Category Archives: Upstate New York

This Bibliophile LOVES Libraries!!

Marilyn surrounded by one of her favorite things….books.

Recently, my husband Larry and I saw The Public. We knew little about the movie when we joined a sparsely filled ballroom in our community. By the time the end credits rolled, however, the two of us as well as others in the audience agreed it was one of the best movies of which we had never heard.

Written, directed, and starring Emilio Estevez, the plot centered on a fictionalized account of an act of civil disobedience that turns into a standoff with police when homeless people in Cincinnati take over the public library to seek shelter from the bitter cold. Sweet, interesting, and well-acted, the movie had not garnered much praise or hype, but it gave a compassion view of the homeless. More importantly, it was Estevez’s love letter to public libraries. The camera often captured not only the beauty of the building but also the beauty of literature, with views of large posters of Thoreau and Frederick Douglas and Jane Austin prominently displayed. 

My own love of libraries started when I was five years old. When the books in our house weren’t enough, I walked to the small but well-stocked red brick building around the corner from our house in Keeseville. An early and voracious reader, I once did two trips to the library in one day to replace the picture books I had taken from the six foot shelf and finished in an hour. On my third trip, the librarian told me that I needed to read “bigger books” and walked me to the bookshelf that backed up to Cat in the Hat and Curious George. Embarrassed but intrigued,I soon fell in love with classics by such writers as E.B. White, Marguerite De Angeli, and Beverly Cleary. When I was thirteen, my father introduced me to Ed McBain and the 87th Precinct, and took out one a week, along with other popular fiction. That little brick building remains as one of my favorite places from my hometown.

By the time I went to college, the library became a source of research and studious solitude. Whether exploring the shelves or figuring out how to thread the microfiche into the machines, I used the library throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies, conscientiously detailing my information on 3X5 index cards. In those days before computers, I also spent hours painstakingly typing in the source information into footnotes on the bottom of the white paper I had rolled into my Smith Corona.

When Larry and I purchased our first home in Clifton Park, I signed up for my first card in the library that was housed in an old schoolhouse provided in 1971 by the local school district for $1 a year. It looked and smelled like my old haunt in Keeseville. I was a little sad when the town built a newer but more institutional-like building a few miles away.

 As a child, I had been told that when it came to food, my eyes were bigger than my stomach. When it came to books, my eyes were bigger than my brain. With the new library’s increased size and volume, I started on a habit that I continue to this day, often taking out eight to ten items at a time. Fiction, non-fiction, DVD’s, tapes, magazines…whatever the library had to offer went into a huge tote bag I brought with me for that purpose. I also took care of Larry’s love for non-fiction, bringing him home books by David McCullough and Walter Issacson.

By that time, our children Adam and Julie were born, the tote bag also held children’s books. As a rite of passage, got their first library card as soon as they could sign their names. 

By the early eighties, I was debating whether to return to work or return to college for a master’s in Jewish Women’s Studies. After viewing the cost and the time, I decided to go the independent studies route. The wonderful librarians filled my requests for numerous books both on the shelves and available in area public and college libraries. I immersed myself in everything from Susan Brownmiller to Betty Friedan to Anzia Yezierska.When I finally returned to the classroom in 1986, I continued using resources from our local library to keep up with their ideas.

Sometimes, the library provided us withTMI—too much information. In high school, Julie did a research paper on Charles Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, an English author most well known for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass. Uncovering Dodgson history, which included a complicated relationship with the child Alice Liddell, who served as a basis for his most famous character, as well as his photographs of half nude children. In retrospect, Carroll is viewed as “a man you wouldn’t want your kids to meet.” 

In 2006, Shenendehowa opened up a beautiful new library almost triple in size of its previous facility. I visited the library at least once a week, carting home bags of books, magazines, and dvd. As many other town residents, I attended authors’ lectures, concerts, and special events, including a Holocaust Remembrance. 

When we moved to Kissimmee in 2015, Larry and I signed up for a library card even before all our boxes were unpacked. The Osceola library branch on Doverplum reminds me of the one story structure that Clifton Park built in the 90’s. Yes, t is smaller, but the librarians and its expansive website keep me in between the covers of enough books for me to satisfy my book addiction for the next hundred years.

