-foot stack of nearly untouched New Yorker magazines. I was ready for a “pandemic purge.” The day before Rosh HaShanah, while looking in my closet to find an outfit for services, I found two dresses that I had not worn in three years. I threw them onto the guest bed. I followed them up with more items to recycle—clothes, linens, books, heavy sweaters I had saved “just in case.” By Yom Kippur, the pile covered the entire double bed. It was a new year, a new start.

But some things were non-recyclable, including a tattered teddy. “Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to Boomer,” I said to Larry. 

“No way!” he cried. “Besides, we need to keep him at least until our grandson is able to come to Florida to visit. He has to meet Boomer.”

Larry was right. The idea of putting Boomer into the trash broke both our hearts. I took out my sewing kit, pushed the stuffing back into worn cloth, and stitched him up. We called Adam and Sarah and asked them to mail us a couple of our grandson’s outgrown tee-shirts to cover up all the stitches. And then  Boomer will resume his special place on our shelf. Yes, in the end, we couldn’t—forgive the pun—bear to part with him. 

Boomer at 43.

Fradel’s Story: Fulfilling a Daughter’s Promise

I am posting this blog on September 1, 2021, what would have been my beloved mother’s (“Z”L) 104th birthday. It is with pride and love I announce the publication of my third book, Fradel’s Story.

What better way to start off Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, than to publish a new book? Fradel’s Story, my third book since 2016, is especially sweet as it was co-written with my mother, Frances Cohen.

Ever since I could remember, my mother was the family storyteller. Give her an opening, and Fran, or “Fradel” as she was known to her close family, would regale any audience with family stories any audience with stories of her grandparents’ and parents’ lives in Russia, her early years of marriage to “My Bill” Cohen, their life in small towns in the North Country. She told of raising four children, watching them leave for college and for marriage, and their returning with her grandchildren to visit her and my father in their beloved cottage on Lake Champlain. 

As my parents got older, my mother realized that she needed to record these stories. We never were one for video cameras and tapes, so she began jotting them down on lined paper, usually the five by eight notepads. The writing was messy, with words misspelled and whole sections crossed out, but she began to keep a written history. 

In 2006, after a number of health setbacks, my three siblings, our spouses, and I insisted that my parents sell their condo in Florida and move back up north That May, they moved into Coburg Village, an independent living facility only four miles from our home. 

Soon after moving in, my mother called me to tell me she was joining Coburg’s monthly writing group to finally finish all those stories she carried in her head and on those scraps of paper. When she brought her first story to the group, her accounting of why she and my father moved to Coburg, she was surprised to find that the group enjoyed her writing style. “They loved my story, Marilyn!” she told me. “They said I have a real flair for storytelling!” After that, my mother’s voice in phone calls after the monthly Wednesday meetings was filled with pride. 

Mom rarely had difficulty finding a topic and writing it down with pen on paper. However, the group leader requested that the stories be typed so they could eventually be published in the semi-annual collection and distributed to Coburg residents. My mother asked me to type them. While I was at it, could I, “My daughter the English major,” do some proofing and minor revisions so that they would read more smoothly? 

Thus began our five-year collaboration. Every month, about a week before the group met, my mother would give me her hand-written story. I would do some editing, including spelling, grammar, and even some tightening of the narrative. Her oral stories evolved into polished narratives,— funny, poignant, sad, and sometimes painful, but always entertaining.

When my father passed away in November 2008, my mother’s contribution for December was an open letter to my father. She wrote that she was moving into a smaller apartment down the hall. “Wherever I go, you also go in spirit,” she wrote. Grieving quietly, she continued with her life at Coburg, going to the concerts, visiting with friends and family who were always stopping by to see her, and continuing with her writing. All the children asked her to write about our births and early childhood, but she always postponed those stories, focusing on the Old Country, her childhood, her Bill. 

On December 22, 2010, my mother had a heart attack. The doctors recommended hospice care and living her remaining time to the fullest. She complied, enjoying visits and calls from the children, grandchildren, her extended family, and the many friends she and my father had made in Coburg and in their lifetimes. She kept writing. 

In February 2011, with my sister Laura and me sitting close by, my mother shared her story, “The Birth of My First Child,” with her writing group. She described her joy in having a beautiful little girl and her fears that she would not be able to be a good mother. The last words, written in pencil on the bottom, were “To be continued….” She died four weeks later, the day of the club’s March meeting. 

I had made a promise to myself that one day I would gather her stories in a book. When COVID-19 shuttered so many of my activities, I decided that it was time. Over the past eighteen months, I have worked on editing, filling in the gaps, and finally ordering the stories in chronological order to make the book flow smoother.

I too had family stories, articles I had written over the years capturing memories of our old Victorian in Upstate New York, our cottage on Lake Champlain, my father’s obsession with boats, bugs, and bats; my mother’s words of wisdom; my siblings’ accomplishments. I decided to include those in the book.

By this March, I was ready to send my first draft to my editor, Mia Crew. She was responsible for formatting the book for paperback and Kindle format as well as inserting the 80+ photos, many of them family pictures that dated back to 1914. Fradel’s Story has been launched on Amazon, in time for my target, September 1, what would have been my mother’s 104th birthday. 

My parents were not wealthy people. They had little of material value: a wedding ring, my Grandmother Ethel’s engagement ring, two beautiful, framed pictures of my father at thirteen and my mother at six, a few nice dishes. As my siblings and I sadly dismantled Mom’s apartment, my daughter was surprised that I wanted so little. “It’s okay, Julie,” I said. “I have her stories.” 

And now, I can share them with my large close knit family, with an incredible network of friends who personally knew my parents or knew their legacy, and hopefully hundreds of others who may find their own lives reflected in this collection.

