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.

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 https://jewishworldnews.org. 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.

Misplacing items, but holding on to the important stuff—I am no Sherlock Holmes

I have spent  half my life looking for things I’ve misplaced. I have spent the other half finding things for Larry that he claims I lost to make his life more difficult.

Recently I was visiting my daughter Julie, her husband Sam, and my granddaughter Sylvie in Colorado. That morning, I had unplugged my charging cord for my phone from the power strip next to my bed. I was sure that I had plugged it into a kitchen outlet. Later in the morning, however, the  only charger, looking mysteriously larger than mine,was connected to Julie and Sam’s iPad.

“Sam, are you using my plug to charge your iPad?” I asked.

“No,” said Sam. “That one is mine.”

I spent a good chunk of the next few hours looking for my missing cord. I looked in my traveling charger case, my pocket book, my suitcase. I rechecked the outlet next to my bed and every other outlet in the house. After we returned from a walk and lunch on  Main Street, I rechecked the outlet, my charger bag, the pocketbook, the suitcase. Then I pulled off all the bedding (maybe it got tangled in the sheets when I was making the bed?) MIA. Julie just rolled her eyes. Mom has lost something- AGAIN.

Misplacing something is part of my personality. Keys.Cell phone. Favorite water bottle. Sun glasses. Larry has grudgingly accepted that every time we head out, we have to allow enough time for me to make one more frantic trip into the house to search for my frequently lost or left behind items (which I refer to as FLI’s)

I know that my misplacing things is not tied to cognitive impairment, a concern as I work my way through my sixties. I have not yet found my cell phone in the freezer or my keys in the microwave. Thankfully, my losses are usually a result of multitasking or not giving myself enough time to put the item in its proper spot in the first place.

To compensate, I have established assigned places for the FLIs. My keys go on the key rack next to the door. The cell phone goes on the kitchen counter, plugged into the permanent charger. My favorite water bottle gets rinsed and put back into the refrigerator. On my good days, the system works.

I’ve given up on the sunglasses. After several last minute scrambles,I finally purchased several additional pairs for my pocketbook, each car, the beach bag, the lanai. This system also works—on my good days.

Larry, on the other hand, rarely loses anything. His keys, his wallet, the checkbook, even his clothes, are organized in such a way that he can find them quickly and without angst. He even has a system for items on his desk, where he can locate exactly what he needs from the piles that totally defy my sense of order.

Unfortunately, as we share the same house, our lives—and stuff—intersect. For example, we share laundry duty, but it is usually on my watch that one of his socks goes missing.

“What did you do with my Smart Wool?” he demands.

“You’re missing one?” I respond. And the search begins. The washing machine. The dryer. Then the rest of the laundry to see if it got stuck to a recalcitrant tee shirt or pair of shorts. The loss is yet to be permanent.

The second most FLI is the checkbook. Larry has a particular Spot for it. There are times, however, that I need it. Invariably, I either don’t put it back in the Spot fast enough or I don’t put it exactly where it belongs. Then, the scenario begins.

“MAR-i-lyn! Where is the checkbook?” The situation is quickly resolved. (EXCEPT when we moved into our Florida house, and one of us put the checkbook in a “safe place” before we left for a long trip to Colorado. If anyone has any suggestions as to where our “safe” place was, please contact me! Two years later, and the checks are still missing.)

Remember I said that Larry rarely  loses anything? Let me relate the Famous Missing Fleece Incident.

While still living in Upstate New York, our son Adam came home in July for a visit. One surprisingly cool morning, the three of us went on a bike ride. Larry had Adam use his road bike, and he took his hybrid.

A couple of weeks after Adam left, Larry asked me what I had done with the University of Rochester fleece he had worn on the bike ride.

“I have no idea,” I said. I probably washed it and put it in your closet.”

“Well, it’s missing,” Larry said.

Thus began a three-month intermittent search. I checked our closet and every other closet and dresser in the house. I called Adam and asked if he had taken it back with him to California. Nada.

“Maybe you gave it to the Salvation Army,” Larry said. “I can’t believe you would give away my favorite fleece.”

