Tag Archives: #saratogasprings

You can go home again!

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.

Hometown Tours

A number of years ago, Larry’s sister Carole had her annual Fourth of July party in her backyard in Saratoga Springs. What made this party special is that our niece and her significant other had made the trip up from Virginia, the first time he had ever been to Saratoga County.

Katie wanted to show Swamy around the city, and Larry offered to give the tour. We piled into the Prius, Larry behind the wheel with Swamy next to him for the best view. Katie and I took seats in the back, and we began our excursion.

Larry’s first stop was not the race track or the Hall of Springs or Congress Park. Nope. He immediately drove to Avery Street and parked outside a white two-story colonial. “This is our first house in Saratoga,” Larry explained. “I spent hours playing stoop ball right there on those front steps. My friend Tommy lived down the street, and Al lived around the corner.”

When Katie and I suggested that Larry show Swamy more of Saratoga Springs tourist spots, he assured us he was getting there. But the next stop was in front of another house down the street. “That is where my piano teacher lived,” he offered. “His wife was my fourth grade teacher.”

My niece and I began to giggle. We knew where this was going. Our next stop was in front of one of the gates at the race track, where Larry sold newspapers and, when he turned eighteen, beer to the patrons. This “site” was accompanied by a story as to how Larry was once accused of not having the exact amount of money at the end of the day, and how he had proven his honesty to the manager. We saw the field where Larry played baseball into the summer nights, his old high school, and the outer limits of his newspaper route.

Swamy did get to see a little of the true tourist places but only as we drove by on Larry’s sentimental tour of the “real” Saratoga Springs. By the end of the hour, Katie and I were laughing out loud. Swamy, who is a sweet gentle soul, smiled throughout and offered an occasional “Very nice!”

Recently, I shared this story with my friend Marcie. Rather than thinking it was funny, she told me that she totally got it. Completely. Marcie had grown up in Boston, and after her daughter graduated Northeastern, she insisted that the two of them take a tour of the “real” Boston. Marcie drove her daughter to her old synagogue Agudath Israel, the house where her father had lived in the once thriving Jewish neighborhood of Dorchester, and her old school, Girls Latin. “My daughter thought that she knew Boston because she had been to Fenway Park and walked the Freedom Trail,” said Marcie. “But she knew nothing unless I introduced her to the Boston that was my home.”

It then hit me that one’s home town, no matter how heralded or how small, was not about the tourist spots. It was about memories. Keeseville is just a dot on the map. When Larry first visited me there in 1973, I didn’t bring him to Ausable Chasm, our one claim to fame. He and I took a walk over the swinging bridge and the steep steps up to Pleasant Street. We circled around past my old high school. I pointed out the church right across the street. “When I was a child, all my Catholic friends crossed themselves when they walked past it,” I told him. “I did it for a while until my parents explained to me that Jews ‘didn’t do that.’” Then we walked home over the keystone bridge.

For over thirty-six years we did similar tours for our out-of-area Clifton Park guests. No visit would be complete without a drive past the little red school house where my children went to nursery school, a walk through the Vischer Ferry Wildlife Preserve, and a stop for apple cider donuts at Riverview Orchards in the fall or ice cream at the Country Drive-in in the summer. None of these places would be in Lonely Planet or even local “What To See” guides in the Capital Region. To us, however, they represented what best in our hometown. Not to say that we wouldn’t bring guests to the State Museum or the Saratoga Battlefield or even Cooperstown. However, when it comes to important, we know.

Our home in Florida is less than forty minutes from Disney; Legoland and Sea World are even closer. When guests come, I am sure that these world-famous attractions may be on top of their ‘must see’ list. But after only few months, we already had selected off the grid locations, starting with the view of Pacer Pond from our lanai. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Larry and I woke up to the sight of four birds, two lizards, and an alligator that Larry named Brutus, whose size rivals anything one can see in Gatorland. We found a great custard stand down the road, and the Disney Wilderness Preserve is only four miles away.

So, my dear Larry, now I ‘get it’ too. You showed Swamy the best that Saratoga Springs had to offer you, and I know you will do the same for our future Florida visitors. Just warn them about Brutus before they step out into our back yard.

Photo courtesy of Commons.wikimedia.org