Tag Archives: #covid19

Hat Tricks, or All’s Well That Ends Well

“I’m organized. I just can’t find anything.” Saying on CJ Bella Co. Tea Towel

Spending a good part of last summer in Colorado with our six-year-old granddaughter reaped incredibly wonderful moments for my husband Larry and me. The first hugs after a year of seeing her only on Zoom because of the pandemic. Reading her books and playing Candy Land and War and Pete’s Birthday Party. Having her knock on the door of our rental at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning with a newspaper in her hand and her announcement, “I am here for breakfast.” Extending my stay so I was able to join my daughter Julie and son-in-law Sam in walking her to her first day of first grade. I made enough memories to almost sustain me until we can see her again.

What was not incredibly wonderful was keeping track of all the items our six-year-old dynamo left behind. Larry and I had rescued her baseball butterfly hat from the local recreational center’s lost and found. Julie found her lost raincoat at her Fun Club two weeks after my granddaughter had left it there. In the meantime, Julie had to buy another one in a larger size. It was a little big, but Summit County was getting above average rain in July, and there was no choice.

Both Julie and Sam dealt with the lost-and-found-problem quite calmly to a point. But when Julie realized that their daughter’s favorite hat was missing the day before they were to leave for their planned one-week rafting trip, well, Julie lost it—her cool that is!

The first we heard about the missing hat was on the Sunday morning before their trip.

“Come over for pancakes,” Julie’s text read. “And can you check your condo to see if you have the butterfly hat?” 

Yes, our granddaughter was wearing a hat on Friday. She had it in the car when we drove down to Main Street for some bubble tea at the Next Page Book Store. In the picture I had taken of her sitting on Zayde’s lap listening to a story in the town promenade, she was hatless. But I vaguely remember taking the floppy hat festooned with butterflies and dragon flies from her outstretched hand before she hung upside down from the ropes at the playground in Walter Byron Park. I thought I had stuffed it in my pocket and returned it safely when we drove her home.

But it wasn’t in their house. And it did not appear to be in our condo. Or in our car. Or at the condo’s pool area. When we arrived at their house that morning, Julie was flipping her oatmeal pancakes with obvious annoyance.

“I can’t believe that people don’t keep track of her things when they are responsible for watching her,” she said, digging her barbs into both her parents and poor Sam. “First one hat; then a raincoat, now another hat!.Doesn’t anyone ever check to see if she has left anything behind?”

Even though I was thinking, “Maybe the child needs to be responsible!” I kept my mouth closed. Besides, Julie’s guilt trip was working. After breakfast, I walked the two minutes back to our rental and did a second, more thorough search. I checked pockets and backpacks and drawers. I checked under the bed and under the couch and under the seats of our car. It was nowhere to be found. 

By the time I got back to their house, Julie and Sam were fully engaged in getting ready for their seven day trip. Having to limit myself to under fifty pounds of stuff for our nine weeks Out West, it actually looked easier than gathering everything they needed for camping and rafting. Larry and I entertained our granddaughter with books, puzzles, and games, trying to stay out of the way of the oars, coolers, rucksacks stuffed with clothing and towels, bottles of suntan lotion and bug spray, sleeping bags, a paddle board, and enough food and drink for a small army.

By the time we finished lunch, I needed a break and a possible chance at redemption. 

“I’m walking downtown to see if I can find the lost hat,” I said. “If that fails, I will see if I can find a replacement.”

I first checked the bookstore’s lost and found. Lots of sunglasses a set of keys, but no hat. I then walked through Walter Byron Park, Someone had hung up a slightly worn “Get high in Colorado” teeshirt on the park sign, but no hat. I then walked back to Main Street and began checking out the hat racks that were set up in front of many of the stores, another exercise in futility. Too big. Too small. Wrong print. Wrong color. I stuck on my mask and began checking out inside inventories. I finally saw a possibility. Right size. Pink (Her favorite color). No butterflies, but lots of bright flowers. I snapped a picture, texted it to Julie, and then followed it up with a phone call.

“The hat wasn’t in the bookstore or the park, so I decided to check the stores,” I said. “Look at the picture on your text. I think you will love it.”

“Mom,” Julie replied a few seconds later. “ The hat is adorable, but we are not missing the floppy dragonfly hat.We are missing the baseball butterfly cap!”