Meanwhile, empty nesters since 2001, Larry and I travel more frequently. On one trip to Jamaica, I packed seven books for the seven day stay. Larry (and Larry’s back) protested. Soon after, I found out that the library had an extensive ebook collection. I now was able to travel with more books than I could ever read in one week on a device weighing less than 8 ounces. Although I still love the feel of a real book, I am grateful I have an alternative for travel (and reading in bed with the lights off). And through the miracles of the internet, I am now able to manage my account electronically, including my holds, loans, renewals, and all e-book downloads.

Not that we never buy books. I am a firm believer in independent bookstores, and I force Larry into everyone I see. We hit four in four cities in a recent trip in Alaska, and I visit The Next Page, a wonderful community resource in Frisco, Colorado. Each time my need to support these stores often wins over the need to stop stuffing our bookshelves. 

Thankfully, the easy access to libraries throughout my life has helped our pocketbooks. According to according to a 2018 study by Pew Research, the average hardcover book retails for an average of $27.50. As my yearly goal is to read 100 books, I save $2750 a year using my library, and that doesn’t even include the price of magazines and DVDs!

In The Public, the Jeffery Wright character states, just before he joins the standoff with the homeless, “The public library is the last bastion of democracy that we have in this country!” The American Library Association agrees. “Libraries ensure people have access to information and lifelong learning regardless of age, education, ethnicity, gender, language, income, physical limitations or geographic barriers,” states their website.  “With over 17,000 library buildings and bookmobiles in communities, public libraries are essential community institutions that deliver the resources their communities need to thrive.” Libraries have helped me and my family thrive, and I, like the characters in The Public, will continue to support them. 

First published in (Capital Region NY)Jewish World, October 17, 2019

Even small mitzvahs count! Feeling good while doing good!

My granddaughter getting her postcards from her family’s mailbox.

Do your little bit of good where you are; It’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Desmond Tutu.

This morning, as I have done almost every Monday morning for the past four years, I mailed out a small stack of postcards. Just call it my very small attempt to do little bits of good.

In January 2012, my husband Larry and I were still living in Upstate New York. Doris Calderon, who had recently been diagnosed with cancer, needed to undergo extensive treatments at Sloan Kettering in New York City. She and her husband Marty recruited several friends to make weekly visits with Marty’s 99-year-old mother-Rose, who resided in the Memory Enhancement Unit (MEU) at Daughters of Sarah Senior Community in Albany. 

Thus began a friendship between Rose and me that continued until her passing over two and a half years later.A couple of months into my visits, I coordinated with the social director for the MEU to conduct activities with other residents. Doris returned, thankfully healthy, but I continued my visits with Rose and residents of the MEU.

In the fall of 2012, during one of my visits,  I struck up a conversation with a young man whom I had seen maneuvering his wheelchair around the building. This began a a second friendship at Daughters of Sarah in which I visited every week. Marc was thirty-four years old and had become a quadriplegic after a freak motorcycle accident when he was 16. After many years at home, he had moved to Daughters eight years earlier.

When Rose passed away after her 101birthday, I continued my weekly visits with MEU residents as well as Marc. Most of the time, Marc and I chatted in his room. When I finally got the courage to take him for outings in his fully equipped handicap accessible van, we took impromptu field trips —a Chinese restaurant, Five Guys, Walmart, a local mall. I treasured each of those visits with him. 

When Larry and I decided to relocate to Florida, telling Marc about our impending move was one of the hardest conversations I had during our transition. On the last visit before we left, I promised him that I would keep in touch with him. It is a promise I kept, mostly through postcards.

The first one I sent was corny: “Greetings from Florida!”with a picture of an alligator wearing a bikini. Soon after our move, we headed out to Colorado to await the birth of our grandchild. Marc received postcards reflecting the Rockies—moose, bear, majestic mountains. I scribbled out a short note telling him about our hiking adventures, and then about our beautiful new granddaughter.These were followed by postcards from San Francisco—cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge— when we visited our son before returning to Florida. 

When we came back to Albany for Thanksgiving in 2015, the first stop was Daughters of Sarah to visit Marc. On his wall were all the postcards that I had sent him from around the country. While there, I connected with the social director and arranged that I would also send weekly postcards to the MEU.

My message on Marc’s postcards usually were comments about the front image as well as personal updates and questions about how he was doing. Those addressed to the residents were aimed to foster discussion. “Have you been to Colorado?” “What winter sports did you enjoy?”.“What is your favorite Disney character?” “Have you ridden the cable cars in San Francisco? If so, describe what it was it like.” 

