Tag Archives: #upstateny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Father’s Day story: Boats, Bugs, and Bats

In June 2008, my father and I spent our last Father’s Day together. He and my mother had moved up to an independent living facility in Upstate New York four miles from me. Two years later, his health had deteriorated, and he passed away November 2008. People may remember Bill Cohen for his stores in Keeseville, his community service, his pride in his family. What I remember—and treasure—most about my father were the stories about him that my siblings and I share again and again. Many of them centered on boats, bugs, and bats. 

Having spent summers as a child with his grandfather Archik Pearlman on Lake Champlain, my father always dreamed of owning a boat. In 1965, he purchased a pink indoor-outdoor that my mother immediately “christened” Nisht Neytik, Yiddish for “not necessary.” During the summer, Dad rented space on a public dock in Port Kent, five miles from our house. And each Sunday, Dad would coerce us all to take a ride—when we could go. Unfortunately, the boat spent more time in the shop than in the water. And when it was in the water, Dad was always panicking about the weather or the gas situation. One time, we took a long ride out to a nearby island, and my father realized that we may not have enough gas to return. We were nervous wrecks until we finally pulled back into our slot.

In 1966, my parents bought a cottage on Willsboro Bay. Soon after, Dad purchased an outboard with slightly better reliability. Larry and I were married in 1974, and in 1975, we went up to the lake for Memorial Day. Dad gave Larry a pair of waders Dad had picked up second hand and asked him to put up the docks for the boat. Before Larry was knee deep, the waders-riddled with tiny holes filled up with water. Think Lake Champlain in May, when the water temperature barely reaches 60 degrees. Larry has never forgiven him. 

For the next several years, the boat was anchored either on the dock or on an anchor about 200 feet from shore. Dad still loved boating, but only if the weather was perfect. For hours before we were supposed to go out, Dad kept his ear near the radio next to his chair, which was set for the weather station. If there was the slightest chance of rain, he refused to go through with the ride. When we children and eventually our spouses were old enough to go on our own, Dad installed a CB radio in the outboard so he could check up on us every few minutes. In an blatant act of defiance, Larry would turn it off. Dad never forgave him.

As much as my father loved boats he DESPISED bugs. He kept a can of Raid next to his favorite chair on the back porch of the cottage and used it frequently—and liberally— to kill any passing fly or wasp. When the Raid wasn’t enough, he got a outdoor fogger which he used with the same careless abandon that he used the aerosol can. One beautiful summer night, Laura was putting food on our set table when my father passed by the outside of the window with the fogger in his hand. A potent cloud of pesticide permeated the air. Laura never forgave him. 

When the Raid and the fogger failed, Dad called in the Big Guns. He purchased an electric bug zapper and hung it on the limb of the huge oak in front of the cottage. As the sun set across the lake, we heard from inside the cottage a quick zap as the first bug hit the grid, then a second, then ten, then twenty. Before we knew it, every bug between Willsboro and Burlington five miles across the lake was headed for the bug zapper. It took about 30 minutes for the ten foot machine to become completely clogged. So much for Dad’s war against the bugs.

Dad was more successful with bats. The cottage was always a gathering place for the family. One summer weekend, Larry and I were in one bedroom; my sister Bobbie and her husband and Emil were in another; and my sister Laura was in another. In the middle of the night, I headed to the bathroom. As I reached for the toilet paper, I realized that a bat was sitting on the top of the roll. Trying not to wake anyone, I ran back into our bedroom and shook my husband Larry awake.

“There’s a bat in the bathroom!” I whispered.

Larry awoke groggily with a “Wha……t?” He climbed out of bed, checked out the bat in the dim light of the night light, and suggested we close the door and wait until morning. 

“But what is someone else has to go to the bathroom?” 

“What are you two doing?” Our whispered conversation had woken up my sister.

The bat, tired of squeezing the Charmin, flew out of the bathroom and began swooping through the cottage. 

“Damn!” I cried.

By this time, Emil, Laura, and Mom were wide awake. We watched the bat circle above us, all of us talking at once with suggestions .

“Hit it with the badminton rack?” 

“How about a broom?”

“Does Raid work on bats?”

“How about the fogger?

At that moment, my father, who can sleep through a five alarm fire a block from our house (Yes. He did. Keeseville, New York, February 14, 1964. But I will save that story for another time), finally appeared in the doorway of his bedroom in his teeshirt and boxers. Without a word, he crossed the room, grabbed the fishing net that he kept in the corner explicitly for this purpose, and in one fell swoop, caught the bat in its web. He opened the front door, shook the frightened but still alive bat out of the netting, and came back into the cottage.

“Now everyone go back to sleep,” my father stated. 

Boat lover. Bug hater. Bat rescuer extraordinaire. But most importantly, My Dad. Whether he is with me or not, I will celebrate every Father’s Day in his memory with love.

