Category Archives: Family Stories

Nooks and Crannies House Holds Sweet Memories Decades Later

Our wonderful old house in Keeseville, New York in 1981

Larry and I have lived in three homes in our almost 45 years of marriage. All three have been lovely, especially after we made them our home with our personal touches.  None of the places we lived, however, ever could compare to the memories I have of the house in which I grew up with all its nooks and crannies.

In 1952, my parents moved from Potsdam NY near the St. Lawrence River, to Keeseville, on Lake Champlain. At the time, real estate was limited, so my father found the one house large enough to accommodate Mom, the three children, and a cat. It was an old but proud 1899 Victorian set on a pretty lot only a block from Pearl’s, the department store my father managed.  

The front entrance to the house required climbing seven steps to a small porch and a front unheated vestibule. A large oak piece with a mirror graced the right side; an old makeshift storage closet on the right side of the door held all the outerwear needed for the four seasons of Upstate New York. 

Beyond the foyer, a large living and dining room stretched out across the entire front of the home, with an oak arch dividing the two rooms. Guests often joined us around the large oak table for Rosh Hashanah, Thanksgiving, Passover. 

The blue sectional in the living room came from Pearl’s warehouse, never what my mother wanted, but what we could afford on my father’s small manager’s salary. I have memories of sitting on my mother’s lap on that scratchy couch, listening with my thumb in my mouth as she read me various Golden Books—the Brave Little Tailor, Dumbo. A piano, first an ugly orange upright and, in 1963, a small baby grand, filled up the rest of the space.

 Straight ahead from the front entrance was another door that opened up into the kitchen. When the house was first purchased in 1952, it was the saddest room: one single light bulb hanging from the ceiling, outdated appliances, cracked linoleum floors, a pantry covered with cobwebs and—to the joy of our cat—filled with mice. The first room to undergo a complete transformation, the finished room had wood cabinets, a stove with a double oven, a large refrigerator and enough space for hold a formica-topped metal table with six matching chairs. Just below the clock on the far wall was the hole in the yellow linoleum. It was the forever memory of the day when I was eight years old and threw a fork at my older brother, Jay (a fairly violent reaction to his teasing) which thankfully missed his head before lodging in the yellow tile wall covering. (I don’t remember getting punished.) The door to the right of the hole led to the originally only bathroom with its claw-toothed bathtub. In another fight with Jay,  he twisted my arm when I refused to stop bouncing an  orange against that infamous yellow wall. I passed out. (Jay got grounded for two weeks.) A back door led to a small unheated vestibule,  where fresh milk was delivered for years. 

Here I am around 1953 standing in front of our “Nooks and Crannies” house!

To the left of the kitchen was a small, dark room that became the office. Mom did the store’s bookkeeping on the massive metal desk. The wall behind her was covered from top to bottom with book shelves that held second hand encyclopedias, cookbooks, history books from American Heritage, tons of children’s books, and 75 rpm records ranging from classical masters to Frank Sinatra to Danny Kaye reading Hans Christian Anderson. A chair with a table lamp had served as my own gateway to the joys of reading on my own. 

A second door in the back of the kitchen led to an unfinished and unheated room which originally was a storage area and, through the back window, access to a 30 foot clothes line that was tethered to the house on one end and to  an old oak tree on the other end. Soon after we moved in, my parents converted it to a family room by adding insulation, paneling, and a tile ceiling. Two recliners faced the television, the one on the left my father’s retreat after dinner every night he was home. Mom took the chair on the right, usually engrossed in a book while Dad watched Perry Mason—originals and reruns. 

An enclosed staircase at the far left end of the dining room led upstairs to four bedrooms. The first on the left was my bedroom. A trapdoor to the attic—which was never accessed—provided a source of nightmares for me, as did the long, narrow closet that ran along the side of the room.  When Bobbie was born in 1955, she slept in the crib and eventually the twin bed next to me. Outside of her breaking a ceramic squirrel that held my glasses and watch, I don’t remember any fights occurring over our being “roommates” for the next eight years. 