Marilyn and Fran at Coburg Village, Rexford, New York, October 2006.

Realizing What I Have Missed

Up until now, I thought that maybe I hadn’t missed that much in the past 16 months. My husband Larry and I had our health, had managed to keep a level of contentment throughout the pandemic. We missed our family terribly, but we had frequent Zoom calls with our children and grandchildren.

Even throughout our two weeks in California, I had felt pretty good. Larry and I had hugged our fifteen and a half month grandson, overwhelmed with emotion. I knew I had missed a huge chunk of his first year, but I took comfort again from the hours on Zoom and FaceTime. We were starting our in-person relationship late, but I didn’t dwell on what we had missed. He knew us. He came to us. We savored every minute with our visit with our son Adam, our daughter-in-law Sarah, and the beautiful little boy who had been named after two of his great grandfathers.

But then, after our flight to Denver and an easy drive  up to Summit County, we hugged our granddaughter. (She had been warned: We would be hugging her so hard that she would squeak!) But who was this taller, more beautiful, more poised person? Where was the little girl with whom we had last hugged goodbye in Florida in March 2020? The gap between her and this person who     poured her own tea, rode a two wheeler, swam underwater in her community pool was so great. Yes, we had missed time with her, with her new cousin, with all my children that we can never make up. 

And I hadn’t realized how much I had missed our time in the mountains. On our third day, I finally made the hike up to Rainbow Lake, a short distance from our daughter’s home and our summer rental. As I walked up the trail, I took in the columbines and the wild roses and the aspens. Then I reached the lake, my happy place, the spot in which I find peace and contentment. How could I forgotten how much I love this spot over 9100 feet above sea level in the Rockies? Had it been almost two full years since I had sat on the log and drank in the beauty that surrounded me?

Larry and I had spent the Fourth of July in Frisco for at least ten years. We watched the parade down Main Street with Sam and Julie, then, six years ago, Sam and a very pregnant Julie. The next few years, our granddaughter watched from her carriage, then her father’s arms, and then as a participant on a tricycle in the Cavalcade of Children. 

This year, however, we headed out of town and, by 11:30 a.m., five humans and one dog were floating down the Colorado River. Sam manned the raft while Julie completed the entire trip, including some level 1 and 2 rapids, on a paddle board. Larry, our granddaughter and I found spots on the raft and took in the beauty surrounding us. We spotted a bald eagle perched in a tree, Canadian geese gliding along the shore, red cliffs rising above us, the Rocky Mountaineer weaving its way on the train tracks above us, fellow travelers on rafts and kayaks and paddle boards and inner tubes catch the currents with us. It was a beautiful Fourth, made even more special in contrast to last year’s isolation in our Florida home. 

The day ended with our granddaughter reading Go Dog Go, one of our favorite children’s book, to Larry while sitting on his lap on a rocking chair in her bedroom. Behind them, the window gave us a view the sun set in the aspen tree. 

As we finish our time in the mountains, Larry and I  have also been able to connect with the friends and extended “mishpacha” (family) that we had not seen since August2019. We took in outdoor lunches and evening concerts with dear friends from North Carolina. We celebrated our granddaughter’s birthday with Sam’s family by riding the Georgetown Railroad, eating lunch along side Clear Creek, and singing “Happy Birthday” over cupcakes and a candle-that-refused-to-stay-lit in a breezy park. After two full years, we are again finding our Colorado rhythm. 

Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht is an old Yiddish expression meaning man plans and God laughs. Recent events have shown us how unpredictable life can be, whether exemplified in a terrible pandemic that has lasted for months or a catastrophic building collapse that happened in seconds. On a personal level, these past eight weeks of my reconnecting with family and friends has made me  realize how much I  have missed, how much time I have lost, and how important it is to never take what I cherish for granted. 

First published in (Capital Region, NY) Jewish World July 2021.

The Pandemic in Three Pratfalls

On a beautiful morning in theRockies, I weave my way up the two mile Mount Royal Trail. Geared up in hiking boots, pants, and my new “Mountain Mama” teeshirt, I enjoy the solitude, the sounds of mountain streams and chirping birds, and the sight of butterflies that lead me up the path. Small wooden bridges span the occasional creeks. Arriving on the bank of Rainbow Lake, I take in the beauty surrounding me before starting the trip down the Aspen Trail. 

Despite my pure joy of being in my “happy place,” I know my family worries about my frequent solo hikes. It would be generous to say their fear emanates from possible encounters with moose, elk, or bear. Unfortunately, it actually comes from encounters with rocks and roots. No, they don’t fear my being eaten by a forest denizen. They fear I might trip on the gnarled tree roots, the patches of loose stone, or the small boulders that are a part of the hiking experience. 

Not that their concerns are unfounded. Over the past 16 months, COVID-19 has not felled me. It has been my own stupid feet.

My first trip down free fall lane came early in the pandemic.” With pools and exercise classes in our 55+ active community shuttered, my husband and I were taking one of our long morning walks. It was hot, as usual. It was humid, as usual. What wasn’t usual was the dead snake lying on the sidewalk in front of us a mile into our walk.

“Watch out!” I yelled to Larry. He crossed his right leg in front of me to avoid the snake, and I I fell fast. And hard. And as I slammed face first onto the pavement, all I could think was “Damn that snake!”

I felt incredible pain and tasted the blood that was pooling in front of me. For one of the few times in my life, I was grateful my nose was more Barbra Streisand that Amy Adams, as it appeared to have taken most of the hit.

When I gingerly stood up, Larry and I assessed the damage. Scraped elbows and knees that did not require stitches? Check. Bones intact? Check. Teeth whole and still in mouth? Check. Ability to walk home. With the help of an ice pack wrapped in a towel provided by a Good Samaritan who had witnessed the accident from her front porch, also CHECK!.