Most of the time, however, I was sending postcards from our home near Orlando. I became concerned that too many were Florida-centric.After all, how many pictures of alligators and Mickey Mouse could anyone want? Through the president of our community’s local travel club, I asked members for help in obtaining cards from other places. Soon, members were providing me with dozens of interesting postcards from around the world. . I let Marc and the MEU know I had not just returned from an around-the-world trip, but it has helped vary both the places and the messages I provide. 

By this time, my granddaughter was two years old. Living almost two thousand miles away from her was a challenge. Larry and I FaceTimed often, but I wanted to show her in writing that I was thinking of her. Eureka! Why not sent her a weekly postcard? Soon after we returned from Colorado in August 2017, I sent her a  postcard with a message saying how much we loved seeing her and signed “Love, Gammy and Zayde.”

When we visited in March, she proudly showed me a box with all the postcards she had received. One of my favorite pictures from that trip is the picture of her gleefully holding three postcards that were awaiting her in their mailbox in the town’s post office.

Now three postcards were being mailed out every Monday morning. Most of the time, they were triplicates, but Larry and I had fun finding some that were uniquely for our granddaughter. She got more than her share of Disney princesses and cute animals. 

My favorite? Our 2018 summer visit to Colorado fell during our granddaughter’s toilet training, and Larry and she had spent-(according to not only me but her parents) too much time watching a Pac-man Pooping video. Less than two weeks later, while on a tour of Norway, we mailed her a scatologically themed postcard which featured a little blonde Troll sitting on a potty seat with a big smile as the overflowing poop fertilizes flowers. Judging from both the wear-and tear and its prominent position on the bookcase in her bedroom, it is her favorite as well. 

Sending out weekly postcards takes little time but provides me with much joy in that I am keeping connected to friends and family no matter what the distance. 

First published in (Capital Region, New York) Jewish World, August 2019

The pooping troll that my granddaughter loved to receive!!


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.

Pickleball makes a dink shot among sports lovers…

Pickleball, Pickleball, how I love the game,/Pickleball, Pickleball, what a silly name/ When I play, every day, my body is in pain/ But you know, I can’t stop, unless it starts to rain!! (Parody sung to tune of O Chanukah!)

What? You haven’t heard of pickleball! Have you been living under a marinated mushroom?

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America. According to the USA Pickleball Association, there are over 3.2 million pickleball players in the United States alone, 5,000 indoor and outdoor courts in the United States; and at least one location in all 50 states.The game is being introduced to kids and teenagers in physical education classes in middle and high schools.

Pickleball was the brainchild of former Washington State representative Joel Pritchard. Summer, 1965, he and two friends came home from golf to three bored families. Their attempt to play badminton was thwarted by the fact that a shuttlecock was no where to be found. Undaunted, they retrieved a Whiffle ball, improvised some paddles with some plywood, and lowered the badminton net to compensate.  His wife Joan dubbed the game “pickleball” after the “Pickle Boat” in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats

Although pickleball languished in obscurity for almost fifty years, that all changed when Baby Boomers began to retire. Many “seniors”  still wanted to compete and win at a sport but lacked their youthful running abilities According to an article on the AARP website, pickleball, which  combined elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis, filled that need. Games usually last 10 to 15 minutes, so players can take frequent breathers. Since the court is small and most people play doubles, there’s no serious running — making it easier on the knees. The lightweight paddle and plastic ball reduces the chances of tennis elbow; having two people on the team reduces the area of play. 

My husband Larry picked up the game when he turned 65 and joined Southern Saratoga YMCA in Clifton Park [New York].  Larry had been involved in sports his entire life—basketball, baseball, and track in his youth and running and cycling as an adult. In pickleball, he has found camaraderie as well as the ability—to quote Jimmy Buffet—“to grow older but not up.” He has participated in several tournaments but prefers to play for the exercise, the fun, and the socialization. During the summer, Larry plays with the Summit County pickleball league in Colorado. As the group plays at over 9100 feet, their tee shirts proudly proclaim, “We Play With An ALTITUDE!”

When we moved to Florida, one of Larry’s  requirements was that the community had an active pickleball presence. Solivita, which is isted by www.55.com as one of the top five 55+ communities for pickleball, has seventeen outdoor  courts. The Smashers, the largest sports club in Solivita, has over 1000 members and growing. Along with hosting the Polk Senior Games, the club also holds Sadie Hawkins, Halloween, and Yearling (new players) games. 