Jay’s room was next to mine. A large closet had been cut to make the second bathroom that required walking through his room to use. It gave me a chance to check out his stash of Superman comics. When he found out I had touched them, he tossed them all out, a decision he lived to regret years later when such comics sold for some decent return. 

Laura’s room was next to Jay’s, which held two twin beds with pink bedspreads. As she was eight years my senior, I was in awe of the crinolines and poodle skirts that covered her floor and the make-up and costume jewelry that covered her dresser.  When she left on a fall Sunday morning in 1960 to enter Geneseo State College, I asked my parents five minutes later if I could move into her room. My mother asked me to wait until at least the bed was cold. To make her feel better, I waited an entire 24 hours. 

My parents’ bedroom was a treasure trove of nooks and crannies. The huge closet had a secret shelf that I found out years later held the store receipts and cash brought home every Saturday night until Dad could make the deposit at Keeseville National Bank on Monday morning. The maple bedroom set included a long dresser that held my mother’s green jewelry box and a glass tray that held Evening in Paris, a package of Sen-Sen mints, buttons, and safety pins. At the end of their double bed was a large oak chest filled with pillows and blankets, and when emptied became  a wonderful boat or train. A second “closet” was carved out of the space above the downstairs foyer. Also unheated, it served as a storage room and a spillover closet. My mother’s long, maroon bathrobe hung in that closet—when I wasn’t taking it out to play dress-up.

The main basement was accessed from still another door in the kitchen. Fourteen wooden steps with no railings led to a warren of four rooms that held, respectively, the washer and dryer; the old coal furnace; the “pantry,” which held extra canned food in case of a nuclear war, and a small room that held paint, Dad’s tools, and, behind a thick wooden door, paints and chemicals. A second basement, a root cellar, was under the family room and only accessible by a half door with a peg for a lock at the back of the house. I remember on several occasions my brother Jay and I, prodded on by an older neighbor  opened up the door that led to that dark root cellar, where we lit magic snake pellets in the dirt. We quietly watched them uncoil, turn black, and then turn to ash.  Years later, when I shared this secret with my mother, she was shocked. “You could have burnt the house down!” she exclaimed. 

Much changed over the 30 years my parents owned the house. The house’s three porches, one on the side, one on the front, and one behind the kitchen, eventually succumbed to age; it was easier for my parents to remove than replace. The metal kitchen cabinets were replaced with wood; the bathroom and its claw-toothed tub was remodeled soon after I went to college, the downstairs got carpeting.  In the late 1970s, Mom and Dad had the house sided in green vinyl, a definite improvement over the white chipped paint. 

In October 1981, my parents sold the house and moved into their cottage year round. Larry and I came  the weekend of the move  with Adam, who was three and a half, and Julie, who was six months old. Everything they wanted to keep was moved to the cottage, where they took up full-time residency until they were able to retire and live in Florida half the year. The rest they had put in a U-Haul for us to sort through once we emptied the contents into our one-car garage. That was the last time I set foot in the house, even though we have driven past it innumerable times. 

Like the last scenes in the movie, Titanic,  I often dream of the house and the memories it held for me and my family.  And one day, I will have the time and courage to knock on the front door and introduce myself to the current residents—the same family that bought it from my family almost 30 years ago.  I will ask if I can wander through my childhood home, and I  will checking all the nooks and crannies one last time—looking for traces of that brown haired, bespectacled child and her life in that old, nostalgia filled house.

In Quest of the Elusive License Plates….

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Larry skipping to our car after finding a license plate from Chihuahua, Mexico

“Delaware!” my husband Larry yelled as we drove past a line of parked cars on Galena Street in Frisco, Colorado. “We got Delaware!”

In our life, “Getting Delaware” is a big deal. Within the first ten days of our five week search for license plates, we had gotten the license plate of the elusive Eastern seaboard state. Could Rhode Island be far behind?

Road Trip Entertainment

Today, while heading for their annual family vacation, children sit in the back seats of a SUV watching Toy Story or Frozen from a strategically placed rear-seat DVD system. When our children Adam and Julie were young,  high tech electronic baby sitters were not available.  We resorted to supplying them with books and food and some random toys to keep them busy.  