Fortunately, outside of two black eyes and multiple minor scrapes, I had avoided major injuries and a trip to the emergency room.

My second adventure in face plants occurred twelve months later when the world was finally opening up. Larry and I were visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Sarasota, Florida, our first time we had been able to connect with family since COVID hit. On the second day of our visit, the four of us took a trip to Spanish Point, a 30-acre outdoor museum site. We were weaving through a section which was being set up for an evening concert. As I was wearing the required face mask, sunglasses, and a wide brimmed hat, I didn’t see that the sound bar the sound technician had placed between the bottom rungs of two of the chairs. My foot caught on the pole, and I did a hard splat in the grass. It was a second lucky “break” in that I walked away with a scraped up face, another set of black eyes, and no ER visit. 

Three months later, my luck ran out. Larry and I were in San Francisco visiting our son, daughter-in-law and sixteen-month-old grandson. On a Saturday morning, we took an easy, scenic three mile round trip hike on the Tennessee Valley Trail in nearby Marin County. We were off the trail and walking over to our parked car when I tripped over a stupid rock—or is it that stupid me tripped over an innocent rock? Fortunately, I fell right in front of a doctor and his family who were about to begin their hike. He bandaged me up with the diagnosis that nothing appeared to be broken but the cut on my forearm was deep and required stitches.

After striking out at our attempts to get help at two urgent cares (One was closed; the second “didn’t do sutures.” ) our son dropped Larry and me off at University of California San Francisco’s emergency room. At first, judging from the number of people in the waiting area, I thought that I would get in and out quickly. Four and a half hours later, however, the ER manager announced that, along with those of us cooling our heels in the waiting room, there were at least 25 ambulances lined up outside with people in worse shape than us low priority patients with mere ear infections, head bumps, and cut forearms. We should expect a possible ten hour wait.

I was about to ask for a sewing kit and a prescription for antibiotics and call it a day when—thank goodness—I was taken into a room to get patched up. Six stitches and a tetanus shot later, I was good to go. Thankfully,I have had no lingering effects from Pratfall #3.

Initially I was worried that maybe I was having balance issues. In the days and weeks that followed, others of all ages have told me of similar situations that resulted in much worse endings—broken elbows, wrists, and legs. Yes, I consider myself lucky.

As I was getting ready for my first solo hike in Colorado, my daughter encouraged me to wait for her so that she could watch over me and make sure I didn’t fall. I said no, insisting that this almost-71-year-old body was still more than capable of hiking up and down trails, thank you very much. She did meet me halfway and showed me a longer but less steep trail that I have taken on my own as well as others with Larry and my granddog.Larry and I have also tackled longer, more difficult hikes without a scratch—or splat—between us.

Our most memorable Colorado hike this summer was the one Larry and I took with my granddaughter. When we reached the Rainbow Lake area, she insisted we ford a small stream by scrambling across the logs that spanned the water. Larry questioned whether she should attempt the crossing. “Don’t worry, Zayde!” she said. “I’m a Mountain Girl I got this..” Taking my cue from her, I successfully made my way across the logs, albeit slower, more cautiously, and certainly more awkwardly. But I did it. After all, as my new teeshirt proclaims, I am a Mountain Mama. I got this!

Epilogue: Soon after sharing this story with my writing group, Larry and I spend the afternoon exploring Vail Village. In one of the stores, I decided to try on a shirt that had caught my eye. As the salesperson led me to the changing rooms. he said, “Take the room on the left,There is a lip on one on the right, and I won’t want you to trip.” 

“Do I LOOK like someone who would trip?”I bristled. He quickly backtracked, “Well, even sixteen-year-olds have tripped over it.” Not surprisingly, I didn’t buy the shirt. Before I left the store, however, I sought out the salesperson and gave him my business card with my blog address. “My next article will be The Pandemic in Three Pratfalls,” I said.”Your comment will be in it!” 

First published in (Capital Region, NY) Jewish World August 5, 2021

“Farklempt!” Overcome with Emotion!!

Yiddish may be one of the world’s more obscure language, but it has given us words which are no less than perfect. Someone may have “nerve,” but chutzpah reflects a shameless audacity that says it better. Being a “good person” is nice, but being a mensch brings that individual to a high level of honor, integrity, kindness, and admiration. One can complain, but when one “kvetches,” he also adds a layer of whining and fretting that really captures the moment.

Another word that Yiddish does best is farklempt, overcome with emotion. I can count on one hand how many times I have ever needed to use this word or felt its power. The day I held our newborn son. Three years later, when I held our daughter. And six years ago, when I lay eyes on my two-hour-old granddaughter. And now, I can use it again: When we were finally able to hold our grandson for the first time.

Our grandson as born in March 2020, a few days before the world closed down due to the pandemic. My husband Larry and I were on Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, with my daughter Julie, her husband Sam and our granddaughter when our daughter-in law-Sarah went into labor in a San Francisco hospital. Our son Adam announced their newborn’s  official arrival late that night via phone calls and texted pictures. 

By the time Julie and her family flew back to Colorado later that week, the impact of COVID-19 on our lives exploded. We promised our children that we would “stay safe” and shelter-in-place. Larry and I had made reservations to fly out to California later in the month, but we had no choice but to cancel and wait until things improved. Little did we know at that time that that wait would stretch out for over 15 months.

Thanks to social media, we got to see a great deal of our “San Francisco Kid.” Adam and Sarah called frequently and focused the camera on our beautiful new grandchild so we could watch him sleeping, nursing, bathing. Then, as the months dragged on, we saw him learning to crawl, learning to walk, speaking his first words. But we were unable to hold him in our arms.