At the end of October, Larry and I decided to go on a bike ride. The roads were wet from a recent rain, so we took our hybrid bikes for better traction. Halfway through the ride, it began to rain again. Larry paused to put his phone, which was in a case on the handlebar, into the saddle bag to better protect it.

“Hey! Look what I found!” Larry exclaimed. “It’s my missing fleece! I must have put it in there in July when it began to warm up on our bike ride with Adam!”

“YOU misplaced it!” I said. “Don’t you feel badly for accusing ME of losing it?”

“No, that’s okay,” said Larry. “All’s well that ends well.”

And the charging cord I “lost” in Colorado? Turns out that Sam had rolled it up and put it into a canister where he and Julie stash all their extra cords. So I actually wasn’t at fault that time either.

Elizabeth Bishop wrote: “The art of losing isn’t hard to master; /so many things seem filled with the intent /to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” In my world, losing “stuff” may be a problem.” As long as I keep what is important—my family, my friends, my memories—it will just be small stuff.

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

Love in time of retirement

Ah! Young love! This is the time in life where two individuals cannot get enough of each other! Each moment away from one another is agony, and even when they are together in the same room, there is a desperate need to touch and hold and talk. Their wish is to share every waking moment together.

Yes, my husband and I were like that once. We met, we courted, we married, and we spent the next thirty-six years of our lives juggling our relationship with children, jobs, and outside commitments.

Then, Larry and I retired, and we got our wish. We were together twenty-four/seven, but we weren’t young anymore. As a matter of fact, living under the same roof resulted in a period of major adjustment.

Please don’t get me wrong. I love my husband dearly, and I am so grateful that we have had the opportunity to retire in good health. It is just that—well —love in the time of retirement may test even the closest relationship. 

Our first battle took place soon after Larry retired. We were in the kitchen, cleaning up after dinner. As was our usual routine, Larry was putting away the leftovers while I was putting the dirty plates in the dishwasher. He looked over while he was closing the refrigerator door and offered, “Here, Marilyn, let me show you how to load a dishwasher.”

I stopped mid-dish and stared at him. “What do you mean by that?”

“You’re not doing it right. I can show you how to do it properly.”

“So you mean to tell me I have been loading this thing WRONG for the last three decades?” 

“Yes, my way is much more efficient!” We had a brief, spirited discussion as to whether he wanted to accept my tried and true way of doing it or if he wanted to wash dishes on his own for the rest of our married life. Thankfully, he saw it my way.

The second conflict occurred six months later when I retired. I planned to set up my calendar and some files in our home office. When I tried to find room on our computer desk, not an inch was available. “Larry,” I said, “do you think you can organize all those piles on the desk so that we can share the space?”

“I retired first!” was his response. “I already claimed the desk. You will need to find another spot.”

Initially, I managed to carve out a few inches of blank oak, but it wasn’t worth the fights that ensued when I moved any of his piles, which he referred to as his “filing system.” I eked out a two-inch crevice between the computer and the printer that allowed me to prop up a few folders. It took three years to have the sense to get my own lap top so I could have the flexibility to work on any surface in the house. 

Over the next few months, we played an uneasy game of adjusting. Larry spent a great deal of time following me around closing cabinet doors and drawers I continually left open, a bad habit I had had my entire life. I learned to accept the fact that he was king of the television remote. He could watch several television shows simultaneously, including a couple of basketball games, reruns of The Big Bang Theory, and a showing of a favorite movie. I found this tolerable as long as I was multi-tasking on the couch—doing a crossword puzzle, checking emails, reading a book, and cutting coupons—while he ruled the remote. My annoying habit cancelled out his.

I am not the only person who has experienced post-retirement angst. One friend, whose son had been in a playgroup with our son over thirty years earlier, told me that her husband had acquired this overwhelming need to be with her wherever she went. Grocery shopping, dropping off mail at the post office, running to the drug store for a prescription, was now regarded by Steve as a two-person outing. “If Larry isn’t busy,” Fern suggested, “maybe we can arrange a weekly playdate between our two husbands. Then I can get out of the house by myself for a couple of hours.”