We also had aces up our sleeve. On long trips, I read them books—Superfudge and Tales of a Four Grade Nothing were the most popular. At night, we played P’Diddle. The first person to see a car with a missing headlights would yell the eponymous game’s name. The winner could punch his or her sibling in the shoulder. (Of course, Adam and Julie liked punching each other.) And if all else failed, we would pull out our old radio show cassette tapes and listen to Burns and Allen, Abbott and Costello, and the Lone Ranger. Not a Disney or Pixar movie to be found. Amazingly, we managed to get through our trips!

A New Game

For many years, our annual family vacation was spent at parents’ cottage on the New York side of Lake Champlain. The four of us would often take a day trip on the ferry from Port Kent to Burlington, Vermont. During those crossings, Larry encouraged us to check out the license plates. It became a game for us to see how many states we could find squeezed between bumpers. We could pick up ten or twelve states, mostly from the northeastern part of the country. “Dad would become pretty obsessed about our finding those license plates,” Julie recalled. 

Our game continued when our vacations expanded to Cape Cod. We would find an occasional Georgia or even California, but most people who headed to the Cape were from the New England and Mid-Atlantic states. A family vacation to Acadia National Park gave us a chance to expand our repertoire. I think that Larry was as excited to find that license plate from Alaska as he was to see Cadillac Mountain and Thunder Hole.

We Pursue the Plates

The children went along with their father’s fascination, but it wasn’t until Adam and Julie were out of the house and we began traveling out west to several national parks that his interest in tracking down all fifty-two plates intensified. and I became his mostly willing Pursuing the Plates Partner.

Fifty-two? That is part of “The Official Rules of the Game.” We are obligated  to find all fifty states, including both the yellow and turquoise New Mexico plates, and Washington, DC. We also track Canada’s ten provinces and three territories—including its newest Nunavut— as a bonus. (Bet many of you didn’t know all that information about Canada! See how much you can learn  plate pursuing!) Larry, the statistician, is in charge of keeping track of all our finds in his head and categorizing them by regions. I, the writer, am responsible for writing down each state as it is found and keeping the tally sheet with me at all times. 

Sightings Vary

No matter how complicated the rules, we are always able to pick off the big states—California, Texas, and Florida— quickly.  Non-contiguous Alaska and Hawaii are more difficult because of the distance—but we have found them almost every year.  Washington DC may be small in area, but anyone who has experienced the District of Columbia during the summer can understand why its 700,000 residents head out every July and August for cooler climes.  

The small states are the most problematic. As noted above, a license plate from Delaware is a coveted prize, as is West Virginia and New Hampshire. And Rhode Island? Legend says that Rhode Islanders consider any drive that takes more than twenty minutes a road trip. The probability of a “Little  Rhody” driving all the way to Colorado or Utah is slim. They usually are the last plates we find—if they are found at all.  

Many of the plates have been spotted while we are on the road, usually with Larry—the designated driver— behind the wheel.  Example: “Wait! Is that Maine in front of us?” Larry shouts.  He then speeds up the car and gets closer to targeted car to confirm. “Yes!  We got Maine!” We are lucky we haven’t yet “got”  a ticket for speeding or tailgating in the process.

And speaking of dangerous situations: Larry views every parking lot as a plethora of potential picks. He often takes circuitous routes through rows and rows of cars in search of an elusive New Jersey or West Virginia. I live in fear that my “Plate Patroller” will be so preoccupied in his hunt that he will get hit by a car backing out of a space. And sometimes, I am not afraid—just angry. As he usually has the keys to the rental car, I often find myself standing next to the locked passenger door, waiting in the rain or blazing heat or wind until Larry finishes his final scan and returns.  

Bounty Hunter in Action

At times, Larry has resorted to tracking down the actual drivers. While carrying groceries into our Colorado rental, Larry spotted a family sporting University of West Virginia sweatshirts walking into the condo next to us.  Larry tore after them to ask if they were from the Mountain State.

When they answered yes, Larry immediately followed up with the second, and more critical, question: “Did you drive your own car?”

”Sorry! It’s a rental!” 

Darn!