“She wasn’t wearing her baseball butterfly cap on Friday,” I said testily. “She was wearing her floppy butterfly hat.”

“That’s her dragonfly hat as it has dragonflies and butterflies,” Julie said. “We have that one!”Then she added sheepishly. “I guess you and Dad didn’t lose it after all.” Long pause. “Hey, at least you got your exercise in!”

She was right. By the time I got home, I had walked over three miles looking for a hat that we had never lost in the first place.

I also realized that we had seen a girl’s butterfly baseball cap the day before at the REI in the next town over. I called the outdoor retailer and asked the clerk to put it aside for my daughter. No longer feeling magnanimous or generous, I made no move to pick up either the hat or the cost. After realizing the Fun Club lost and found box was locked up because of a field trip, Julie drove over to Silverthorne and bought it herself.

The following Sunday night, Julie, Sam, and my granddaughter returned from their camping trip, First thing Monday morning, Mother and Daughter walked over to Fun Club, where the missing hat was waiting in the lost and found box. 

“This warrants a story, you realize,” I told her the next day while sitting at her kitchen table on my computer. Julie just shrugged. And I started typing away.

Keep calm and carry on? A return to tradition

Flashback to March 14, 2020. COVID-19 was the top news story. My daughter Julie and her family were leaving for the Orlando airport after a week’s stay. We had spent a few days on the beach and been delighted  by news of the birth of our grandson in a San Francisco hospital. We had cancelled our planned visit to Magic Kingdom the day before Disney announced it was closing the park that weekend. Instead, we spent hours in a community pool making sure we weren’t too close to anyone else. 

Julie’s last words as she got into her rental car were, “Mom and Dad, promise us you will stay safe!” She begged us to skip our plans to see Death Trap, which was being performed by our local theater group that evening. She must have called her brother, because Adam FaceTimed us an hour before we were to leave for the play. “If you stay home, I will keep the camera on your new grandson for the next hour.” Seeing our grandson won. We had no idea we would be feeling its effects—masks; sheltering in place; cancelled trips; cancelled events; hours of Netflix’s and puzzles; new variants; tragically, loss of friends to the virus—for the next two years.

Within the first month of the pandemic, I decided that celebrating with a Sabbath dinner every Friday would bring some joy. I polished my grandparents’ candlesticks; bought a new Kiddish cup on ebay (I must have lost mine in our move); brought out my embroidered challah cover, and located a friend’s challah recipe I had always meant to try. With some difficulty—the whole world decided along with me to make bread—I purchased flour, yeast, and sugar to make the traditional Shabbat bread. And I mixed and kneaded and braided my first challahs. Delicious! 

The following Friday, I was a little more confident. I made four small ones, and shared one with president of our (closed down) shul and one with a friend whose wife had just been placed in memory care.By April, I had totally embraced not only the baking process but also the spiritual elements. I learned that it was appropriate to say prayers during the kneading process, a way of feeding the body and the soul. I initially prayed for my family as well as our country and for all impacted by the pandemic. But my prayers soon extended to the sick, the grieving, the lonely. I kept a Mi Shebeirach list on my phone as reminders and often played Debbie Friedman’s version of the beautiful prayer as I kneaded the pliant, soft dough.

We developed a rhythm: Every Friday afternoon I baked the challahs, and just before sunset, Larry would head off in our car, delivering two or three still warm fragrant loaves to needy people in our community. When I couldn’t physically share them, I attached pictures of the challah onto an email with a note. “I kneaded prayers of healing into this loaf of bread. Thinking of you. Love, Marilyn.”

By the time Larry and I were finally able to travel to see our children and grandchildren in June 2021, I was a seasoned challah maker—to a point. Baking bread in someone else’s kitchen proved to be a challenge. In San Francisco, I realized the sound of the mixmaster cranking out the initial steps of challah process woke my grandson from his nap. In Colorado, the 9100 foot elevation resulted in loaves that looked more like amoebas. I had to learn to work around nap time and altitude. 

Meanwhile, I was tweaking my technique. I replaced the butter in my friend’s recipe with canola oil, which meant less noise and more kneading time, my favorite party of the process. Rocky Mountain challahs, I learned, needed to go into the oven immediately after braiding to prevent over-rising. A straight egg yolk wash resulted in browner, shinier loaves, which Larry wholeheartedly approved “This is the way challah is supposed to look,” he said, biting into the harder crust.

