Category Archives: Jewish Interests

Where have you gone,Bullet Joe?

Like many other boys who grew up during the 1950s and early 1960s, my husband Larry collected baseball cards. Each spring and summer, Larry would walk, run or bike to the corner market near his home in Saratoga Springs, New York, where he would exchange his nickel for a new hot-off-the-presses pack of cards. Once he entered high school, Larry lost interest and never again got caught up in the rush of completing a major league season’s set. There was only one exception, a caramel-coated summer when Larry took our family on a sweet journey to complete a set of cards highlighting baseball players from almost eight decades before.

Through the classic song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” baseball has always been linked with a popular popcorn and peanut confection that included a prize in each red, silver, and blue box. In the summer of 1993, one of the snacks’ promotions was a series of reproductions of two dozen 1915 baseball cards. Larry decided to buy a three-pack combo in order to see what the cards looked like.

Of course, like the saying associated with a famous potato chip, Larry just couldn’t stop at just one. After obtaining his first three cards, replicas of Christy Mathewson, Napoleon Lajoie, and Walter “Rabbit” Maranville, he was hooked—and determined to collect all twenty-four cards. Every time he went shopping, he brought home three to six more boxes to see which cards he could add to his pile. 

Our children, Adam and Julie, more than happy to eat the sweet treat, soon joined their father in his quest. Forty-five boxes later, along with thirty duplicates, we were up to fifteen of the two dozen cards. As we all became more determined, we bought and ate more boxes. We learned that the hot summer weather would make the contents of open boxes sticky and soft, and the solution was to keep them in the refrigerator. The sugar coated treat became the snack of choice and the number one offering to anyone who came to visit. 

As the weeks progressed, and the refrigerator became more filled with half-eaten, somewhat stale boxes, the quest became even more difficult. Seventy-two boxes later, we had collected twenty-one cards, as well as doubles, triples, and even quadruples of baseball immortals such as Ed Walsh of the Chicago Americans and Fred Clarke of the Pittsburgh Nationals. Unfortunately, there was not a Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, or Leslie “Bullet Joe” Bush to be found. 

In frustration, Julie wrote a letter to the company asking if she could be sent the three missing cards. (She decided not to add a suggestion that there be more peanuts in each box.) She received a relatively quick but, alas, disappointing response. The letter politely stated that it would not be fair to the collectors of their toys and cards if obtaining such items was as simple as writing and asking for them. As an act of good will, the company provided her with a fifty cent coupon good on her next purchase and a print-out listing fellow card collectors with whom she might be able to negotiate a trade. 

Rather than giving up our quest for the last three cards, we not only used the coupon but also kept buying and eating more. Larry was thrilled when, after 90 boxes, he finally got Honus Wagner. Unfortunately, almost every card for the next six boxes was—you guessed it—Honus Wagner. Tris Speaker arrived just before we left for Cape Cod for our annual vacation. We now needed one more card: “Bullet Joe” Bush

My hope that our vacation would include a respite from the snack was not answered. The day we arrived at our rented cottage at the Cape, I unpacked while the rest of my family headed out to pick up groceries. They came back with a week’s supply of food and a two-week supply of the snack.

Then three days into our vacation, while Larry was on a day trip to Nantucket with a friend, Adam opened a box and found the elusive Bullet Joe. Three months and 138 boxes into our mission, our collection was complete.

We were still not done. Larry realized that with so many duplicates, we were only a few cards short of two complete sets. It took another two weeks—twenty-one boxes—to complete the search.

Our family still reminisces about the summer of 1993 and our quest to find the elusive Leslie Bush. Even today, when we head to a spring training game or even a regular season match-up, Larry will buy the familiar red, silver, and blue box to get into the spirit of the game. I, for one, settle for the peanuts.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Was teaching high school a good idea?

I realized early in my adult life that there is a big difference between the career I envisioned and the job I actually had.

I wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember.  I would set my dolls around my stand up chalk board and teach them the alphabet. By the time I was in high school, I knew I wanted to go to college for a degree in teaching. My love of reading, combined with my interest in creative writing, made English education the right choice. Keeseville Central had a day every spring called Student Teacher’s Day.  Those of us who were interested and considered responsible were allowed to take over the classes of the teachers for the entire day.  In both my junior and senior years, I had the opportunity to take over for two of my English teachers.  I spent hours preparing lessons  on Greek and Roman mythology, The Outsiders by S. J. Hinton, and vocabulary.  I absolutely loved this opportunity to play “teacher for a day,” and it confirmed my career path. 

For my first two years at Albany State, I fulfilled several credits taking required courses, including American and English literature survey courses as well as biology, French, and music.  By my junior year, however, I was taking classes that allowed me to learn and participate in the classroom. My methods course required our putting together a unit plan on a specific topic, and my submission on the theme of War and Youth, not only received an A but also was used as a model for several years in the English education department. In my senior year, I finally had a chance to actually teach through my student teaching assignment in a high school in Schenectady, New York.

I thrived in front of a class, and I flourished putting together the lesson plans, the quizzes, the tests.  I spent hours planning and producing the necessary paperwork, but it was worth every minute to implement it. I was rewarded in the end with a five plus out of five score for my student teaching, with my advisor writing in his evaluation that I was a born teacher who was a natural in front of the classroom.

As the graduation date grew near, I started applying for a teaching position.  It was a tough time to get a job; there were not very many openings, and despite excellent evaluation, I couldn’t even get an interview.  In late June, however, a month after graduation, a break came through.  A high school English teacher had handed in his resignation the last day of school as he had decided to start a master’s program, and the principal wanted to fill the position before he left for his summer vacation.  I interviewed for the job and was hired on the spot.  

There was only one difficulty: the teacher I was replacing taught very unusual classes. Along with a standard tenth grade English class, he also taught numerous electives on such topics of supernatural fiction, science fiction, the police state in literature, and the American cinema. Because students had already chosen their courses that spring, I would be responsible for developing and implementing the curricula for the classes.  Over that summer, I read the novels and started creating plans.

The tenth grade students I greeted that first day took the change in teachers in stride, but the juniors and seniors who had signed up for the electives were disappointed to find that their anticipated teacher was gone and instead had a new, young teacher with high ideals and higher expectations.

This challenge was even made more difficult by what I learned from the students.  My predecessor had held seances during the supernatural classes, and the students in the cinema had spent time making movies. The initial comments from many entering my classroom were “Who are you? And what happened to the fun guy?”

I was at a complete loss in the Police State in Literature course:  The books ordered for the class included Brave New World, 1984, and Night. Meanwhile, many of the students were reading two or three years below grade level, certainly way below the level of the novels attached to the course. Especially problematic for me was teaching about the Holocaust. I was one of two Jewish teachers in the entire district in a school district with no Jewish students.

The result was an absolute disaster.  Despite a supportive principal and and supportive faculty, I was in over my head.  I spent every minute out of class working on lesson plans, projects, quizzes, including most weekends, but the plans that had served me so well in Methods and student teaching fell flat.  In addition to my difficulty with the implementation, I also was challenged by maintaining discipline. I was twenty-two years old, highly idealistic, and totally out of tune with those students who lacked motivation and any interest in what I was trying to do.  Although the majority of the students were good, a small group made it a point to see if they could disrupt my class. They talked, they threw spitballs, they refused to participate. It was a horrible year. After spending years dreaming about being a teacher, I realized that nothing I had done in college had ever prepared me to handle a real class, a real job.