Larry and I tried to repeat certain rituals so that our grandchild would know us. Each time we connected, I would sing “The Wheels on the Bus.” As the months progressed, I went beyond blinkers going “left right stop” and coins going “clink clank clink.” I introduced dogs barking and ducks quaking and pigs oinking and cows mooing, “Isn’t that crazy?” I would ask him 3000 miles away. “Ducks and pigs and cows on a bus??”Larry, meanwhile, would move two fingers against his lips and say, “Bu bu bu ba!” 

By the time our plane landed in SFA in mid-June, Larry and I were beyond excited and also a little nervous. How would our grandchild  react to these two people whom he had only seen on a small screen. Would he cry? Turn away? After hugging my daughter-in-law Sarah until she couldn’t breathe, Larry climbed in front of the Honda Civic with Sarah, and I tucked in the back next to our grandson’s car seat. He looked at me as if to say, “Who is this lady?” I gently touched his arm, but he pulled it away. I softly started singing “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round…” His eyes got big, and he burst out into a huge smile. And Larry? As soon as we got out of the car, Larry lifted him out of the car, held him with one arm, and with the other hand, did his “Bu bu bu ba! routine.”The baby laughed and, for the first time ever, imitated Zayde perfectly. Our grandchild knew us both.

Our visit has been Grandparent Heaven. It has been  filled with hugs; “besos for bebe” (kisses for baby!) in honor of his Hispanic caregiver; beautiful smiles; hours reading Go Dog Go and Brown Bear, Bear, Who Do You See?; innumerable playings of songs by Rafi; multiple trips to city parks;a special day at the San Francisco zoo; and a few very precious baby sitting stints. As promised, I even pulled off two Shabbat dinners with fresh baked challahs and candle lighting via Zoom with the rest of our family. 

Soon Larry and I will be heading for our second “farklempt” moment. We will be flying to Colorado to be united with Julie, Sam and our granddaughter, again over fifteen months in the making. Yes, we have spent hours and hours on FaceTime with our Rocky Mountain family, but I will be overcome with emotion when I can finally hold them in our arms.

Through the past year, Larry and I have said again and again how grateful we were for our physical, financial, and financial health. But again and again, what we missed most was family. The next step will be getting all eight of us under one roof. That moment will be for me the end of this long, difficult time. Until then, I will savor our time with our family, time that has become even more precious, more important, and more cherished after so long deprived. 

Route to Jewish life in States not always the same story

My family, like those of most of my Jewish friends, can trace their roots from Eastern Europe and Russia. The story of our lives have been captured again and again in movies and literature: Our grandparents, facing religious persecution and the fear of pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe, fled to Der Goldene Medina, the Golden Country—America. Most landed at Ellis Island and started their lives and the lives of their children in New York City’s lower East Side. But other friends have shared stories that represent a more circuitous route. One such person is Hilda Gallant, whose own history starts not on Hester Street but in Havana.

Hilda’s parents, Simon Kiman and Golda Szejerman, were both born in Poland. When they were small children, their families immigrated to Cuba in 1925 and 1929, respectively. Growing up in the same Jewish neighborhood in Havana, the two eventually fell in love and married in 1950. Hilda (nee Gilda) was born eleven months later. By 1957, the Kimans were a family of five with the birth of two more daughters, Rose and Julie. 

Despite political tensions and the 1952 coup that resulted in the subsequent dictatorship under Fulgencio Batista, the Kimans lived a happy, comfortable life. Simon and his brother owned and managed a successful small variety store, while Golda was a full-time homemaker. Although they continued to speak Yiddish within their home, they also learned Spanish, the language of their adopted country. Hilda and Rose attended a Jewish parochial school, where they were taught secular subjects, including Spanish, in the morning. After a break for lunch, the traditional main meal, they returned in the afternoon for Hebrew lessons and Judaic studies.

In 1959, Cuba’s political world was upended. Open corruption and oppression under Batista’s rule led to his ousting by the 26th of July Movement, and Fidel Castro soon assumed leadership. Under his communist rule, all businesses were nationalized. Private ownership was forbidden, and Simon and his brother lost their store and their livelihood. As conditions in all areas, including education, deteriorated, the family made a decision to leave Cuba. Unable to get visas to emigrate to America, Simon and Golda applied and were accepted into Israel. A few months later, Hilda’s maternal aunt, uncle and grandmother also emigrated to Israel and lived across the hall from the Kiman’s. Simon’s family eventually immigrated to the States and settled in Philadelphia.

Out from under Castro’s iron thumb, Simon and Golda still found life in “The Promised Land” very difficult. Simon, who had no formal education or training, worked a job an orange packaging factory. Golda supplemented his salary by learning the diamond cutting trade. Struggling with Hebrew, they continued to mostly speak Spanish and Yiddish with other immigrants of similar background.Hilda and her sisters adjusted well to life in Israel as children.

When Hilda was approaching her 16th birthday, Simon and Golda yearned to be with their family in the States. They sent her to Philadelphia to live with her father’s sister and husband and her paternal grandmother. She shared a room with her cousin Henry in a tiny home. Although she received much love, she missed her parents and sisters very much. 

Although she found math and science courses relatively easy, Hilda found courses that required English proficiency a struggle. Fortunately several wonderful teachers took her under their wing and provided extra help before and after school. “Henry also helped by introducing me to American TV,” said Hilda. “It turned out to be a great tool in learning a new language.”

Rose soon followed, and in 1968, just before Hilda’s high school graduation, her parents, youngest sister and grandmother finally obtained visas to enter the US. The family was finally reunited. Hilda’s parents purchased a small food/variety store and then a clothing store, and the entire family found happiness in the very large and tight-knit Cuban Jewish presence in Philadelphia.