Over the past two years, I have baked and shared dozens of challahs, many that were appearing on our shul’s Zoom services. As our world finally has begun opening up, however, finding the time to make the challahs on Friday has been more difficult. I “cheat”by making seven or eight loaves and freezing 2-4 braided unbaked challahs, to be defrosted and baked when needed. (I still feel Jewish guilt when I use that shortcut!)

Friends have asked me if they could buy my challahs or even sell them at our Farmer’s Market. I decline, telling them emphatically I am not starting a new career. Instead, I offer them my challah “recipe,” a nearly 3000 word tome with numerous tips. Recently, I even invited two friends over for a “challah workshop.” After we all enjoyed slices oof the warm loaves smothered with butter, they went home with a batch of the still-rising dough they had prepared. They sent me pictures of their finished creations, beautiful in their own right. I am just following an old Yiddish expression: “Give people a challah, and they eat for a day. Give them a recipe, and they become challah bakers!”

Initially, I was hopeful that this would be the last article I would be writing about the pandemic. Two vaccines and two boosters later, Larry and I have pretty much resumed our lives. But there are now disturbing numbers that show another upward trend. Will we have to resume mask wearing? Sheltering in place? Only time will tell. 

When I wrote this mid-April, I was on a challah hiatus. Instead, Larry was enjoying sponge cake, Passover popovers, and matzo brie. But Passover ended next Friday. I soon will be pulling out the ingredients for the challah and donning my special apron. Stay safe, my friends.Better yet, Keep Calm and Bake Challah.

Wrestle with COVID leaves survivor a changed woman

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” Haruki Murakami

Ever since the first cases of COVID-19 were identified, America has been divided regarding wearing masks, gathering in large groups, or, most recently, getting one of the variants of the vaccine. Heated arguments have occurred in government institutions to sports venues to houses of worship to classrooms to local bridge groups. For Kathy Glascott, a COVID-19 survivor, such protocols are not a matter of personal choice but a matter of social responsibility.

A former elementary school teacher, from Buffalo New York, Kathy Glascott was the happiest she had been in many years.  She had retired to a 55-plus community near Orlando, Florida, and, as was her style, she showed up for life. She was involved in several activities including the British Isles Heritage  Club, the Western Upstate New York club, and SOL Writers. A widow, she met her significant other Mike through the community’s Singles group, and they were having fun, going to concerts and dances and traveling to places of which she had only dreamed.“It was like being a teenager again,” she said.

Then, in February 2020, the unsettling news of a virus later identified as COVID-19 began to emerge. Heeding the early advice of medical experts, Kathy sheltered in place and tried to avoid exposure. Short on groceries, she took a risk and went for a quick supermarket run. “I didn’t have a mask because you couldn’t get them” Kathy reflected months later. “Looking back, I wish if had the damn groceries delivered.”

Soon after, Kathy began to feel unwell..One evening, exhausted and exhibiting symptom of what she thought was bronchitis exacerbated by her asthma, she had Mike take her to the nearby hospital’s ER. She had no idea that it would be  5 1/2 months until she would see anyone except through a plate glass door.

Kathy was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia and COVID-19 and almost immediately placed in an induced coma in the ICU. She has vague memories of anything from March 27 until she woke up from anesthesia on May 5. “During that time,” she wrote months later, “my body was assaulted by machines that were surrogates for bodily organs—a feeding tube, a respirator, and catheters.”

Meanwhile, her brother Brian Joyce, a Methodist pastor in New Jersey, kept her large family and many friends abreast of Kathy’s life and death struggle through posts on her popular FaceBook page. On three occasions, Brian gave the grim news that she had been intubated and was near death. Even when the medical staff removed her from her induced coma, she was not out of the woods. She remained hospitalized for another six weeks and later continued her recovery in a rehab center where she had to learn again to hold her head up, sit, stand, walk, and swallow.

Brian warned his FaceBook followers against what he called “COVID-19 fairytales.” “It would be nice if Kathy’s story demonstrated a victory over the virus,” he posted on August 1 as his sister entered her 19th week of fighting for her life.“In reality her recovery is a daily journey through pain, loneliness, separation, therapy, small victories, and moments of great success and rising hope.”

On September 6, 163 days after she had been admitted to the hospital, Kathy was finally released. For the first two months, she stayed with her neighbor and closest friend Susan Schulman.After Kathy moved back into her own home, she continued to rely on Susan,  Mike, and others to provide a much-needed network of support. 

