Thomas Wolfe famously stated, “You can never go home again.” Larry’s sister and brother-in-law are living proof that one should never say never.
When he returned from military service after the Korean War, Larry’s father Ernie collected Doris and their two children Anita and Larry from Bubbie Rose’s house in Syracuse, and they moved into an older house on Avery Street in Saratoga Springs. By the mid-sixties, the family had expanded with the birth of Marilyn Pearl and Carole. Mom and Dad decided to build a new house less than a mile away, on the corner of Lake and Iroquois Drive.
When construction was finished in July 1964, Anita was already away at college in Rochester, and Larry, who missed the old house and neighborhood, would live in the new house for only eighteen months before he headed to college in Boston. Marilyn Pearl and Carole were young enough to adjust quickly to the move and, in retrospect, to live enough years at Iroquois Drive to create many happy childhood memories. Dad loved the oversized two car garage that held his tools, a large workbench, and his golf club, and the family room that had a section for a regulation sized pool table.
It was Mom, however, who was most excited about her “dream” house. She loved the new kitchen with its ample cabinets, and, as she hated the heat, appreciated the central air conditioning. Her mahogany table and buffet, which barely squeezed into the house on Avery Street, worked well in the new dining room. A large china cabinet displayed her crystal and china, and the living room was large enough to hold an oversized couch, several chairs, tables, and a piano. Mom took a great deal of pride in her new home, and it showed. She was a meticulous housekeeper, and it was rare to see anything out of place or cluttered. Every tabletop shined, the floors were polished, the carpets were vacuumed, the closets and drawers were organized, the bathrooms gleamed; even the laundry and storage rooms were spotless. Even though she employed outside help, she was known to clean before and after the cleaners. As a matter of fact, one of our favorite ‘Doris’ stories is that Mom scrubbed her kitchen sink so vigorously that she literally wore a hole through the porcelain.
Mom also loved to entertain. She was a wonderful cook and baker, and she enjoyed having her children, grandchildren, friends, and out-of-town relatives to her house whenever she had the opportunity. She often spent the weeks before major Jewish holidays planning her menu, cooking, baking, and freezing much of the food in preparation. Once the holiday arrived, she would open up the dining room table to its full length, her china and crystal would be set, and at her dinners the table would be laden with her specialities: brisket on Rosh Hoshanah, tongue and chopped eggplant at the Yom Kippur Break-the Fast, and matzoh ball soup and roasted chicken on Passover. And when the dinner was over, Mom insisted on doing the dishes as “No one can do them as well as I can.” As she got older, we worried that all her cooking and cleaning was too much for her, but she told us that she loved doing it, and we knew better than to argue with Doris Shapiro.
After they retired, Mom and Dad spent part of the winter in Florida in a condo. Dad loved the sunshine, the pool, the golf courses, and the activities, but Mom missed her friends and her home in Saratoga. When I visited her in early April 1994, she was already packing up the apartment and looking forward to returning to Iroquois Drive and her beloved Saratoga Springs and to get ready for the Passover seder.
She never made it home. On the way up North, Mom had a heart attack while visiting Carole in Charleston, South Carolina, and passed away during open heart surgery on April 26, 1994. Dad was devastated by the loss of his beloved Doris. He himself had to have open heart surgery that summer, but when he died on December 20, the doctor said that Dad had succumbed not from cardiac disease but from a broken heart.
After Dad’s funeral, their beautiful home sat empty and quiet. It seemed as if the house, as well as the family, was in mourning. We initially discussed cleaning out the house and putting it up for sale, but the grief was still too raw to do put these thoughts into action.
Fortunately, the house never had to go on the market. After many years of living all over the country, Carole’s husband Bill was to retire from the Navy in June 1996. Throughout the years, they had always said how much they missed being close to the family. With Mom and Dad gone, they were even more certain that their hearts and lives belonged in Saratoga. They had the perfect solution: They would buy the house from the estate and move from Charleston, South Carolina, to Iroquois Drive.
Eighteen months after Dad’s passing, when the Leakakos family pulled into the driveway on a beautiful June afternoon, even the house seemed to be smiling. That first summer, the four siblings and their spouses amicably divided up the contents, some as designated by Mom through handwritten notes, some as chosen by each for sentimental reasons. Then it fell to Carole and Bill to figure out what to do with the remainder of the contents Mom and Dad had accumulated over their thirty years in the house. Many of the duplicated and unwanted items were given to local charities; with the help of a rented dumpster, the outdated or unusable were tossed. Within a year, Mom and Dad’s vacant house became the warm, welcoming Leakakos home, and the six people and one dog settled comfortably into their new residence.
We all agreed that Mom must have rolled over in her grave when her house, her pride and joy, changed hands. Mom may have been a meticulous housekeeper, but Carole, by her own admission, did not follow in her footsteps. Her style was more “I have two active boys and a dog that sheds” casual. In addition, despite the effort to merge the two households, Carole and Bill had difficulty parting with many of the duplicates, and the house seemed a little crowded for quite a while. Carole had also collected crafts and treasures while moving around the country, and many of the items she had collected filled any remaining nooks and crannies. Not surprisingly, no one cared that the house was not up to the old standards as long as the house was again filled with the Shapiro family.
And very often, it was. Carole may not have inherited her mother’s insistence for an immaculately clean home; however, she did inherit her mother’s love of entertaining. She and Bill have continued the tradition of having Iroquois Drive be the center for family gatherings, birthday and graduation parties, and holiday dinners. Their Passover seders are epic: they have had up to thirty-five people in attendance, with people seated not only at the massive dining room table but also at as many extra tables as they could as needed. The china and crystal have been replaced with paper plates and disposable silverware, but it is unimportant to all those who gather around their table. Everyone who is invited brings their own specialties to share, and we all share in the clean-up. Carole and Bill are excellent hosts: welcoming, relaxed, gracious.
So, Mr. Wolfe, you can go home again. And to my dear Carole and Bill, we are glad you did.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York, in the March 14, 2014, issue.