My friend Judy commented that only after they were both retired did she realize how ‘uber-organized’ her husband was. A week before they left for their two-month stay in Florida, Judy was haphazardly stacking clothing on her bed and throwing cosmetics and toiletries into a bin. Charlie strolled into the bedroom and opened up his file marked “Florida.” It included a detailed list of everything he needed to pack, including the number of pairs of socks, shirts, and shoes he was bringing. Another list included restaurants in Naples, with notes on ratings and menus. He even planned their drive down to Florida in minute detail: He had researched hotels and restaurants en route on Trip Advisor, printed out weather forecasts from weather.com, and created a chart of estimated travel times between stops from Google maps. “He researches every single detail and isn’t willing to leave anything to chance,” Judy said. “It’s driving me nuts!”

Quite a few of my friends have commented that their retired husbands, who managed people all their working life, feel the need to manage their wives. “Marty loves to come up with projects,” Melanie shared with me over coffee. “He suggests these projects on a weekly basis, pointing out, for example, that the linen closet needs to be reorganized or the bookshelves in the fourth bedroom need to be cleaned out. Of course, Marty is the idea person. I am the person who is expected to implement his projects.”

When I talk to couples about adjusting to retirement, I find that the wives are much more forthcoming about their experiences. The men I spoke to, for the most part, were oblivious.

This is not just part of our generation. Joanne, a friend from North Dakota, remembered mediating a fight between her in-laws. After many years of farming acres of wheat and soy, the husband had decided to help his wife with her vegetable garden. While they were cutting up potatoes for planting, he insisted that each potato mound have five eyes. The wife explained that she had always limited the mounds to three eyes. When he tried to drag his daughter-in-law into the discussion, Joanne demurred, saying, “I am sure it all depends on the year.” Joanne said, in the end, they decided on four eyes, a nice compromise.

Compromise—the bottom line as two people learn to live their dream, to spend most of their time together. Maybe love is relearning give-and-take and embracing each other’s quirks.

My favorite piece of advice came from a man who held a high position in the federal government for many years before he and his wife retired. “I get to make the big decisions,” he explained. “Who should run for president of the United States. Whether or not we should go to war with Russia. And she makes the less important decisions, such as where we live, what we eat, with whom we spend our time, when and where we are going on vacation. It works out really well for us.” As I hope it works out for all the retired love birds I know and love.

The retired lovebirds 2022

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

We continue and they continue: The Czech Torahs

Each Memorial Scroll is a memory of the past and a messenger for the future” Memorial Scrolls Trust, London, U.K.

They escaped destruction by the Nazis. They survived Communism, They found their ways to new homes around the world. This is a story of three Torahs that had their roots in vanished Czechoslovakian Jewish communities.

Up until World War II, Czechoslovakia had a thriving Jewish population that first reached the area over 1000 years ago. With the rise of Hitler came increased anti-Semitism and eventually The Final Solution. Throughout Europe, synagogues were burned and the vast majority of Jews were murdered. Almost all Jewish artifacts—Torahs, candlesticks, heprayerbooks—were destroyed.

 The one exception was the Bohemia and Moravia, with its population of 115,000 Jews. This area in Czechoslovakia was declared a “German protectorate”. Miraculously, except for the items in Sudetenland, most of the artifacts remained unscathed during the early years of the war.

In 1942, the Nazis ordered all Jewish synagogue possessions in the region to be sent to Prague. The Jewish communities of Prague, believing the Judaica would be safer if stored in one place, worked closely with the Nazis to collect and catalogue over 210,000 items. In the end, it took 40 warehouses to store the treasure. Unfortunately, nearly every Jew who worked on the project were sent to their deaths in the concentration camp. 

The Czech Torahs survived the war but almost did not survive Communism. The Torah and other scrolls, believed to number between 1800 and 2200, lay in a musty, damp warehouse until 1963. At that point, Czech government, in need of foreign currency, sold the scrolls to Ralph Yablon, a philanthropist and founder member of Westminster Synagogue in London. On February 5, 1964,  1564 Torah and other scrolls arrived at the synagogue. They were divided into three categories: those in usable condition, those in need of some repair; and those deemed too far damaged to be restored.