Tom Leva, the Smasher’s president, first played the game in pickleball in 2007. After moving to Solivita in 2008, Tom, who had a history of heart problems, lost 40 pounds and was soon playing the game competitively and teaching new players. Although reoccurring cardiac issues has curtailed his game, he has remained on the board and has been behind the expansion and improvements of the pickleball courts. 

When they moved to Solivita in 2015, Dave and Patti “Smith” were tennis players who were not going to ever play that silly game called pickleball.  After their neighbors gave them paddles and took them out to play, they soon became self-professed pickleball addicts.  They enjoy sharing their love of the game with others and meeting so many interesting people. Patti is looking forward to playing in the Florida Senior Games in December.

Sandie and Howie Vipler, fellow YMCA pickleballers, recognized soon after picking up the game in 2012 that Clifton Park lacked outdoor courts. Howie reached out to Phil Barrett, the town supervisor, who agreed to fund painting pickleball lines on  some of the town tennis courts. They have moved themselves and  their equipment to Virginia, where they continue to play almost every day. 

Meanwhile, Sandie, who has a sports resume that includes downhill skiing, kayaking, cycling, and golfing, regards pickleball as her favorite. She plays pickleball 5 to 6 days a week for 2 to 3 hours a day. She revels in the compliments she gets from new competitors, including “You play tall for a short person” and “Wow, look at the wheels on her!” At 68 years old, Sandie vows that she will be playing until she can no longer walk.

That hasn’t stopped Brenda Taylor. Brenda had to have a leg amputated after a 1998 motorcycle accident and desperately wanted to find a way to get exercise while in her wheelchair. Except for an extra bounce before returning the serve, the rules are basically the same. Her proudest moment playing the game is when people compliment on her backhand shot. 

Mel Toub had played tennis and racquetball in his youth. Now in his late sixties and facing health challenges, he has mixed those two sports with pickleball. “Pickleball has wide appeal to both folks who used to play racket sports in their youth and to seniors who wish to remain active but no longer have the stamina or physical ability to play more demanding sports like basketball, soccer, and tennis,” said Mel.   “The learning curve to play pickleball at a socially acceptable level is fairly quick, so pickleball becomes a route to a new activity and new sets of friends.”

The game is growing internationally, with many European and Asian countries adding courts. Personal friends from England, Wales, and Canada have gotten hooked on the game after playing in Florida, Rob Harvey located an indoor pickleball facility near his home in Barhead, Alberta. “The game is great for eye-hand coordination. It keeps me  limber and helps the joints.” Pickleball also helps him keep in shape for his  summer baseball league.

Lynda and Steve Gorwill from Wales fell in love with the game after playing the game while on vacation in Florida. Last year, Lynda applied for and received a grant from Wales’ sports council to establish a pickleball league in her town. Although she has had roles in an English soap opera, Lynda still considers one of her proudest moments  was winning a silver medal in her first pickleball tournament in Abingdon Oxforshire, England.

Margaret and Peter Hunter were “kitted” with paddles and balls while visiting Larry and me in Solivita last November. “Within two minutes we were captivated, line, hook and sinker.” They are looking to returning to our area for another American Thanksgiving and another month of pickleball and miss it when they are at home in England. 

Not that pickleball doesn’t come with its hazards. Sharon and Rick McKelvey both ended up with torn meniscus surgery after a year of playing at Solivita. “That wasn’t fun,” said Sharon, another admitted addict,  “but it didn’t stop us from returning to the game.” Debbie Pratt broke a vertebra in her back after she took a bad fall moving backwards to return one of Larry’s volleys. She no longer plays pickleball, but her injury certainly didn’t scare off other women in her RV resort on the West Coast of Florida, who are appropriately called  “The Sweet Pickles.”

Marta Groess, a lifelong athlete and a member of Smashers, says that the most important feature of the game is that it is FUN! “I  tell new players that if they aren’t laughing, they aren’t playing the game right.”

Linda Kuhn, the Smasher’s treasurer, hadn’t played a sport since high school but now she is addicted, sometimes playing 2 to 4 hours in the Florida heat. “Pickleball gives me such a sense of contentment,, Linda said. The game  has reaffirmed my decision that as I age, I am going out with a roar!”

Is pickleball a Jewish game. Well, it certainly isn’t called “kosher pickle” ball! Until that happens, many people-Jews and non-Jews alike—can find America’s favorite new sport fun. 

Originally published in The Jewish World. October 4, 2018

The Creature Calls…..

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The Creature of the Black Lagoon display at Wakulla Springs State Park, Tallahassee, Florida.