By June, I was exhausted, stressed, and seriously wondering if I could learn enough from my first year to handle a second year in the classroom.  But the worst moment of that first year was yet to come.  About three weeks before graduation, yearbooks came in, and students were passing around their own copies for signatures from classmates and from teachers.  Two seniors, the children of highly respected members of the community,  came up to me with their yearbooks. With big smiles on their faces, asked me to autograph my picture. When they handed them to me, I was shocked and stunned to see that they had both drawn swastikas around my picture. I slammed the books shut, refusing to sign and making some comment about how some day they would look back on their yearbooks with shame. I told the principal, who called them in, but I don’t remember  the outcome of that discussion.

I did return in September.  I was more confident, more organized, more prepared, but I found teaching high school an uphill battle, a completely different experience than what I had dreamed.  I left in January, eighteen months after I started, enrolled in University of Albany’s master program in reading, and subsequently got a job teaching adult education.  It was in that scenario that I found my niche; classes were small and individualized, low-key, and I found it easy to relate to adult students, many of them highly motivated and focused in their wish to improve their reading and writing skills and obtain their General Equivalency Diploma (GED).

It has been almost fifty years since I walked out of my first teaching position.  I still think back to that experience and wonder if I could have done more to find a way to hold on until I gained enough experience and maturity to handle the real high school classroom.  I also wonder what happened to those two students who got so much pleasure that day from seeing my face when I saw those hated Nazi symbols next to my picture. Did they forget about it as soon as they graduated? Did their yearbooks land up on a dusty shelf, never to be looked at again?  Or do they occasionally pull out that book like I have done with my own high school yearbook, reminisce over pictures of their friends and their club shots.  Or do they come across my picture and felt regret, embarrassment, and shame? 

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York, in the February 27, 2014, issue.

My Love Affair with an Old Oak Table by Frances Cohen

My mother Frances Cohen (Z”L) wrote this story for her writing group in Coburg Village, Rexford around 2007.. It is included in the book she and I co-wrote,Fradel’s Story, available on Amazon.

For over fifty years, I’ve had a love affair with my old oak dining room table. Everyone prizes something more in his or her home than others do, and for me it is a 100-year-old piece of furniture.

Our family had recently moved to Keeseville from a tiny house in Potsdam, New York that had little furniture. One day, a customer shopping in our store told us that their parents were giving up their home on the farm and were moving in with them. They asked if we knew anyone who would be interested in buying their parents’ old oak table and chairs.

Bill and I told them that we would love to look at the dining room set. We fell in love with it the minute we saw it. The table was over fifty years old, but it was in good shape, had beautiful lion claws at the end of the legs, and would fit perfectly into the dining room of our old Victorian house. It could seat six, but when the four oak extension leaves were added, there was even more to love! We paid ten dollars for the table and five dollars for each of the six chairs. As soon as the table arrived in our home, it became part of the family.

If the table could talk, it would talk all about the wonderful times it shared with the Cohen family. Birthdays, anniversaries, Thanksgiving, Passover—all were celebrated around the oak table.

The table would also say that it felt elegant when it was dressed up in a beautiful damask tablecloth and matching napkins, and when the food was served on Bavarian china with sparking silverware and the drinks were served in stem glassware.

Even at more casual times, the table was always laden with tons of food. When anyone asks me if I was a good cook, I always said, “I’m not a gourmet cook. I just cook quantity!” With four growing children, a hungry husband, and lots of company, I had no choice. And the oak table always supported my spreads.

The table was not only for dining. The children preferred doing their homework on the table instead of the desks in their rooms. Sundays through Thursday nights during the school year, the table was buried in schoolbooks and papers. The table was also used as a game table. The children played card games like Fish, War, and Old Maid and board games like Monopoly and Scrabble. They put together 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles and set up toy soldiers in formation on its surface. On rainy days, a double sheet draped over the top turned the table into a tent, a stagecoach, or a playhouse. Bill and I played bridge and card games with couples. Several timesa year, Bill served as host for his poker game. The dining room was filled with smoke as the men drank soda and beer and snacked on Brach bridge mix and peanuts.