The Memorial Scrolls Trust was then set up to preserve and restore the Czech scrolls. Each one had an identity plaque fixed to  one of the etz chaim, the wooden shafts onto which the Torah is rolled. They were loaned out to Jewish communities and organizations around the world in need of a Torah, with the understanding that the congregation was responsible for the scroll’s upkeep. The Torah, as per stipulations by the MST, were never sold or donated but allocated on loan on the understanding that they would only need to be returned if the synagogue no longer operated. According to Jeffrey Ohrenstein, Chair, MST, 1400 scrolls have been allocated on loan around the world. Approximately 150 scrolls remain in the Memorial Scrolls Trust museum, which also has some 500 binders and wimples.

At least six Czech scrolls are on loan in the Capital District and surrounding areas: Beth Emeth, Congregation Ohav Shalom, Gates of Heaven, Temple Sinai, Congregation Beth Shalom, and Congregation Beth El.

I first had the honor of holding a Holocaust Torah as a member of Congregation Beth Shalom in Clifton Park, New York. In1981, the synagogue requested from MST a replacement for three that had been stolen. Abbey and Richard Green, CBS congregants, helped fund the costs of shipping the Czech Torah MST#293 (circa1870) from London. A tag, dating back to the dark days of the Shoah, read “The Elders of the Jewish Community in Prague”.

At the time, Beth Shalom was less than ten years old, an irony that was not lost on one of its congregant. Yetta Fox, herself the child of Holocaust survivors, stated that having the Torah at a new congregation was “almost like a second life.”“Having lost one community,” said Yetta, “there is now a new community that can nurture this Torah.”

Early in 2007, the congregation arranged to have needed repairs done on the parchment of the 137-year-old Torah. That June, the congregation held a rededication ceremony, which included a procession from the Clifton Park town hall to the synagogue five minutes up the road. During the march, the scrolls were passed from hand to hand under a chuppah that the children of the Hebrew school had decorated with Stars of David. Upon its arrival, the Torah was wrapped in a wimple, the cloth traditionally used to wrap a boy at his circumcision. “This is our baby,” said Fred Pineau, a former president, “so we’re wrapping it on our Torah.”

David Clayman, the current president, reported that the Torah is still in good condition. To preserve it, however, it is left rolled to Parasah Beshalach, which contains “The Song of the Sea,” gently unrolling it only once a year as prescribed by the MST. Every year, in the month of Shevat, the torah is brought out and Beshalach is chanted. “The scroll is so fragile, we are afraid to roll it to other parashot,”said David. The congregation brings out the Holocaust scroll twice more each year to be ceremonially held: On Kol Nidre, the solemn service commemorated during the opening hours of Yom Kippur; and on Simchas Torah, a holiday that celebrates the completion of the reading of Deuteronomy, and the beginning of Genesis.

When we moved to Florida, we joined Congregation Shalom Aleichem, which was founded in 1981, ironically the same year Congregation Beth Shalom had received its Czech Torah. Initially, congregants met at the Kissimmee Women’s Club. When Harry Lowenstein, a Holocaust survivor whose parents and sister number among the six million Jews killed during World War II, joined with his wife Carol, he began to press for a building of their own. “I saw a synagogue burn,” said Harry, “and I was determined to build another one.” Starting with a $120,000 contributions from Sandor Salmagne, another Holocaust survivor, the Lowensteins through their own and other contributions raised another $60,000 for building expenses.

As the synagogue on Pleasant Hill Road neared completion, the Lowensteins worked to obtain the prayer books for both every day and holy days, the Torah finials, and the Yartzheit (memorial) board. Most important to the congregation, however, was to obtain a Torah.

Lowenstein and other members reached out to the Memorial Scrolls Trust, noting in the correspondence that four of its members were Holocaust survivors. “Our Temple will be dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust,” wrote then president Henry Langer. “We would therefore deem it an honor to have you lend us a Scroll for our Temple.” With the Lowenstein’s financial support, they were able to obtain Scroll MST#408, from Pisek-Strakonice in what was then Czechoslovakia, about 60 miles south of Prague and dated back to circa 1775.