Unexpected Treasures

A few times, our search has yielded hidden treasures. We were walking into a Kansas City Royals vs. San Francisco Giants spring training game in Surprise Stadium in Arizona when Larry saw a license plate from Canada’s Northwest Territories. Not only was it the first time we had ever spotted a plate from that far-flung Canadian region, but also it was shaped like a polar bear!

We had another exciting find at Bahai Honda Key in Southern Florida, when we spotted a license plate from Germany. The owners—a young couple from Munich—had shipped their old Volkswagen van over to United States. After time in the Keys, they were continuing their journey through Mexico and Central and South America.

Now that we have Delaware, we only have eight more plates to go: non-contiguous. Alaska and Hawaii; New England’s New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont; Washington, DC; and West Virginia. Luckily for us, we have three more weeks in Colorado to find them. Wish us luck!

Update: An hour before I was to send this out, Larry found New Hampshire AND Chihuahua, Mexico! Wow! Only seven more to go!

Onto Our Next Adventure

 

Now that Larry and I have become summer “residents” of Colorado. I have challenged myself physically more than any other time in my life. It is my Rocky Mountain boot camp. I return home thinner, stronger, healthier—and already thinking of our next adventures in the Colorado Rockies.

Our daughter Julie came out to Eagle County, Colorado, in 2003 for a one year teaching position at an environment school. Fresh out of college, she fell in love with Colorado, the Rockies, and Sam —not necessarily in that order. Fourteen years later, she, Sam, their daughter Sylvie and their dog Neva live in Frisco, Colorado, seventy miles from Denver on the western slope of the Continental Divide.

Until 2015, we would come out to visit them every year for a couple of weeks. Since our granddaughter arrived, we rent a condo close to their home for a couple of months to escape the Florida heat and to enjoy being Zayde and Gammy.

As Frisco is located 9100 feet above sea level, Larry and I take a couple of days to acclimate to the altitude. Once we have our mountain lungs, we take advantage of all the area has to offer.

Larry plays in a  pickle ball league three or four times a week—their motto is “We play with an Altitude.” On those days, I leave our condo, pick up my “granddog,” and Neva and I take the trail up to Rainbow Lake. It’s an easy one mile hike to the lake, only made a little tricky by its popularity. Neva and I have had to share the shoreline with up to twenty people and almost as many dogs. On quieter days, we have the lake to ourselves. We play Neva’s version of fetch: I toss a stick into the freezing water; she fetches it; I chase her down to retrieve it. Then we head around the lake, making our way back along a rushing creek home.

When Sam and Julie took us on hikes the first years we visited, I was intimidated by their longer excursions. Would we get lost? Could I handle the steep climbs? Would I fall off a narrow precipice, my body found by the rescue team a week later? Would we run into a moose or bear? After many years of hiking, my moments of terror are limited only to a few dicey paths that are a little too narrow or steep for my taste. “I’m scared,” I utter under my breath.

One of our favorite hikes, Lilypad Lake, takes us along a moderately steep path to a sturdy wooden bridge that spans a rushing creek. Climbing up the stream, we come to a section that overlooks Frisco and Lake Dillon. Another thirty minute climb through forest paths and wildflowers brings us to a lake on the left and a pond filled with lily pads on the right. As chipmunks beg for crumbs, we enjoy water and a trail bar before heading back down.

The longest, most difficult hike we took this summer was to McCullough Gulch, south of Breckinridge. The entire trip is in the shadow of Quandary Peak, one of Colorado’s fifty-three mountain peaks that have an elevation of at least 14,000 feet. A few miles drive up a dirt road took us to a parking lot and a half-mile hike to the trail head. The path up the trail got steeper, muddier, and—in my wimpy opinion—less passable. At one point, a short section of small boulders required some scrambling. Above us, two mountain goats grazed. About one and a half miles up, we made our way to White Falls, a waterfall that cascaded from the lake above us. The sky, up to that point blue with fluffy clouds, got darker. From the waterfall, we made our way up to the glacial lake above us.