Our four children still talk about the birthday parties they celebrated with friends around the oak table. The menu was always the same: hot dogs and rolls, Heinz vegetarian beans, and potato chips for the meal, followed by a homemade birthday cake. The birthday child always got to help bake the cake from scratch or as the years went by, from a mix. Then the child helped frost the cake with confectionary sugar frosting and decorate it with the candies that came on a cardboard sheet that spelled out Happy Birthday and held the candles.

The table had its problems. One day there was a huge crash in the dining room. The old chandelier that hung above the table fell into the middle of the table. We were thankful that no one was hurt and that the table escaped with just a couple more scratches. Within a couple of days, the chandelier was replaced, and the table was back in service.

Time passed, and the table became the gathering place for celebrations of high school and college graduations and engagement parties. The children moved away, and we began spending more time in our cottage on Lake Champlain. In 1982, with retirement looming, we decided to sell the house in Keeseville and split our time between the cottage and Florida. We sold most of our furniture, but the oak table moved with us to the cottage. It fit beautifully in the large dining area. In the summer of 1983, we celebrated our retirement with a party of over fifty people. We set out tables and chairs on the lawn, but everyone came into the cottage for the buffet that was set up on our precious oak table.

Time passed, and grandchildren came to spend time at the cottage. The oak table again became the play table, as they loved to paint, color, and play games on the table.

By the year 2000, Bill and I were in our eighties, and we realized it was getting too much for us to maintain the cottage and decided to spend all our time in Florida. We were delighted when our son Jay and daughter-in-law Leslie opted to buy the cottage and keep it in the family. We could not make it up to the cottage for two summers. When we moved into Coburg Village in 2006, however, we finally had the opportunity to go up to the camp. When we visited, we realized that another generation is now enjoying the table. The top is a bit more worn and scratched, but the lion paws still shine and look like new. And so, our family’s romance with the one-hundred-year-old table continues.

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

A Meshugganah Summer

This was, to say the least, a different summer in Rockies. No matter how well one can plan for time away, life still happens. Meshugganah!

After eight wonderful days in California with my son Adam and his family, we flew into Denver and then headed for my daughter Julie’s home in Summit County. While unpacking, I realized my Kindle was lost in transit. I wish I had been able to brush the loss off as a human error, but I spent too much time trying to track it down (no luck at Southwest Airlines, either airport, or Enterprise), deciding on whether to order a replacement (thank goodness for a well-timed Amazon Prime Days sale) and beating myself up for losing it in the first place.

Although Summit County normally experiences the monsoon season in late July, this year it started soon after we arrived. Two days were complete washouts, but “weather” came in most days in early afternoon. As a result, most evening outdoor concerts, a favorite summer activity we have done in the past with family and friends, were cancelled.

Meanwhile, as has happened throughout the country, this very contagious COVID variant hit Summit County hard—and close to home. On July 1, the day we moved into our rental, we stocked up on groceries at City Market, along with many other maskless vacationers. We brought home chicken, produce, ingredients for challah baking, and COVID. By July 3, Larry was feeling under the weather; by July 5, he tested positive.

My May encounter with the nasty virus somehow protected me from this variant, but Larry was not spared. He was down for the count for five days and, as he was still testing positive, isolated for five more. He missed out on our Mountain Girl’s birthday party, several trips to Main Street to get her mango bubble tea, and many games of Sorry! FaceTime may be a blessing when we are in Florida; it was a poor substitute when our rental was literally a stone’s throw from their house.

We also both passed on the planned weekend getaway with Sam’s family in Granby, Colorado. Sam’s parents, Marilyn and Bill, who are also our dear friends, cancelled their second attempt to see us when Larry was hit by a mean head cold.

Although I hiked almost every day during Larry’s illness by just walking out of our rental, we were able to take our first hike together two and half weeks into our stay. Outside of my taking another one of my famous pratfalls on one, Larry being attacked by mosquitos despite the bug spray on the second, our almost getting caught in a thunderstorm on the third; and encountering a snake on the fourth, we had finally were able to spend quality time together on the trail.