While my husband Larry and I were visiting friends in Tallahassee, Florida, recently, the four of us went to Wakulla Springs State Park. The 6,000 acre wildlife sanctuary offers a magical forty-five minute boat ride that takes its passengers past cypress groves, lovely springs, and a plethora  of wildlife. Our tour guide, a woman named Connie, navigated the boat through a narrow, shaded section of the ride and announced that this was the area in which Creature of the Black Lagoon was filmed in 1954.

Fear, Shock, Disgust?

I was all too familiar with the Creature of the Black Lagoon. When the movie arrived in Keeseville, New York, in 1955, my nine-year-old brother Jay had made plans to see it with a group of his friends. My mother, busy with a newborn, insisted that Jay take me, his five-year-old sister, along. We walked around the corner to the old theater in our small Upstate New York town, my brother grumbling all the way. The first fifteen or so minutes were fine. The minute I saw the huge black amphibian-like creature emerge from the water, however, I became so frightened that I started screaming and crying. Jay had to leave his friends and popcorn behind to bring me home. “I told you I didn’t want to take her with me!” my brother loudly complained to my mother. It was years before he took me to the movies with him again. The next horror movie I saw in its entirety was Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, when my college showed it on one of its movie nights.

Nightmares for Weeks!

I didn’t fare any better with scary television shows. On November 11, 1960, my parents hosted a party for a group of their friends. My sister Laura and my brother Jay were supposed to be watching me in the family room while the adults congregated in the living and dining rooms. I insisted on staying awake, even when the Twilight Zone came on. The episode Rod Serling introduced that night was “Eye of the Beholder.The now classic told the story of a young woman lying in a hospital bed, her head swathed in white bandages. She awaits the outcome of a surgical procedure performed by the State in a last-ditch attempt to make her look “normal”. In the end, the doctor and nurses, who are only heard but not seen, remove the bandages to reveal a beautiful woman. As the medical team gasp with disappointment and revulsion, the camera moves to their twisted, grotesque faces. Beauty, it seemed, was in the eye of the beholder. In a scene reminiscent of what happened five years before in the movie theater, I screamed in fear and went running into the living room. The guests all trickled out as my parents tried to calm down their hysterical ten year old. 

The end result was—well—“horror-able.” I had nightmares for weeks. Laura and Jay were grounded for months. And it took years for me to watch the complete episode—ten months short of forty years, to be exact. On New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1999, one of the cable stations offered a Twilight Zone marathon. The-episode-not-to be-named was shown between 11:30 pm and midnight. I watched it until the end, when the beautiful woman (played by Donna Douglas of later Beverly Hillbillies fame) was led out of the hospital by an equally handsome man to a place that accepted “ugly” people as their normal. It was only until the credits rolled did I turn the station to Dick Clark’s show and watch the ball drop at Times Square to mark the new millennium.

Avoidance Works

For my entire life, I have avoided scary movies unless they are very old (The original versions of Phantom of the Opera and Frankenstein), very funny (Little Shop of Horrors; Young Frankenstein), or very well acted. (Silence of the Lambs; The Sixth Sense).

However, let’s face it. Children’s movies can be scary. Larry was so traumatized by the Wicked Witch of the West when he first saw The Wizard of Oz as a four year old that he refused to watch the annual television broadcast for years. The evil queen in Disney’s Snow White was as frightening to me when I was a child as Hannibal Lecter was to me as an adult. And the sea witch Ursula in The Little Mermaid still chills me to the bone when she appeared in her plump purple presence both on film and on the stage. But these animated antagonists who provided the tension in the children’s classics didn’t scare me enough to turn them off.

Once I became a parent, I shared my love for fairy tales with all their heroes and heroines and scary villains with Adam and Julie. Thanks to Blockbuster and our VCR, we watched Dorothy, Snow White, Cinderella, Aladdin, and Ariel confront and conquer their demons again and again and again.

In 1991, when Adam and Julie were thirteen and ten respectively, Beauty and the Beast was released. It remains one of my favorite movies of all time, up there with Casablanca and Schindler’s List. I was drawn to Belle’s intelligence, her feminist streak, her strength. And I loved the Beast, with all his bluster and bellows, for his transformation into a loving, caring individual once he both received and gave the gift of love.