Note to my readers: While editing my blog, I realized that I had never published this story I had written in 2019 for Father’s Day about my beloved father, Wilfred “Bill” Cohen (Z’L). It’s a little late for Father’s Day, but it’s never too late to honor my father’s memory.

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

Storm lover wakes up to the realization that life is fragile

When I was six years old, I loved summer storms. As the sky turned dark, the thunder clapped, and the lighting shot across the sky, I would watch from the safety of our living room window. My mother assured me that the noise was just God bowling.

When I was sixteen, I loved summer storms. By that time, my parents had purchased a cottage on Willsboro Bay in Upstate New York  From the safety of our porch,  I would watch the rain come down in sheets and the waves rock our boat that was moored 200 yards off shore. 

When we moved to Florida, I still loved summer storms. But I soon learned to respect their intensity and duration. Our state has as many as 100 stormy days a year, and our climate means that these storms can happen any month of the year. Florida also has be dubious honor of being the lightning capital of the United States. I have been witness to their fury again and again from the safety of our lanai. And on several occasions, I have had to take shelter quickly as the weather changed too quickly for me to realize what was coming. 

But now, almost five years after our move, I now see these storms as a reminder as to how fragile our lives can be.

Last July, on what started out to be a beautiful July day a group of fellow residents were playing golf on the course in our 55+ community, Very suddenly, the sky darkened as huge black clouds moved in. The golfers, all seasoned Florida residents, knew what to do. They abandoned their game and headed for their golf carts and shelter. 

It was too late. A bolt of lightning struck two of the men. One was thrown to the ground, shaken but okay. The second person was struck full force, and the electric travelled through his body. By the time he was brought the the hospital, he was brain dead. The doctors kept him on life support long enough for his devastated wife and children to say their good byes. 

What are the chances of getting hit by lightning? According to Wikipedia, it is one in 700,000. For my neighbor, the odds were 1:1. 

What happened that fateful morning? Did they give each other a kiss before he headed out the door? And what were their last words to one another. “I love you! See you later.”Or was their conversation ordinary and mundane. “We need to pick up some milk” or “The Red Sox are playing the Yankees tonight.” Or were their last words those that she regretted? “You promised you would fix  that leaky faucet!”

I am 69, and my husband Larry is 71. The specter of death hangs over us a little more heavily than it did twenty—or even ten—years ago. Friends die suddenly from heart attacks or slowly from cancer. No matter, their loss is sad. 

Sad, but not tragic. To me,”tragic” is the death of a 31-year-old daughter to leukemia. Tragic is losing a nineteen year old granddaughter to a car accident on a rainy night one block from her home. Tragic is losing a sixteen year old grandson who had been severely disabled since he was a baby. And tragic is losing a husband from—literally— a bolt out of the blue. 

“Biz hundert un tzvantsig!” (May you live to 120!”) is  a popular Jewish blessing for a long healthy life. Each loss, whether the number of years were short or long, whether their death was sad or tragic, is my personal reminder to treat each moment with gratitude. “Life is so transient and ephemeral; we will not be here after a breath,” said Dr. Debasish Mridha,  an American physician and philosopher. “So think better, think deeply, think with kindness, and write it with love so that it may live a little longer.” 

Some of us are fortunate enough to live a great deal longer.My mother’s first cousin Eli Helfand passed away last April, three months after his 100th birthday. A World War II veteran and a graduate of Clarkson College, Eli spent almost all his working life in Richfield Springs, New York, where he owned and operated Ruby’s Department Store. He had two wonderful marriages, raised four strong, independent children, and got to enjoy his five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. 

What I remember most about my cousin Eli are our strong family connections. During the Depression, when his parents were struggling to get their Upstate New York store afloat, Eli spent summers and school vacations with my mother and her family in New York City. He introduced my parents and served as best man at their wedding. Eli drove the car that the newlyweds took from the city to Alburgh, Vermont. Mom shared the front seat with Eli’s mother Rose while my father sat in the back seat with all the wedding presents, including a floor lamp that Bill had to hold for the eight hour trip. My parents remained close to Eli and Florence, who attended my parents’ 60th anniversary. When Florence passed away and Eli remarried, he and Marty became an integral part of not only my parents’ life but also of mine. We visited them at their homes in Otsego County in New York as well as their retirement home in in Englewood, Florida. 

Eli and I share another close connection. His daughter Marsha and I are only weeks apart in age.  We spent time with each other as children as well as our four years as students at University at Albany. We have attended each other’s weddings as well as those of our children. 

In August, 1962, I spent a week with Marsha and her family at their cottage on Canadarago Lake. We played and replayed Ray Steven’s (what now would be considered politically incorrect)song about Ahab, “the sheik in the golden sand.” We baked cookies. We went swimming and boating. And when the storm clouds moved in, we ran back inside. From the porch windows, we watched the lightning flash across the sky and listened to the thunder echo off the surrounding hills. We turned the Ray Stevens second back on and danced around the living room in our bare feet. We were safe in the childhood belief t that life would treat us kind and that we would  live forever—or at least for one hundred twenty years. 