While not difficult to follow, the path got steeper and required more scrambling around slippery rocks. At one point, we got slightly off trail and needed to climb over some boulders. “I’m scared!” I whispered loudly. Although we were never in any imminent danger of falling, I was saying prayers for our safety. I tried not to think of what our children would say if the broken body of their sixty-something mother was found at the bottom of my imagined crevice. Just as we got to the top of the boulders, a young boy bounded past me to meet the rest of his family on the trail. Pretty embarrassing for me to be so afraid when child regarded it as standard playground fare.

After climbing a final steep grade, Larry and I reached the beautiful glacial lake at the top of McCullough Gulch. Beyond the lake was the magnificent site of Pacific Peak, a 13,900 footer. We had made it! We ate our snacks, drank some water, and enjoyed the spectacular view. Although the wind was strong, the sun was shining and the clouds were fluffy when all of that suddenly changed.

Hail! The skies opened up, and we were being pummeled with pea-sized pellets. We put on  our raincoats and slipped our way down the mountain, this time avoiding the “rock climb.” By the time we got to the waterfall, the hail had turned to spitting rain. A mile further down, the sun came out. Four and a half hours after we had started, we had completed the hike, tired but so glad we had done it.

Larry and I completed a number of hikes during our eight weeks in Frisco, each one providing breathtaking views of mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and wildflowers. We experienced heat and rain and thunder and lightening and occasional bug swarms, but only once did we have to cut our hike short.

Our last weekend in Colorado, Sam, Larry, Sylvie, Neva and I hiked Black Powder Trail on Boreas Pass. Our two-year-old granddaughter soon tired of riding in her carrier on Sam’s back and decided to tackle the hike on foot. This worked until Sylvie and Neva found a pile of dirt created by burrowing animals that they regarded as more fun than further climbing. After a half hour of digging and snacks, all twenty-two pounds of her led us the way down the trail.

When I share my pictures on Facebook with friends and family, many comment on how strong and brave and fit we had proven ourselves to be. When I share descriptions of our hikes with native Coloradans, however, they are less impressed. “Oh yes! We did that hike in the winter with our snow shoes,” they comment. Or “If you enjoyed McCullough Gulch, you should try the thirteen mile hike up Meadow Lake Trail.” I can see clearly why GetYourFitTogether.com has named Colorado the most fit state in the country. And I know already that my  granddaughter and I will fit right in.

My Family’s History of Immigrants

The history of the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of New York City is intertwined with my mother’s family and in particular, my smart, generous, resourceful Aunt Lil.

My maternal family story began Ragola, a small shtetl town in the southeast part of Lithuania.  My grandmother’s Ethel’s birth mother Channah married Buck (first name unknown), a radical and a “free thinker.”  Buck’s unorthodox views were too much for the religious Channah and her parents. Soon after the birth of their son Rafael, the marriage was dissolved. A few years later, Channah married Elihu Hirsch Osovitz. Rafael was soon joined by a half-brother Sam.

Five years later, Buck came to their home and took Rafeal with him to America. Channah, heartbroken,died a few weeks later during childbirth. Channah’s parents took Sam into their home. The infant Ethel—my future grandmother— was placed in a home a wet nurse.

Three years later, Elihu fell in love with Faigah “Vichna” Levinson, the daughter of a prosperous couple in the baking and grocery business. At first Vichna’s parents did not approve of their twenty-year-old daughter’s marriage to a thirty-plus widower with two children.  However, their union was a love match, a rarity in those days of arranged marriages.

Ethel adored her new mother, In fact, it was not until she was introduced her maternal grandparents seven years later that Ethel realized that Vichna was her step-mother. During that visit, Ethel  also learned that she had an older brother Sam in America.

Elihu was a pious man and a student of the Torah. Grandma Vichna was the breadwinner, working in her father’s store. They shared a shtetl “duplex” with another family. Each side of the small wood building held one room with a curtain in the corner hiding a bed to provide the parents some privacy. The two families shared an outhouse.

By 1899, the couple had four more children sharing their one room house: Joe, Lil, Paul, and Rose. Fearful of the threat of pogroms, Elihu and Vichna insisted their oldest daughter cross the ocean by herself to “die goldeneh medinah”—the Golden Land— for a better life. At Ellis Island, fifteen-year-old Ethel was met by her brother Sam and her half brother Rafael Buck. It was the first time she had met either sibling. Staying with distance cousins, Ethel got a job in a umbrella factory for three dollars a week.