After high school, Hilda’s aunt insisted that she continue her education. “You are in America,” she told Hilda. “Women don’t rush off to get married and have babies after high-school. You need to go to college.”

Hilda enrolled at Gratz College in the Judaic studies program. She worked full time during the day as a bookkeeper to help support her family and took classes at night and on Sunday. Because of her time in Israel, Hilda spoke fluent Hebrew and became friends with many of her Israeli classmate, along with a part-time native Philadelphian.

Stuart Gallant had grown up in the “City of Brotherly Love,” the only child of first-generation Americans and the grandson of Eastern European/Russian refugees. Along with his public school education, Stuart attended the usual 3-days-a-week Hebrew school through his bar mitzvah. The rabbi of their Conservative synagogue of which his parents were co-founders enticed Stuart and some other boys to engage in additional learning including Torah reading and leading services. Raising the stakes, the rabbi then insisted that his students attend Shabbat services weekly “Until my high school graduation, I became a fixture at the shul,” Stuart said. “I read Torah on Saturday morning, taught Hebrew school and bar/bat mitzvah students, lead junior congregation and, in my senior year, served as president of the local chapter of United Synagogue Youth”.

After he graduated high school, Stuart enrolled in Drexel University for a degree in electrical engineering. Struggling to balance his new classes and the slew of Jewish holidays that fell on during his first weeks on campus, Stuart had to cut back on his attendance at services. His “school vs. shul” decision resulted in falling out with the rabbi. He stopped going to services, even avoiding driving near his synagogue. 

Despite his estrangement from formal religion, Stuart enrolled in Gratz College part-time to further his Jewish education. During one of his classes, he noticed the lovely young woman who spoke fluent Hebrew. Intrigued by what he thought was her Israeli background, Stuart asked her out. On their first date, however, Hilda called her parents to alert them that she might be late coming home due to bad weather. “She certainly wasn’t speaking Hebrew,” said Stuart. It was only after that phone call that he learned about Hilda’s Cuban-Jewish background. As a matter of fact, throughout their courtship and their marriage, Stu could not converse with Hilda’s grandmother since he never learned fluent Spanish—or Yiddish. 

After completing his masters at Drexel, Stuart began a career in biomedical engineering that took him and Hilda to Minneapolis, Baltimore, and eventually to California. Hilda initially stayed home to raise their two sons, Joshua and Avi. She eventually used her strong accounting skills in several jobs, including Stuart’s own medical device start-up company.

The “school vs. shul” decision long behind him, Stuart, along with Hilda, became actively involved in their synagogues through their lives. Stuart served on synagogue boards, Hilda called on her background in Judaic Studies to teach in a Jewish-nursery school. 

For Hilda, the journey that started in Cuba has recently brought her only 400 miles from her birthplace (although she would never visit!). This past year, Hilda and Stuart moved to Florida to be closer to their children and grandchildren, who live on the East Coast. Now that pandemic restrictions have eased that look forward to in-person meetings with their new neighbors as well as fellow members of their new shul, Congregation Shalom Aleichem, who have only been recently faces and voices on the Zoom services. Wherever they go, Hilda and Stuart’s rich background and warm presence will be a blessing. 

First published in (Capital Region) Jewish World May 27, 2021

Photo of Stuart and Hilda Gallant’s engagement printed with their permission.

Cohen family noted Shabbat with fish in the 50’s, but now is a different story for Marilyn. 

Friday was Fish Day.

No, we weren’t Catholic. Growing up in the Fifties, in a small predominantly Catholic town, fresh fish was often available on Friday. Looking back, I am not sure if it was really that fresh. Yes, Lake Champlain was three miles away, but I don’t think local fishermen provided the fillets that lay on top of the ice in the Grand Union. 

There was a second reason Friday was Fish Day. My father managed a department store, and Pearl’s,  along with the other stores in Keeseville, was open until 9 o’clock every Friday. Dad hated fish, so my mother would make some variety of it on that night. If it wasn’t fresh, it is a frozen block or two that my mother defrosted, covered with bread crumbs, and baked along with frozen french fries. When she wanted to save time, she heated up some Gorton’s fish sticks. 

Friday dinners were  a contrast to our Monday through Thursday, “Father Knows Best” routine. Dad would come in the back door at 5:30 and immediately sit down at our formica topped kitchen table. We children took our places, assigned after one night of our fighting who sat where.

“That’s it!” Dad said. “Wherever you are sitting tonight will be your place from now on.”

Dad sat at the head, his back to the radiator and the yellow linoleum tile on the wall. When she wasn’t putting food on the table, Mom took her place at the foot, her back to the old white Kelvinator range cook stove with its double oven. Jay, the only son, sat to his left. Laura, the oldest daughter  took her place next to Jay. Bobbie, the youngest, sat to Dad’s right. I sat in between Mom and Bobbie. 

Dinner was usually chicken, potatoes and a vegetable that had been peeled off the waxed box and boiled in a pot on the stove under done. Occasionally, we would have spaghetti with Ragu. Notice I did’t say pasta. In the 1950s, the only pasta available was macaroni for macaroni and cheese and regular old fashioned spaghetti noodles. Who knew of ziti or angel hair or cellentani?

Our dinners were usually over quickly. By 5:55, Dad had pushed himself away from the table. While the children dutifully moved to their bedrooms to do homework and Mom washed the dishes, Dad headed for the back room and the television set. The local news was followed by Huntley and Brinkley. The rest of the night was filled with Perry Mason, Checkmate, and other early television shows. In those days before remotes, Dad would rely on us post-homework to change the station. This did serve an educational purpose: When Bobbie was in kindergarten, she was having difficulty learning her numbers. It was a “Eureka” moment when our family realized that Bobbie had no problem changing the channels to Burlington’s WCAX (Channel 3) and Plattsburg’s station WPTZ (Channel 5). 