Once they received word that they would indeed be loaned a Czech TorahThe Lowensteins asked British friends who had a vacation home near the synagogue to be responsible for getting it from Heathrow to Orlando International airport. “[Our friend] sat on the plane with the Torah on his lap for 12 hours,” recalled Carol Lowenstein. “He would not let it out of his sight until he could hand the Torah to Harry.”

For those who had miraculously escaped hell, welcoming the Torah was like welcoming another Holocaust survivor. “It’s like holding a piece of history” said Phil Fuerst in a 1993 Orlando Sentinel article. “You feel like you own a piece of a world that survived.”

According to Marilyn Glaser, the congregation president, The congregation is making arrangement for the atzei chayim, which are broken, to be replaced in accordance of the terms of the loan agreement with MST.

In 1982, Sharon and Barry Kaufman, now residents of Kissimmee, obtained a Czech Torah in honor of their daughter Robin’s Bat Mitzvah for their Texas synagogue their congregation in Spring, Texas in honor of their daughter Robin’s upcoming Bat Mitzvah. While awaiting completion of their new building, Jewish Community North, a congregation in Spring Texas, was holding services at Christ the Good Shepherd Catholic Church. Their only torah was on temporary loan from another Houston-area synagogue. The Kaufmans worked with Rabbi Lawrence Jacofsky, the regional director of the United Association of Hebrew Congregations, to obtain Torah Scroll MST#20, written circa 1850.

When their precious cargo arrived at the Houston airport in February 1982, Barry and Sharon immediately brought the Torah to the church to show Father Ed Abell, Good Shepherd’s priest and their good friend. The three of them carefully unrolled the scroll where it had last been read: Yom Kippur 1938. The tenth of Tishri 5699 ( October 4 and 5, 1938.) Shortly after that service, the Jews that had worshipped in the Kostelec/Orlici synagogue were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, most—maybe all— never to return. 

To commemorate the moment and to the shock and awe of the Kaufmans, Father Abell, using the yad (pointer) from the loaner Torah, read from the scroll in flawless Hebrew. That evening, Sharon and Barry brought the Torah home to show Robin. As they slowly unrolled the entire scroll on their pool table to make sure is was undamaged, they found a cardboard tag that had been attached when the scroll was catalogued by Jewish librarians and curators when the scroll arrived at the Central Jewish Museum Prague during the Shoah. Aeltesternrat der Juden Prague, it read in German. Elders of the Jews of Prague. 

At Robin’s bat mitzvah in May 1982, the Torah was dressed in a cover sewn and embroidered by Barry’s mother. In a moving speech to the congregation held at Good Shepherd, Barry spoke eloquently about the Torah’s history.

If this Torah could talk—might it share with us the heart-wrenching knowledge of a prosperous people whose world had suddenly been taken from them, whose home and synagogues were gutted and destroyed for the value of their belongings? Would it tell us of the helpless terror in the fragile hearts of old men and women forced to watch their children brutally slaughtered before their own end was to come?”

After Barry spoke, the Ark was opened, and the Czech Torah was passed from the rabbi to Barry to Sharon to Robin. Clutching it tightly, Robin walked through the congregation. For the first time in two generations, a B’nai Mitzvot carried it with joy and reverence throughout a tearful congregation.

Three Czech Torahs. Three congregations. Thankfully, in the end, the Nazi’s plan to eradicate the Jewish people. As Gloria Kupferman stated in her speech at the rededication of the Congregation Beth Shalom Torah in 2007, “We are by no means extinct. We are alive. We are thriving.”

Special thanks to Jeffrey Ohrenstein, Chair, Memorial Scrolls Trust, London, U.K. Thanks to David Clayman, Yetta Fox, Marilyn Glaser, Frank Gutworth, Harry Lowenstein, Flo Miller, and Sharon and Barry Kaufman for their input.

Published in Jewish World (Capital Region NY), June 9, 2022 and Heritage Jewish News (Orlando, Fl) June 10, 2022

Sources:

https://www.albany.edu/news/releases/2005/nov2005/holocaust_scroll.shtml

www.cjcn.org

http://www.congregationbethshalomcp.webs.com

www.czechtorah.org/thestory.php.

www.memorialscrollstrust.org.

http://www.shalomaleichem.com

I am a pickleball putz

I am a proud pickleball dropout. After a brief attempt to learn the game from my husband Larry, I realized that being interested in something and having enough talent to play on the most basic level are two different things.