Back in Ragola, behind that thin curtain, Vichna and Elihu conceived three more children: Bea, Ruth, Morris. As the oldest girl living home, Lil was responsible for her younger siblings until she was sent to America when she was twelve years old to join Ethel.

The two sisters rented a room with a family of six children and four other boarders.Giving her age as fourteen, Lil obtained a job as garment worker in a sweatshop in Greenwich Village.  She viewed the location— the top floors of the crowded, airless Aisch Building—as “a firetrap.” To  prevent workers from taking too many breaks or stealing, the owners locked the doors to the stairwells and exits.

Ethel, struggling and unhappy with her job, accepted her brother Sam’s invitation to move in with him and his wife in Baltimore. Meanwhile, Paul, Joe, and Rose followed their older siblings to America.

When Paul encountered health problems working in the sweatshops, Lil relocated him and Joe to Burlington, Vermont. She also gave them  money  to purchase a wheelbarrow and enough second hand items to peddle goods to Vermont farmers and their families. First traveling on foot and then on horse and wagon, the two brothers saved enough money to open a store in Alburgh, Vermont. This was the start of Pearl’s Department Stores, department store chain that grew to twenty-two stores in Vermont and Upstate New York.

Working in the factory on Washington Place, Lil proved to be a  fast and efficient seamstress. When she demanded a raise, she was fired—a blessing in disguise. A week later, on  March 25, 1911, the “firetrap”—the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory—was the scene of the deadliest industrial fires in New York City history.  A hundred and forty-six garment works died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths.The tragedy led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU), which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire)

By that time, Elihu had died. Lil had saved $75  to pay for the remaining family members’ ship passage. On April 11, 1911, an elegantly dressed Lil  greeted Vichna (44), Bea (11), Morris (9), and Ruth (6) at Ellis Island. Lil rented an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for herself, Rose, and the four new immigrants.

Lil continued to be the main breadwinner in the family. She obtained promotions as a seamstress in various factories specializing in blouses and dresses. She often made as much as $20 a week, a greater salary than even most of the married men with whom she worked. Her hard work came with sacrifices. Lil attended night school, but after a hard day’s work in the shop, she fell often asleep in class. As a result, she never spoke or wrote English proficiently, relying heavily on Yiddish her whole life.

Now that the entire Osovitz family was in America, Vichna now focused her efforts on making sure that her oldest daughter in Baltimore was married. She arranged a match between her Ethel and Joseph Cohen, a lonely tailor originally from Ragola who was sleeping on a cot in his sister’s apartment. On January 14, 1912, Ethel and Joe were married in a large banquet hall  filled with family and friends from the old country. Nine months and four days after the wedding, their son Eli—named after Elihu—was born. Five years later, they welcomed Frances—my future mother.

A few years later, with the entire Osovitz family finally settled in The Golden Land,  Lil married Sam Waldman, a butcher. Lil worked alongside her husband in stores in New York State: first in the city, then Long Island, St. Regis Falls, and, finally settling in the Syracuse area. The entire family remained close throughout their lives, as have their many descendants of the original nine siblings from Ragola, Lithuania. And all of us recognize and appreciate the strong role our Aunt Lil played in our history.

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The Osovitz Family: Bottom left to right: Rose, Ruth, Bea, Ethel, and Lil. Top left to Right: Paul, Sam, and Joe. All their names were Americanized once they moved to America.

My Dad, The Designated Driver

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Bill Cohen, my father, in his best Errol Flynn imitation!

A Father’s Day memory: It is 1956. My father is sitting behind the steering wheel of an idling sedan in the driveway of our house in Keeseville. Laura, Jay, and I are squirming in the back seat. Dad is smoking a Kent and listening to a baseball game on the radio. He gives the horn an impatient tap to hurry along my mother, who is inside the house diapering Bobbie and pulling together last minute items for our car trip. He honks again, more loudly. “Where is that woman?” he asks. “We’re going to be late.”