Over a year later, Kathy is still trying to make sense of what happened and “to fix what’s broken.” She mourns the six months of her life she lost to the virus in which her only contacts were her ever-present, albeit, wonderful medical staff members. 

Although not confirmed by her doctors, Kathy considers herself as a “long hauler,” one of unfortunate 10% of COVID-19 survivors who experiences prolonged effects of the illness. In her case, she struggles with vision problems, a chronic cough, reoccurring bronchitis, neuropathy in her feet, frequent fatigue, and bouts of PTSD. “I’m better, but I’m not the me I was before Covid,” wrote Kathy on a post in her blog This and That:Musings on Being a Writer.“I have a new normal that makes me feel diminished, stressed, joyful, discouraged, and grateful all at the same time.”

Kathy also recognizes that COVID has affected not only herself but also those with whom she is involved. This is especially seen in the impact her illness had on her daughter, Brenda Glascott, a college administrator who lives with her wife in Portland, Oregon. “Ever since I woke her in the middle of the night on March 28 to say, ‘I love you’ before I was intubated for the first time,” said Kathy, “Brenda has had to make a number of hard decisions on my behalf. And she made each one with courage and love.” Kathy has said that the hope of seeing her daughter and others who sustained her and kept her fighting in her darkest hours.

As a survivor, Kathy feels a responsibility to protect herself and others.“I try to honor the concern and love shown me by not taking unnecessary chances and by practicing safe protocols.” Those measures include limiting her exposure to others and wearing a mask even though she is fully vaccinated.

She is an outspoken opponent of those who reject such measures on the pretext of personal freedom. “If you hate wearing a mask,” reads one of her FaceBook posts, “you’re really not going to like the ventilator.” In another post, she quotes George Takei, the American actor and activist. “Telling me you are proudly unvaccinated is like telling me you’re a drunk driver. You’re not a patriot. You’re not a freedom fighter. You’re a menace.”

A writer and author of three previous books, Kathy is working on a fourth that will recount in detail her own “harrowing dance” with COVID-19. “When I think about the many people who were affected by my struggle, I am humbled by their love and concern and grateful for the outpouring of prayer and support I received,” she said. “I hope to pay it forward by sharing my own experience and encouraging others to take the necessary steps to protect themselves and help curtail the spread and continuance of this terrible pandemic.” 

First published in (Capital Region) The Jewish World, October 28-November 18 issue.

Realizing What I Have Missed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Farklempt!” Overcome with Emotion!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday was Fish Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” she answered sheepishly.

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

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

“Larry, what is this called?” 

“Wasabi,” Larry answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wasabi!” I quickly answered. 

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

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

Biking for RBG

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the legal pioneer for gender equality and the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, died just before sundown on Rosh Hashanah, I shared the country’s grief. What could I do to honor this gutsy, determined, badass woman? How could we continue her legacy in light of what we knew as the inevitability of her replacement with a woman who appeared to be the antithesis of whom NPR called a “demure firebrand?”

Writing an article that was published by The Jewish World (“RBG’s death alarms and saddens Marilyn as she hopes for a better world.” 10/22/2020) helped me, but could I do more? 

A few days later, a friend shared a link to a website that offered a way to honor the feminist icon. Run for Ruth was billed a virtual event to “celebrate the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her dedication to equality for all no matter where we are right now.” Participants could run, jog, walk, or, as I later earned, even swim to reach a total 87 miles —the number that reflected RBG’s age when she passed away. In addition, one could choose to donate to several charities earmarked as those representing RBG’s legacy through their support of women’s rights and empowerment.

The $29 entrance fee entitled each participant to a tee shirt with a picture of RBG wearing a crown; a digital race bib; and a finisher’s medal. It also gave one access to a website which one could put in individual mileage, compare results with others involved, and even print out a virtual bib. The guidelines said that  a minimum of 30% of registration proceeds would go to charity.

With visions of RBG smiling down from heaven, I sent in my online registration fee; donated money to Planned Parenthood, one of the charity options; and logged in for my first virtual entry–the 20 mile bike ride I took the day after Rosh Hashanah and two days after her passing.