By this time, Larry was well past COVID and colds. On July 21, Marilyn and Bill drove up from Fort Collins with plans for the seven of us to attend the National Repertory Orchestra’s annual pop concert in nearby Breckinridge. An hour before we were supposed to leave, the Mountain Girl came home from the fourth day of science camp with a live jelly fish and a lively case of COVID. The four grandparents went to the concert while Julie and Sam stayed home. Wisely, Marilyn and Bill drove the two hours back home immediately following the concert to avoid further exposure. The parents, however, were not so lucky. All three—five if you include the dog and “Jelly”—were now in quarantine. Sigh! We are back to FaceTime visits.

Meanwhile, a funny thing happened on our way to the Lake Dillon Theater. Soon after the NRO family no-go, we got an email stating both musicals for which we had purchased tickets were cancelled due to a COVID outbreak among the cast and staff. Yes, any live indoor performances in any “forum” were just an “impossible dream.”

And yet, despite lost electronics; despite monsoons, despite curtailed concerts and cancelled curtain calls; despite pratfalls and pests and the pandemic, Larry and I remained focused on the positive (no pun intended). Several mornings, with the help of FaceTime, Larry and I followed the Tour de France with Adam (who loves cycling) and our grandson (who kept asking for Elmo on the “TV”). For eight nights, Larry and I watched historical wins at the World Track and Field Championships out of Eugene, Oregon (Go Sydney McLaughlin! Go Armand Duplantis!). I researched future stories, wrote, articles, worked on my fourth book, and updated my blog. One of the pictures I took on a hike was featured in a local newspaper, prompting a friend email with the subject line, “Thinking of you…as a photographer!”

Once healthy, Larry resumed playing pickleball with the Summit County Pickleball Club (“We play with an altitude!”), along with doing several more hikes with me. Thanks to the local library and my new Kindle, I read lots of books. And even though Southwest has yet to locate my old Kindle, I was assured by a lovely woman in the Denver office that as it is one of 9000 items accumulated by the central lost and found office, I have a good chance of it being recovered by Chanukah. (Chag Sameach, Larry! You have been regifted!)

By the time we left the mountains, all my family members had completed recovered from COVID. We were safe and in one piece. We did not have to cancel entire vacations due to illnesses, a fate that befell two close relatives. We are not grieving and traumatized like so many families in Buffalo, Ulvalde, Highland Park, and other sites of senseless violence. And no matter what the weather, we spent six weeks basking in the beauty and cooler temperatures of the Colorado Rockies.

Furthermore, as I have done since the beginning of the pandemic, I kept calm and bake challah.On a Sunday afternoon, as a torrential rain storm raged outside our balcony, I cooked up dinner for my quarantined family—chicken, rice, carrots, and two freshly baked braided loaves. I kneaded in prayers for their quick recovery and prayers of gratitude for all the joy and happiness and love we have experienced this very different summer. 

View of the Rockies at Mayflower Gulch. This picture was featured in an issue of the Colorado Summit Daily.

I would do it all over again: Dealing with Aging Parents

My parents would have celebrated their 82nd anniversary on August 20. In honor of their memory, I am publishing this article which was first published in The Jewish World on January 15, 2015.

When my parents moved up from Florida to Coburg Village in 2005, we knew they were settling into a place that offered them independence and the kind of life they wanted to lead. As it was only four miles from our home, Larry and I, as well as my siblings, had peace of mind knowing we were close enough to be there when they needed us and to watch over their physical and emotional health. At times, however, providing that oversight was not easy.

Every Sunday, Larry and I had a standing date with my parents to go out to eat at a local restaurant. Mom’s favorite choice was a Chinese buffet as she loved spareribs and anything fried. Dad said he preferred Italian, although his choices in those restaurants were sometimes more McDonalds than mangiare bene. He once insisted on our driving to an Italian restaurant in Schenectady in the dead of winter and proceeded to order minestrone soup and chicken nuggets.