What? You haven’t heard of pickleball? Have you been living under a marinated mushroom? According to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), there are 4.8 million people who play the game in the United States alone. It is the fasting growing sport in the country. 

Until Larry and I retired, I myself had never heard about pickleball. Larry had been involved in sports his entire life—basketball, baseball, and track in his youth and running and cycling as an adult. When he turned 65, we both joined the local YMCA. While I took classes and swam laps in the Olympic-sized pool, Larry started playing the game with friends from Congregation Beth Shalom and other members of the Y. 

Both competitive and athletic, Larry fell in love with the game immediately. He found camaraderie as well as the ability—to quote Jimmy Buffet—“to grow older but not up.”

When we moved to Florida, one of the conditions for where we would live was contingent upon having aerobic classes and a lap pool for me and having pickleball courts for Larry. We both found what we were looking for in our 55+ active adult community. Larry joined the Smashers and found players at his level. To make his life even better, Larry found the Summit County Pickleball Club, (“We play with altitude”) near where we rent in Colorado every summer.

Pickleball not only provided Larry with a great form of exercise but it also provided a social outlet. In Florida, the Smashers had dances and breakfasts; in Colorado, the players had picnics and cocktail parties.

As a matter of fact, it was the social aspect of “pb’ing” at 9100 feet that got my interest. Larry was playing the game at least four mornings a week, and he was meeting lots of people. I, on the other hand, spent my mornings either hiking by myself or with my granddog or, occasionally, swimming lonely laps in a pool that accepted Silver Sneakers. Maybe learning the game would help me become part of a community.

So one day, at my request, I asked Larry to take me onto the Colorado courts during a time set aside for beginners interested in trying the game. After giving me some of the basic rules, Larry gently lobbed me a ball; I hit it. Hey! This wasn’t so bad! Slow lob, hit. Slow lob.”I got this!” I thought

When he started hitting the balls to me at the normal rate of speed, however, I could barely hit it. Only 30 minutes into my private lessons, a slim, athletic couple came onto the court.

“We’d love some lessons, too!” they said. Larry quickly repeated some of the basics, and the two of them took to it like “white on rice.” At that point, they told us they had been playing tennis their whole lives, so this was an easy transition.Larry then suggested the four of us play a game together. 

Now it was a completely different game. Fast lob, Marilyn miss. Fast lob, Marilyn miss. Soon Larry was covering both sides of our court to cover for me. 

You have to understand that I wasn’t even close to hitting the ball. My lifetime lack of hand-eye coordination, exacerbated by vision problems brought on by age, resulted in my swinging at lots of air. The ball was usually two feet above or two feet below my pathetic paddle.

So I did what any normal, mature adult would do in that situation. I told Larry I didn’t want to play anymore, went back to our car, sat in the front seat, and cried.

“I can’t do it,” I told Larry after he finished his session with the two tennis pros. “I hate it! I can’t see the ball. I can’t hit the ball. I can’t even move in time. I’m done.”

I was. And I am. I am in the eighth decade of my life. Up until now, I had proven myself lousy at tennis and baseball and racketball and squash, I have now proved myself to be lousy at pickleball. The benefits of being part of a large group—there are at least 1000 members of Smashers—are totally outweighed by how much I hate trying to hit a stupid ball with a stupid paddle that may result in my breaking a stupid bone.

“You should try playing with us,” some friends have told me. “None of us play that well, and we won’t care if you’re not great at it.”

“No thanks,” I tell them. “I’d rather walk or swim or bike or do an exercise class.” 

And after hearing about all my friends with pickleball-related injuries, I am happy to stick to what I am doing.None of them require hand/eye coordination. None of them are competitive, so I don’t have to always lose. Better yet, I won’t be the player that no one wants on their team. Yes, my short stint as a pickleball putz is over! From now on, my only pickle of choice is a Kosher one in a jar.

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