No matter how or with whom I would put in the miles, I knew from Day One that I could not make my goal just 87 miles. Since the pandemic had hit, I had swapped fitness classes for 7 a.m., swims in an outdoor pool and, accompanied by my husband Larry, long walks and longer bike rides. I had already put 1000 miles on my bike’s cyclometer. Based on this knowledge, I set my personal goal for 870 miles by  the January 31, 202, deadline.

About four weeks and 230 miles later, I received the Run for Ruth race packet in the mail. The finisher’s medal, a large metal medallion on a striped ribbon, was pretty impressive but, in my eyes, pretty useless. I couldn’t see when I would wear it and put it aside to give to my five year old granddaughter. 

The bigger disappointment was the tee shirt. I had ordered an adult size large, but fit like a child’s medium. I couldn’t even get it over my head. I gave it to my petite niece and found an even cooler RBG shirt on Etsey for myself. 

Now that the focus was off the perks, it was time for me to put my pedal to the metal. Larry was a great biking partner, pumping air into our bike tires as needed, mapping out routes that avoided traffic, and scheduling hydration stops along the way. Our two hour walks were filled with conversations about  the family, politics, books, and movies. 

By the middle of October, I was fully invested in what I now called my “Bike for Ruth.” We were averaging over 19 miles on our bikes and over 5 miles on our walks, along with one or two of my solo swims. Each day, I recorded my progress on the website and checked my results compared to fellow participants. 

Amazingly, 1376 people ranging in age from 5 to 81 from had signed up for the biking event. Predictably, many had not gone more than a few miles before dropping out. (Hope their tee shirts fit better than mine!). A couple of hundred had reached their goal of 87 and were done. But there were hundreds more who were still cycling along.

The results page not only gave names, miles, ages, hours expended, and home town but it also listed rankings. And guess who was in the top 60 and climbing! Not only was I moving up the chart, but I was one of the oldest riders.

True, I had several factors in my favor. Others were dealing with snow and school and jobs and the pandemic, forget about hills! Mrs.-Retired-in-Flat-Florida could pedal and walk and even swim to her heart’s content. And I had the spirit of RBG urging me on. I was getting closer and closer to my goal of 870.

One day, however, I noticed a fellow Floridian had slipped into the top 25. One entry. One day. 1067 miles. And this person was 75 years old! Impossible!

I decided the best way to handle what I considered an unacceptable entry is that could ride more miles.  I upped my personal goal from 870 to at least 1068. 

By this time, it was mid-December, and Larry was getting concerned. Florida was experiencing its winter, and it had turned colder, windier, and even rainier. Could we speed this process up, maybe get done by January 1?

We both pulled the Smart Wools, gloves, and nano-puff jackets we usually reserve for our trips to Colorado and soldiered on. I hit 870 on December 21 and 1068—Take That, 1067-in-One-Day— on January 4. 

At this point, Larry said that I was on my own. I cranked out another 300 miles and hit 1367 miles on the last day of the challenge. I finished in 10th place out of 1376, with the next person close to my age in 56th place.

I was waiting for the drum roll, or at least a shiny certificate in the mail. I would have waited for a long time. As you remember, I had gotten my “finisher’s medal” two weeks into the race. And the black and white 5X7 online certificate listed in big letters my name and time expended: 109 plus hours. In tiny letters was my rank and wrong age of 69. So I created my own tribute that I have displayed on my refrigerator. It reads.Marilyn Shapiro. 10th Place. 1367 Miles. 70 Years Old. Then I got back on my bike.After all, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 88th birthday would have been March 15. And I am good for at least 880 or so miles before my pandemic pedaling finally comes to an end.

First published in The Jewish World, March 4, 2021

Purim Question: To Mask or Not to Mask

“We’re having a celebration for Purim,” the president of our synagogue announced excitedly at the end of a recent Friday Shabbat services on Zoom. “We’ll read the Megillah, watch some Purim music videos, and drink some wine. Can’t wait to see your costumes!”

From our end of the computer, Larry and I exchanged looks. I had already found a Purim song by the Maccabeats and a presentation by Mayim Bialik that made me happier than reading the whole Megillah. After months of avoiding baking except for of my weekly challahs, I had already decided that I would forget the diet and make hamantashen. But a costume? Maybe one of my numerous COVID masks. As to costumes, the jury is still out.