One week, on the advice of friends, we decided to take them to Verdile’s, a landmark Italian restaurant in Troy. As was the custom, Larry and I picked them up in the front of their building. I helped my father get into the front passenger seat, helped my mother get into the back seat behind Dad, and took my place behind Larry. Larry put the car in gear and headed to our destination. Around two miles down the road, my father said, “Oh, damn! I forgot my teeth!”

“We’ll turn around and get them,” offered Larry.
“That’s okay,” said Dad. “I can just gum my food.”
Larry ignored him and turned the car around.
When we got back to Coburg, I took my parents’ keys, went through he foyer, ran up the stairs to their second-floor apartment, unlocked the door, grabbed a set of dentures out of a bowl in the bathroom, wrapped them in a paper towel, relocked the door, and headed back to the car.

“Thanks, Marilyn,” said Dad, as he started putting them into his mouth. A second later, he yelled, “Hey! These aren’t my teeth!”

“Oh, they must be mine!” Mom chimed in from the back seat. “I forgot them, too! Hand them back, Bill!”

As Mom was getting her bridge into her mouth, I went back to the apartment, found the second bowl with Dad’s teeth on the bathroom vanity, and ran back to the car. Now that all the dentures were in place, we were ready to complete our trip to Verdile’s.

All was fairly quiet for a couple of miles. “I read an interesting article in Consumer Reports this week about one of my prescription medicines,” Dad piped up. “You know how I am always having to run to the bathroom? Well, that’s one of the side effects of one of the damn pills I have to take.”

“You have congestive heart failure, Dad,” I said. “Your doctor put you on diuretics to prevent fluid from building up in your lungs. You’ve landed in the Ellis Hospital emergency room three times since you moved here when you failed to take them.”

“Well, the heck with all these doctors!” said Dad. “I am tired of constantly having to pee. I’ve decided to stop taking them. Haven’t swallowed any of those suckers for four days!”

I immediately conjured up in my mind another ambulance ride for Dad and another lost day of work for me. Meanwhile, I thought Larry was going to drive off the road.

Mom patted my hand and whispered to me, “I’ll take care of this, sweetheart. Don’t worry.” By the time we got to the restaurant, all four of us were on edge, hungry, and ready for a good dinner. Fortunately, Verdile’s lived up to its reputation. Our pasta-based meals were delicious, and the staff was friendly, kind and accommodating. Judging from the demographics of the people sitting around the room, the staff in the restaurant was obviously used to serving senior citizens.

As our waiter cleared the table before he brought coffee, my mother popped out her bridge and wrapped it in a napkin. Although I was used to this in our own homes, I was a little grossed out that she was doing it in public. I also worried she’d lose the bridge—an expensive proposition.

I started to stammer an explanation and warning to the waiter. “Err…please don’t take the napkin. My mother’s teeth are in it.”

He broke out in a big smile. “Don’t worry! We’re used to that here. Can’t tell you how many times we’ve had to do a dumpster dive for a set of false teeth or a hearing aid!”

We drank our coffee, paid the bill, and drove my parents back to Coburg Village. The next day, I called my mother, and she assured me that Dad was back on his water pills.

“Thanks for dinner, Marilyn,” Mom said. “Dad and I really enjoyed our afternoon with the two of you. We’ll have to come up with another fun place to eat next Sunday.”

“Sure, Mom,” I said aloud. “Let’s do that!” In my mind, however, I was thinking, ‘Let’s just make it less exciting.’

The four of us enjoyed many more Sunday outings until my father’s passing in November 2008. Larry and I kept up the tradition with my mother until her death in March 2011. To this day, despite the misplaced teeth, the medical revelations, and the not-so-healthy Chinese buffets, we fondly remember those Sunday dinners we shared with Mom and Dad.

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.

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.