For over sixty-five years, my father was our family’s self-appointed Designated Driver. Born and raised in Queens, my father learned how to drive when he was fifteen years old at his grandfather’s farm in Burlington, Vermont. In 1940, my mother took her place in the passenger seat. By 1955, four children were filling up the remaining space.

Out of financial necessity, our family usually owned “gently used” cars. No matter how pristine they were when purchased, each vehicle soon lost the ‘new-car’ feel once our huge family—with an occasional dog along for the ride—took ownership.

These were the days before cars had safety features. No one wore seat belts; babies sat on mothers’ laps; Dad’s extended right arm held us back when we were forced to a sudden stop.

As the family grew, sedans gave way to station wagons. One or two of us children happily climbed into the back, where we bounced our way to a school function or the beach or a relative’s house or even to visits to our grandparents in New York City, oblivious to any danger. Fortunately, Dad was an excellent driver. He was never involved in an accident. And his only speeding ticket was when—as he never let me forget—he was rushing home from a trip to Plattsburgh after I was car sick.

Not that he wasn’t guilty of “pedal to the metal.” In the 1960s, my father was elected coroner of Essex County, New York, a position he held for over twenty years. When he got the call from the state police that he was needed to investigate an unattended or suspicious death, Dad would rush out to his car, put the Essex County Coroner sign in his window, slap on his “Kojak” flasher on top of the roof, and drive to the scene like a bat out of hell. If the call came in the middle of the night, one of us would often ride with Dad to keep him company. I remember sitting in the passenger seat while Dad careened through the back roads of Reber or Willsboro or Port Kent, praying one of the other three coroners in the county wouldn’t have to investigate our untimely demise.

Soon after they retired in 1981, Dad and Mom began spending half the year in Florida. Each year in mid-October, they drove the 1500 miles to their condo in Lauderdale Lakes. The week before Memorial Day, they took the same route back. Although they eventually took the auto train to reduce driving time, Dad continued his reign as exclusive—and excellent—driver.

As he got into his eighties, however, his driving skills declined. His hearing was poor, his reaction times were slow, and he relied too often on cruise control so he wouldn’t have to regulate the gas pedal. Concrete car stop bumpers in parking lots saved many an eating place from becoming an impromptu drive-in restaurant. Still, Dad insisted on taking the wheel, promising to limit his trips to nearby restaurants and stores.

In 2005, while visiting Mom and Dad in Florida, Jay and his wife Leslie made plans for the four of them to go out to dinner. The usual fight ensued. “I’ll drive!” Jay offered. “Absolutely not,” Dad countered “You’re my guest. I’ll drive.”

The route to the restaurant included a section on a multi-lane expressway. Dad was in the far left lane when he suddenly crossed four lanes to get to the exit ramp. “We watched in horror from the back seat,” Jay said. “Fifteen years later, I can still remember how Leslie’s nails felt as she dug them into my arm until I bled.”

After that incident, we children insisted Dad give up the car. We arranged for Mom and Dad to move into Coburg Village, an independent living facility near Larry and me that offered, among other amenities transportation to stores and doctors’ offices. They flew up to their new home, and Laura and Jay drove Dad’s car to our house. Dad’s Toyota would stay safely in our driveway until Julie picked it up and drove it back to Colorado that summer.

For the next few months, Dad complained incessantly about how we had taken away his independence. The day Julie came home to claim the Toyota, however, Dad pulled out of his wallet the registration AND an extra car key.

“You could have walked down the driveway and driven that car anytime you wanted to!” I said.

“I know,” he said with a wink.

After that, Dad grudgingly accepted his place in the front passenger seat when either Larry or I drove. Six months before he passed away, Dad got a brand new shiny red mobility scooter. When I came over to have dinner that night in the Coburg dining room, Dad was already sitting on his new toy with a huge smile on his face. Mom and I followed him as he navigated his way down the long hallway to the open elevator door. Entering a little too fast, he gently hit the back wall. “I’m fine!” Dad said with a wink. “I got this!”

Of course he was fine! My father was finally in the driver’s seat again.