My first memory of a Purim costume came when I was getting ready for the Purim festival for our synagogue, Congregation Beth Shalom in Plattsburgh, New York, when I was about eleven years old. Along with the games and food, there would be the yearly prizes for best costume. My mother had helped me cut out a huge replica of the Ten Commandments pasteboard, and we put the Roman numeral numbers in thick marker. We created a beard out of black crepe paper.Once  I put on a robe and a shmata (piece of cloth) on my head, I thought I was the best Moses in the history of the world. I just knew I was going to win the best costume award.

Unfortunately, the adults judges did not agree. I don’t remember who won, but I remember it wasn’t me. Being the rational, calm child that I was, I had a melt down in the car on the 30 minute ride home and continued to carry on when we got home. When I look back, I realize that my costume certainly wasn’t original. In fact, every year parents had come up with the same idea. But I was crushed and swore off Purim costumes for twenty-two years. 

On March 18, 1973, however, a group of my friends decided to go to a Purim party sponsored by Albany Jewish Singles. Those of you who know me know what happened. Although I did not wear a costume into the party, I did change into a long, flowered dress for an impromptu Purim spiel (Yiddish for an informal theatrical production) that I, along with the six others in our assigned group, pulled together. I was Esther to a cute guy named Larry Shapiro’s Ahashuarus. He and I shared a hamantashen. By the end of the night, I knew that I would spend my life with him. As a friend with my camera captured at least a dozen pictures of the skit, we have a photo journal of those first minutes of our meeting. Meeting at a costume party on Purim was a wonderful way for Jews to meet. Over the years, however, I have often had to explain to my non-Jewish friends that Larry and I met at a PUR-im party, not a porn party.

Despite this very positive experience, it took 44 years for Larry and I to participate in another Purim event. A year after we moved into our active adult community in Florida, we were roped into performing in a Purim shpiel for the Shalom Club. Written and produced by long time members of the club, the story was irreverent, campy, and ridiculous.

 Larry, who served as the emcee, pushed his Prairie Home Companion theme. Announcing that the show was sponsored by the Hamantashen Council , who wants you to know“Hamantashen: It’s Not Just for Purim any more.” I played a Vanna White wannabe, strutting across the stage with posters held over my head announcing not only the number of the act but also when the audience was to boo for Haman and applaud for the heroes of the day.Other members of the social club played the more familiar roles—Esther, Ahashuarus, Mordechai, and Haman.

 We were so bad we were good. The audience loved us!

So why am I so against dressing up for Purim this year? First of all, we are having the celebration on Zoom, not at the synagogue. Do I want to put in all the time and effort to create a costume to wear in front of a computer?

More importantly, after wearing a mask on my face for the past twelve months, I find nothing exciting about purchasing a mask that does not provide COVID protection. We have built up quite a collection to get us through the pandemic. Larry usually goes for solids, but I prefer a statement. One mask proclaims in big letters,“Because I care about you and me; another is emblazoned with butterflies, my “totem.” My favorite is the one I purchased in memory of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that has her portrait and one of her iconic quotes, “Fight for the things you care about. 

If I wanted to get into the holiday spirit, Etsy the online company, offers a variety of Purim themed COVID masks, bearing pictures of hamantashen, masks, and Megillah scrolls. I can even invest in a personalized mask that proclaims even a “Quarantine Purim 2021. The Shapiro Family.” Another simply states, “This is my Purim costume.”

Next year, when we can hopefully celebrate without social distancing and without required masks, we may reconsider. This year, however, unless the president of our synagogue twists our arms a little, Larry and I will stick to the story, songs the hamantaschen, and maybe too much wine to fit into the holiday. Chag Sameach!

First published in The Jewish World February 18, 2021

A Family of Stores

Before 23andme.com DNA kits, before genetic testing, before people poured through old census and courthouse records, our family had the best tool to connect with our ancestors—our parents, Fran and Bill Cohen.

Bill Cohen claimed he could sniff out family from ten feet or from 200 years away. According to Dad, we were related to Sir Moses Montefiore, a nineteenth century British financier and philanthropist; Stubby Kaye , American actor and comedian most famous for his role as Nicely-Nicely in Guys and Dolls; and Madeline Kunin, the former governor of Vermont. 

Dad didn’t regard fame as the only criteria to be considered mishpachah (Yiddish for a Jewish family or social unit including close and distant relatives ). If one had any Jewish connection, Dad would find some link no matter how obscure and embrace them as one of our own .