The Friday night  late closing provided another benefit to the four Cohen children. As we had no school the next night and Dad wasn’t home to dictate what programs we watched, we ate our dinners on TV trays in front of our favorite programs. This included The Mickey Mouse Club, with our favorite Musketeers, Annette Funicello and Tommy Cole and a little later, The Flintstones. By the 1960s, both my parents worked at the store, and I was old enough to look after Bobbie as we watched Rawhide, The Wild Wild West, and Route 66. 

Where did synagogue fit into this picture, especially in our Reform congregation that only had Saturday morning services for Bar Mitzvahs? Mom finally got her driver’s license in 1955, just before Bobbie was born. Driving the 30 mile round trip up and back to Plattsburgh with four children tow, especially in the winter, was out of the question. It was not until the mid-Sixties that Mom would make the trip with Bobbie and me. Although we all attended Hebrew school though Jay’s Bar Mitzvah and all of our confirmations, a traditional Shabbat dinner with challah, candles, and a Kiddish cup was not even a consideration. Dad worked, and it was Fish Friday!

In fact, it wasn’t until the pandemic that Larry and I started our own tradition. Last March, I became fully invested in baking challahs each Friday for ourselves and those friends whom we felt needed the comfort of a golden loaf straight out of the oven. We began lighting the Shabbat candles, pouring a glass of Manischewitz, and putting my cross stitched challah cover over one of  the warm loaves. How could we do all this and NOT set the table and prepare a special dinner, whether we were participating in our twice-monthly Zoom services or just enjoying a quiet sheltering-in-place meal at home?

As we and our friends are vaccinated it is time to invite a couple or two or three to share this all with us. I look forward to carrying on this tradition with my children and grandchildren this summer. Yes, I have come a long way from Friday fish sticks in front of Annette Funicello and the Flintstones

First published in (Capital Region NY) Jewish World May 13-May 27, 2021. 

Picture (Fried Fish at home.jpg) is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Pushing away the webs of memory lane with hacks, humor and husband

Now that I am in my seventies, I am thrilled that I have acquired so much knowledge. My brain is a virtual 20 volume set of World Book Encyclopedia of both useful and not-so useful information. Unfortunately, as a result, my ability to quickly retrieve a necessary fact sometimes fails.

Please understand. I am well aware that our memory is often no joking manner. I have too many dear friends and family who have cognitive disorders due to dementia and—heaven forbid!—Alzheimer’s. A very close relative struggles with recall because of a stroke she had five years ago. She has made tremendous strides since the first few days when she told us that she had been flown to the hospital in a “bulldozer.” But I know she is embarrassed when she can’t find that particular word. Those that love her keep reassuring her that it is not a big deal. We all have our moments when the words just won’t come. 

This inability is most seen when need to recall someone’s name. Sometimes I blame it on what I call “You are out of context!” situation. The most memorable—and most embarrassing—incident of this phenomena occurred thirty years ago. My husband Larry and I were in the lobby of Proctors, a theater venue in Schenectady, New York, when a man with a vaguely familiar face greeted us warmly. I looked at him and said, “I am so sorry! I forgot your name! How do you know us?”

“Marilyn, this is John Smith [I have completely forgotten his actual name!],” Larry said. “He is our children’s swim coach!”

“Oh, John,” I said. “I am so sorry! I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on!” Gulp!

As a classroom teacher, I took pride in my knowing my students’ names. Seating charts helped on the secondary high school level. When I taught adult education, however, enrollment was done on a rotating schedule. New students appeared every other Monday, and I didn’t require seating charts. Remembering names became a challenge, especially when my students had variations of the same name. When confronted with a Shaquana, Shaquilla, Shaquina, and Shakuntula in the same classroom, I struggled but triumphed in the end.

I have often used mnemonic devices to help. For example, I often see my neighbors Hope and Tony walking their golden retriever Abbey. At first stymied by our encounters, I now remember them with the phrase “Abby Hopes Tony will take him for a walk.” Easy peasy!

I was so proud of myself for devising this trick, I shared my method with them.Other times, it is best I keep my trick to myself. Two sisters who could almost pass as twins are often in my exercise class (when I was able to GO to exercise class! Damn pandemic!). I mixed up “Sally” and “Jane”for a while until I started paying this little mind game. Sally, who is married, wears a silver ring. The other sister, who one day shared with me day her unhappiness with her untoned arms, is remembered as Jiggling Jane. As long as Sally is wearing her wedding band and Jane is wearing a sleeveless top, I will never mix them up again!

This pandemic has had some limited benefits, and one is that we have an excuse when we forget a name. When someone greets me warmly, I reply,”I can’t see your face behind the mask. Can you tell me who you are?” Great excuse, right?

I have also been bailed out by modern technology. Our synagogue meets on Zoom, and most participants, whom I already know, have their names displayed. I have little patience in any video conference settings for those that refuse to “get with the program.” As far as I am concerned, they will be referred to “iPad 2” or “555-100-1111” until further notice. 

This doesn’t’t work in our neighborhood’s Olympic-sized pool, where neither masks nor name tags—are required. In those situations I use the “55 plus community” excuse. “ We live in Solivita where memory is just a memory,” I say. “Please tell your name again.”

I tried this approach recently, and the woman smiled and answered “Ingrid.”

Then I had my own AHA moment! “Ingrid! I knew that! By the way, do you remember my name?”