Where Was Freud When She Needed Him??

Some people don’t remember their dreams. Mine are so vivid that they have become at times their own reality, creating some very embarrassing moments.

When Larry and I first moved to Clifton Park in 1976, we didn’t know anyone. At the urging of Larry’s mom, a lifetime member of Hadassah, I joined the fairly new but very active Clifton Park chapter. The very first meeting I attended, I sat with a group of women who were also newcomers to the community. We became friends, and several of us became pregnant the same year. We attended Lamaze classes together, went to each other’s son’s bris, and attended La Leche League meetings together. Yes, 1978 was a bumper year for Clifton Park Hadassah babies.

When my son Adam was around eighteen months old, that core of Hadassah mothers, along with a few other friends, formed a playgroup for our children. Each week, we would take turns dropping off our child with the designated mother at ten o’clock in the morning. Seven of us would go off on our merry way, free from toddler responsibilities for two blissful hours. The assigned mother would organize activities for the day’s playgroup. During the winter months, the children played with toys, participated in an arts and crafts project, or enjoyed a story time. In the summer, the children went outside and played on the swing sets or in sandboxes. The mom-in-charge fed the children lunch—usually peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit juice and cookies. By twelve noon, the playgroup mom was more than ready to hand the visiting children back to their own mothers.

The group went well, and the children, for the most part, played well together. Yes, there were the expected outbursts and tantrums and fights.But this arrangement worked well for both the children and the mothers.

The eight of us became good friends, so I was saddened to hear that Fern, her husband Steve, and their son Marshall were moving to Chicago. I shared the news with my friend Diane during a phone call on a non-playgroup day.

Diane immediately questioned my information. “Are you sure?” she said. “I spoke to Fern yesterday, and she didn’t mention a thing about a move.”

“No,” I insisted. “Steve got a promotion with his company. Fern feels bad about leaving all her friends here, but she said this is an excellent opportunity for Steve. They are moving in two months.”

Diane was still doubtful. “Look, I have three-way calling on my phone. Let me get hold of Fern right now and the three of us can talk.”

I agreed and heard a few clicks and buzzes as Diane set up the conference call. We soon heard Fern’s hello.

“Hi Fern!” said Diane. “Marilyn was telling me that you are moving to Chicago!”

“I’m not moving to Chicago,” Fern immediately responded. “Where did you hear that, Marilyn?”

“We talked yesterday, I responded. “You told me all about Steve’s promotion and his transfer.”

“What promotion?” Fern said. “As far as I know, we are staying put in Clifton Park.”

It was just at that moment that the circumstances of my “conversation” with Fern fell into place. Horrified, I realized that this entire episode had taken place in a dream I had experienced the night before. Every moment of that dream came rushing back to me.

“Oh my G-d!”I exclaimed. “I am so very sorry! This whole conversation took place in my sleep!”

I was totally embarrassed. I stuttered my way through apologies to both Fern and Diane. They understood—as much as they could understand that this crazy lady couldn’t distinguish dreams from reality. And what if Fern thought it was ‘wishful thinking’?

All of the mothers in that playgroup remained friends through our children’s nursery school years that followed. Three years later, some of us mothers, who all delivered younger siblings in 1981, formed another playgroup with the same positive results.

Many of us joined the same synagogue. Even after some moved out of the area, we continued to stay in touch. We attended each other’s children’s bar and bat mitzvahs, rejoiced in their successes in high school and college, comforted each other during the sad times, and shared each other’s joy in our former toddlers’ marriages and the births of each other’s grandchildren. Obviously, Fern and her family didn’t move to Chicago. She and Steve still live in the same house that housed our sons’ playgroup over thirty-five years ago. She is currently president of Sisterhood and is stepping up to the plate to become the next president of Congregation Beth Shalom.

I still clearly remember the “conversation” I had with Fern. After that incident, I was a little more careful after waking up from a vivid dream. I have checked myself several times over the years, realizing that I was about to pull another “Fern Moment.” But I also remember our playgroup and the friendships that grew from those once-a-week get-togethers.

The Cohens Move to Keeseville

1959_05_03 Bill in Keeseville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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