Monsters Everywhere

Julie told me this summer that my two-year-old granddaughter Sylvie loved the music from the movie, and I was more than willing to share my enthusiasm with her. Together Sylvie and I listened to the sound track, watched some clips on You Tube, danced to the title song across the living room floor, and sang the songs on the way to her daycare. By the end of the summer, I had purchased the movie and downloaded it to my laptop. Sylvie sat on my lap and watched mesmerized the entire length of the film.

When Larry and I returned to Colorado in October, however,  Sylvie’s attitude changed. Yes, “Little town, little quiet village…” was fine. But the minute the Beast arrived on the scene, Sylvie hid her face in her hands and said, “I no want to watch the Beast! I scared!” My showing her that short segment triggered a fear of all monsters, the ones in her closet, the ones under her bed, the ones hiding in the trees. 

So the movie is off the radar for a while. Maybe by next summer, she will realize that Gaston, the handsome but chauvinistic and selfish oaf, is much more frightening than the considerate, loving Beast. Maybe she will have to wait five or ten or even forty years to watch the movie in its entirety. And maybe, like Rod Serling’s classic, she will realize like my heroine Belle that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Originally published in The (Capital District) Jewish World, January 11, 2018

My house was a very, very fine house….

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And Marilyn makes five….Me in Potsdam 1952.

 

My mother Frances Freydl Cohen wrote down many family stories to share with her children and grandchildren. The following story describes our home in Potsdam, New York.

In 1948, my husband and I were living in New London, Connecticut. Now that the war was over, my husband Bill was concerned that his job was insecure. When my brother Eli offered him an opportunity to become a partner in his retail-clothing store in Potsdam, New York, we decided to make the move.

The big problem was that there was a big housing shortage. The only place we could find to live was a small new two-bedroom house that was barely adequate for Bill, me, and our two children.

Our first winter in Potsdam was a very traumatic one. Our six-year-old daughter started first grade. She came home with everything but an education. First she came down with measles. One month later, she came down with the chicken pox. Each time, she gave the illness to her two-year-old brother.

Spring finally came and my parents were finally able to visit us. The couch in the living room opened to a bed, so our living room became our guest room. We bought a double collapsible bridge table and our living room also served as a dining room.

Laura wanted to take piano lessons, so my parents bought her a small reconditioned upright piano that just fit on one wall.

Things were running smoothly. Our children made friends. We made friends. We especially loved going to the outdoor movie theater in the summer. The admission for a whole family was nine dollars. We would dress the children in pajamas and they slept on pillows in the back of our red station wagon while we watched the movie.

Things changed when I realized that I was pregnant with my third child. Babies are little but take up a lot of room. The kitchen was so small that I could stand in one place, open the fridge and take a chicken out, turn around and wash the chicken in the sink, turn again and place the chicken in the oven. Where would I put a high chair in that small kitchen?

But Bill and I always planned on more children, so all the family was thrilled when our daughter Marilyn arrived in September.

Picture our home nine months later. In addition to our couch, two chairs, and a piano, we had the following in the living room:  a playpen, a baby carriage, toys, and shoes and boots on the floor as we did not have a foyer or a garage. The master bedroom now had a crib and a dressing table for the baby. As it was a new house with no trees and situated on top of a windy hill, the house was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. In addition, the basement always had water, the depth depending on the weather. Despite the crowded and less than ideal conditions, we were happy in our little home, which we called the “Rubber House” as it stretched.

We were even happier when my brother’s wife announced that they were going to have their first baby. Two months before the baby arrived, I planned a baby shower for her. The day of the shower, we collapsed the playpen and the baby shower and opened the double bridge table. Bill took our three children to my brother’s. I served tea sandwiches, dessert, and coffee to eight women. We all enjoyed opening the baby gifts.

Soon after that, I could no longer put off the gall bladder surgery that I needed since my first symptoms appeared when I was pregnant with Marilyn eighteen months earlier. The surgery was difficult and the recovery even more so, especially with three children. Fortunately, Bill and my brother waited until I recuperated fully to tell me that the store could not support two growing families.

In a short time, we decided to open a store in Keeseville, New York. Bill went to Keeseville to plan to open the new store, and I stayed in Potsdam to sell the house.

One day the agent called to tell me that he was bringing a couple to see the house. The sun was out, and it was 90 degrees outdoors and indoors. But miracles do happen. By the time they arrived, the sun went down and a strong wind came up. The basement happened to be fairly dry that week. When the couple arrived, they said our place was the coolest in town and our basement had the least amount of water.

Now that the house was sold, our family was ready to start a new chapter in our lives in Keeseville New York in our eight-room house.

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.