“No,” she answered sheepishly.

“Marilyn,” I said. It’s Marilyn. And I resumed my swim, content in the fact that I was not alone in my affliction! 

The loss of recall isn’t limited to people. After twelve months without sushi, Larry and I purchased a tray of California rolls at the local Publix. That evening, at dinner I was savoring each bite when I realized I forgot the name of the “green stuff.”

“Larry, what is this called?” 

“Wasabi,” Larry answered.

Five minutes later, I had to ask again “What did you say this green stuff called, Larry?”

“Wah-SAH-bee,” Larry said, drawing out the syllables.

The next morning, the first thing I thought about was the delicious California rolls we had eaten the night before. It took a long second to get the word for the “green stuff” out on my tongue. 

“Wasabi! Wasabi! Wasabi” I said to myself.

An hour later, Larry and I were taking a walk when we saw another couple walking towards us.

“Quick!” Larry said. “His name is Bob. What is his wife’s name?”

“Wasabi!” I quickly answered. 

So, now when either Larry and I are in doubt, we just substitute our code word for our Failure to Remember. Wasabi. Wah-SAH-bee. For now, it’s working.

First published in (Capital Region, NY) Jewish World April 29-May 13, 2021. 

There’s a good vegetable store and a lovely park down the street…

If I were still living in Upstate New York, I would be thinking about planting my flower garden. Thinking—not planting—as it never seemed safe to put the annuals into  the ground until Memorial Day weekend. Before I knew better, I had planted the fragile blooms too earlier and watched them die before they even rooted, hit by a late frost.

Not that I or any member of our family were known for our green thumbs. My family’s track record for killing all but the most hardy plants dates back to August 1952, when we moved into our house in Keeseville, New York. While the inside of the house needed plenty of work, the previous owner, Laura Gardener (how appropriate!) kept a beautiful yard.A huge hedge of tiger lilies bordered the front of the house alongside a pristine lawn. In the back was a beautiful flower garden filled with fragrant phlox, lovely lilies of the valley, rose bushes, and a bird bath. At least that was what Laura and Jay, my two older siblings, remembered. By the time I first could recall the yard, it had already shown the neglect that my parents, who grew up in New York City apartments, had bestowed on Ms. Gardener’s labors. Sadly, it never regained its floricultural splendor while the Cohens lived there.  

When I was around twelve, my father decided to put in a vegetable garden in our side yard. As with most of my father’s projects, he was the idea man and I was the unwilling implementer. We may have gotten some tomatoes that year, but by the next spring, grass was growing on the small plot and the experiment was over.

The idea man/implementer plan also worked for my father over twenty years later at the family cottage on Lake Champlain. One fine June morning, Dad showed me the roll of black mulch he had gotten on sale. “It’s for my vegetable garden,” my father announced. “ Dad,” I said. “You don’t have a vegetable garden!” “I will soon,” he told me, pointing a tray of tomato and pepper plants and a hoe resting on a small patch of land next to the garage. “Start digging.” For the rest of that summer during my weekend visits, I was like the Little Red Hen—planting, weeding, watering. Dad, however, was in charge of harvesting— proudly showing off “his” yield.

Meanwhile, Larry and I were already living our own “Better Homes and Gardens” experience. On a beautiful fall day in 1988, our realtor showed us our future home.We liked the house but especially loved the large front yard and woods offering privacy in the back. When a squirrel ran across the plush lawn, we were sold. (To this day, I swear that the owner had hidden behind a tree and released that rodent on purpose.)

While Larry mowed, I planted. On or soon after Memorial Day, I would go to the local garden place and fill my car with red impatiens, begonias, salvia, and some coleus. I would clean up the rock garden on the side of our property and the area underneath the bushes along the front. I would dig and plant and water and weed until my back hurt. In a throwback to my making-mud pies-days, my favorite part was getting dirty, so dirty I often had to strip off the top layer of clothes in the garage before walking back into the house. 

By the end of July, however, my enthusiasm had wilted with the humidity. I had grown tired of the heat, the bugs, the occasional snake, and the sight of almost everything I planted failing to thrive. I encountered success in only two areas: Although the other annuals usually died an early death, the impatiens continued to bloom until the first frost. In addition, my hosta plants were the envy of the neighborhood, growing ridiculously big and needing separating every season until I had hosta growing around three sides of the house. 

Any attempts at our growing a vegetable garden provided a bounty— not for us but for the wildlife and the insects. As had happened with my flowers, early June’s enthusiasm was followed by August’s failure-to-thrive. I learned that the vegetable stand on the corner of Grooms and Moe Roads was a tastier, less work-intensive alternative to hours in a garden to gather a few tomatoes and sad looking peppers.

After mowing lawns and raking leaves for over 35 years, Larry had turned over those jobs to our neighbor’s son, who had started a lawn care business. Maybe it was time for me to hang up my gardening tools as well.

I found my escape when we relocated to Florida. Our community has a home owner’s association (HOA), whose fees include lawn care. I can leave all our landscaping chores to the wonderful people who descend on our property every Tuesday. After they mow our lawn and trim our bushes in trees, the workers munch on the cookies I gratefully place on their water cooler. A few extremely hardy potted plants on my lanai satisfy any urge I have to tempt fate to kill the un-killable. 

Not all my neighbors have abandoned in their gardening gloves.Many have turned their lanais into a virtual greenhouse with hundreds of potted plants, fountains, ponds, and even in one friend’s home, a koi pond! For others, the lanai also serves as a vegetable garden, with shelves of herbs and large planters filled with tomatoes, a variety of peppers, and even eggplants. On our frequent walks, we have seen screened in courtyards filled with raised beds filled with flowers and vegetables. And each month, one home sports a “Yard of the Month” sign in recognition of the owners’ dedication to their outdoor displays of flowers and landscaping. 