While my father connected, my mother, Frances Cohen, kept a more reliable account of our family tree. Even into her nineties, my mother could share the convoluted genealogical history of our huge family. To add to the complexity, my father’s grandfather married my mother’s great-aunt, first cousins married first cousins; and two sisters from Vermont married two brothers from Toronto.That is not only a great deal of mishpachah but a great deal of mishagas (confusion)! My brother Jay would listen for hours, jotting down rough drafts of the convoluted branches on yellow legal pads that he filed away for “later.”

Jay also spent a great deal of time talking to our parents about the chain of family run department stores that are intrinsically entwined into our family’s history.

Pearl’s Department Stores began in the early 1900s, when our maternal great-uncle Paul Osovitz, unable to continue in the New York City sweat shops because of respiratory problems, was given money by his older sister Lillian to start a business in Vermont. Initially living with his uncle Archic Perelman in Burlington, Paul peddled wares he carried on his back throughout the rural parts of Vermont and Upstate New York.He saved enough to purchase a horse and cart. As his business grew, he invited his brother Joe to join him. 

Paul and Joe opened up their first store in Alburg, Vermont. As people knew them as the “Perelman Boys,” they chose the name of “Pearl’s Department Store.” To make the moniker even more accurate, they and most of the family changed their surname to Pearl. They opened a second store in Swanton, Vermont. Joe eventually went back to New York City. Paul began building a small dynasty of over 20 stores, employing his relatives as managers and clerks. Our father, Bill Cohen, was one of those relatives, spending most of his life managing one of Uncle Paul’s stores in Keeseville, New York.

By the late 1980s, however, big box stores and highway systems like the Northway, rang the death knell for small-town family run businesses. Pearl’s closed its last store in 1988, only remembered through those that worked or shopped there and dusty records.

In 2015, my brother Jay, retired and always loving “minutia and trivia,” began researching the history of each of the stores and the families involved. He Googled the internet for news stories, advertisements, and pictures. He contacted historians in the stores’ towns. He reached out to the descendants of the relatives that managed or worked in Paul’s stores. He then expanded his research to include stores and businesses owned by mishpachah that were not connected to Pearls, including paternal relatives and my in-laws, who owned Shapiros of Schuylerville in Upstate New York.

Jay incorporated all his findings into a website he called afamilyofstores.com. “If you grew up in upstate New York (‘the North Country’) or in northern Vermont anywhere from the 1930s through the 1980s you probably remember a Pearl’s Department Store in your hometown,” Jay wrote on the site’s home page. “You went there with your mom or your friends. You bought your Wrangler jeans and your school clothes or a Christmas gift. A Pearl’s store was there before the Kmart’s, Ames, and Walmart’s and the Northway.”

The ongoing project, which Jay calls a “labor of love,” also drew on his interest in genealogy. His two sons began hounding him. “Learning about Pearl’s is fine,” they said. “But when are you going to pull out all those yellow legal pads you have stuffed in a drawer and create a family tree for posterity?” It took a pandemic to motivate Jay to dig them out.

Early in the COVID lockdown, my three siblings and I connected with our paternal first cousins through weekly Zoom sessions. As we continued to shelter in place, our group of seven expanded to include over 22 cousins, their spouses, and even their children. 

Each meeting was consumed by the question, “How are we all related?” Jay, who had screen shared his afamilyofstores.com website, offered to pull it all together. 

Using a template from ancestry.com, Mom’s notes, his website, and updated information he gathered from the Tuesday Zooms, Jay  meticulously created the framework of a family tree that will document both paternal and maternal sides of  our ever expanding family. When finished, it will include everyone from Moses Montifiore (Dad was right, as he was about Stubby Kaye and Madeline Kunin) to my nine-month old grandson, a span of over 200 years. Thanks to Jay’s efforts, we not only know our roots but also our far-flung branches.

Why don’t we all submit our DNA to one of the popular ancestry sites to learn more? Two reasons. First, our entire family history goes back to the shtetl in Eastern European. Those of us who have had tests done show us as 98% Ashkenazi (Jews with roots in Eastern Europe). No surprises there. The second reason is that—well— we have more relatives than we can handle! Jay said that he expects to connect the family tree to over 1000 people. 

And if we finally cave in, send a sample of our saliva to a testing site, and find even more? Bring them on! After all, we are Bill and Fran Cohen’s children. And we love our family…all of them. 

Published in (Capital Region, NY) Jewish World on January 7, 2020.