Thank you, but no thanks. Outside of an occasional snip on a wayward bush, I am happy with our lawn service. If I want to see lush gardens, my husband Larry and I can take stroll in Bok Tower Gardens, a beautiful 250 acre garden and bird sanctuary only a short 40 minute drive. Now that we are vaccinated, we will again be able to enjoy Epcot’s annual International Flower and Garden Festival, complete with topiaries of our favorite Disney characters. Yep, this girl has switched out her hoe-hoe-hoes for a simpler life. Ho! Ho! Ho!

First published in (Capital Region New York) The Jewish World. April 15-April 24, 2021. 

Image courtesy of cdc on upsplash.com.

A Swimming Smackdown: WWE One; Marilyn Zero

It was 7 a.m. Monday morning, and I was at our community pool to do my hour of swimming. I said hello to the one other person in the pool. 

“Hi, Marilyn,” she said. “Were you here on Friday for the big fight?”

“The f-f-ffight?” I asked hesitantly.

“Yes. I heard two people went at it when one of them wouldn’t move out of a lane. Everyone is talking about it. I am sorry I missed it.”

Crap!  In a 55+ community that thrives on drama, it appears that my confrontation with a fellow swimmer had gone—if not viral—then aquatic!

The day hadn’t started out well. I had overslept and gotten to the pool late. That meant I would soon be competing with all the pool walkers and exercisers who usually were just starting their work-out as I was finishing up my swim.

Initially, everything was going smoothly. The sun was shining. The water was warm. The walkers had arrived, but they were being respectful and keeping the necessary social distancing needed during the pandemic.

With ten laps to go, I caught through my googles an anomaly among the usual sight of grey haired ladies in skirted bathing suits and balding men in their knee length trunks. A giant of a man—over six feet and two hundred and fifty pounds of pure muscle —waded into the water and stood in the middle of the lane next to me. He was clad in pair of short orange trunks that showed off a huge tattoo over his toned abs. His shaved head and gold earrings glistened in the sun as he started doing a stretch routine. Although not directly in my way, his leg bending and arm swings felt too close. 

After paddling past him a couple of times, I stopped mid-lap and asked politely, “Excuse me, but would you mind moving over a couple of feet? I am afraid I might hit you.”

“I am in the middle of the next lane,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a problem. Besides, you should be in the middle of the lane as well.”

No matter that he could have been The Rock’s brother. I lost it. “Look,I have been swimming on this line for 50 minutes,” I yelled. “It wouldn’t hurt you to move two and a half &$#$%# feet so I can finish.”

Done with my tirade, I kept swimming, making sure to splash vigorously every time I went past him. I was going to show him who was boss!

When I finished my laps, I climbed out of the pool and, taking off my cap, goggles, and fins, I began drying myself off with a towel. My friend Pat who had just arrived with her husband for her pool walk, greeted me.

“Good morning, Marilyn! How are you doing today?”

“I was fine until this $*#? got in my way during my laps.”

“Who’s that?” she asked.

I pointed to the Adonis in the water.

“Adonis” began defending himself. “Hey! I didn’t do anything! I try to be respectful to my elders! Everyone heard and saw what you did!” 

“Him?” she exclaimed. “Why, that’s Dom! He’s my neighbor and he is really nice!”

“Well, not today!” I grumbled.

At that moment, my friend Sharon, who had overheard Pat’s comments, splashed over to put in her two cents. 

“Marilyn, I can’t believe you yelled at Dom,” she said. “He’s such a nice man!”

Okay, he may have been a little too close, but I was wrong. I took a deep breath, put down my towel, and jumped back into the pool. By this point, all the people in the pool were watching the drama between me and my sparring partner.

“I want to apologize,” I said.” My language and splashing was inappropriate.” 

“Hey, everyone has a bad day,” he said. He held out his hand. “I’m Dom.”

“I’m Marilyn,” I said, grabbing his hand in return. “Nice to meet you.”

I shared with him that I swam laps every Monday and Friday and always stuck to the lines to give fellow lappers room. He shared with me that he went to the weight room almost every day and sometimes stretched in the pool afterwards. 

“Yes, you LOOK like you work out!” I said. “You are really strongly built.”

“I spent my life with WWE,” he said. “I should be in good shape.”

“WWE? As in World Wrestling Federation?” I gasped. “You mean I went up against a WWE wrester?”

“Yes, but I won’t hurt you. As I said before, everyone has a bad day.”

I was climbing out of the pool when I stopped and turned around. 

“Hey, Dom! I do take umbrage with one of your comments,” I said. “You said you were respectful of your ELDERS. How old do you think I am?”

“I don’t know,” he said tactfully. “I’m 56.”

“Okay, I am your elder. I turn 70 in two weeks.”

“And you swim an hour each day?” he asked. 

“I alternate it with 20 mile bike rides or 5 mile walks,” I said proudly.

“Wow! I’m impressed!” he said. Wow! A WWE wrestler was impressed with me!

So on that equally sunny Monday morning, I had to deal with my new notoriety. I shared the entire Friday Morning SmackDown episode with Mary as she interrupted with gales of laughter.

“I shouldn’t have lost my temper,” I told her. “I apologized! I”m even going to bake a challah and drop it off at his house as a peace offering!”

So, I am now part of my 55+ community’s history. WWE One, Marilyn Zero. Maybe next time I should take on someone my own size. Or—maybe next time I should just smile and move over to the middle of the lane.

Meanwhile, I did drop off a challah to Dom, along with my apologies. We are now pool buddies. No more smackdowns. Just high fives!