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

Eli Helfand (Z”L) 1919-2019

Into the Woods—a place for contemplation and renewal

The mountains are calling, and I must go. John Muir

Across the street and behind the houses on the other side of my Upstate New York home was a wooded area. I remember it as a mountain . I am sure it would not look so imposing  if I viewed it now from my adult eyes 

On many a summer day I would take a path to the right of the Douglass’s home and head into the oaks and maples. I would sit on logs and imagine myself as Heidi or Lcittle Red Riding Hood.

This was a lone adventure. Although we were perfectly situated between the shores of Lake Champlain and Adirondack Mountains, our family never headed for the woods. 

When my parents purchased a cottage on Willsboro Bay, I replaced the trips to the woods with walks to The Point, an area about a quarter of a mile from our cottage that offered views of Lake Champlain and Burlington, Vermont. It was my get-away, my place to sit and think and deal with teenage angst.Even as a adult, I viewed The Point as one of my favorite places. I shared it with friends and, of course, Larry the first time he visited me in the summer of 1973. 

And then I finished college and married and started a family. Larry and I purchased a home with a private, wooded backyard. We biked along quiet country roads in Saratoga County. We took occasional short hikes into  the woods in Lake George or Vermont or Williamstown in the fall. But I felt that I had lost touch with the woods, with the mountains.

That all changed in 2003. Our daughter Julie moved out to Colorado after graduation  from college She took a “one-year” job as an environmental education teacher two hours west of Denver and in the middle of the Rockies. 

Julie soon fell in love with Colorado, the mountains, and Sam, not necessarily in that order. On our first visit in June 2004, she took us on easy hikes in Eagle and Summit Counties. By the following summer, Sam and she were trusting us to accompany them on longer, more challenging heights.

As our hikes became longer, so did the length and frequency of our visits to the mountains. Julie and Sam completed grad school degrees, got married, found jobs, and bought a house in Frisco, elevation 9096 or 9097 feet above sea level, depending on which tee shirt you purchased. In anticipation of the birth of our granddaughter in the summer 2015, we rented a place for several weeks, a tradition we have continued every year.

Frisco, located in Summit County, is amazing in the summer—once it stops snowing! This year a long hard winter gratefully came to an end June 21.Even my then three-year-old granddaughter had had enough. “I’m so over winter,” she said. “I am ready for summer and my birthday!”

When we arrived June 30, the still-snow topped mountains had already exploded in shades of green Our first hike was to Rainbow Lake, only a mile up an easy trail near Julie’s home. As we got more acclimated to the altitude, we hiked such colorfully named trails as Lily Pad Lake, Shrine Pass, McCulloughs’ Gulch, and Cataract Lake.  Creeks churned through meadows and fields. Columbines and wild roses and cone flowers peaked out between fallen logs and rocks on trails that led to waterfalls and lakes and vistas that took my breath away.

We often share the trails with both locals and others who have found, like us, that it doesn’t get much better than a beautiful summer’s day in the Rockies. We pack water and a snack and find a spot in the middle of the hike just to sit and take in our surroundings. 

Larry has found a pickleball league in Summit County (“We Play with an Altitude!”), and several days a week he heads out the courts. On those days, I get ready for my alone time to Rainbow Lake. 

I apply the only “make-up” I need, liberal amounts of sun screen. I put on my hiking clothes and lace up my boots, fill a small backpack with water, bug spray, dog treats and poop bags. I then pick up our granddog Neva, and we head up a trail to Rainbow Lake. Neva pauses frequently to sniff at her “pee mail” and to check out a squirrel or magpie. I savor the beauty surrounding me—the columbine growing from a dead trunk, the sunlight reflecting through the aspens, logs stretching over a small stream.

Once we get to Rainbow Lake, I let Neva off her leash and toss a stick into the lake. After a few dog paddles into the chilly water, Neva settles down next to me on my favorite rock. A beaver paddles away from its lodge and few ducks swim across the still water with its reflection of trees and mountains. A woodpecker hammers away on the bark of a pine tree. 

Images of Heidi have been replaced with images of Cheryl Strayed on the Pacific Ridge Trail or Bill Bryson on the Appalachian Trail. It is my time. I am grateful to G-d for the opportunities open to me in the mountains and for the health to enjoy it. I am at peace. I am back to my Adirondack roots.

Marilyn and Neva at Rainbow Lake July 2019

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York, in the July 25, 2019, 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 

Manna From Heaven: Vanilla Ice Cream

My maiden name is Cohen. In all honesty, however, it should have been Cone. As in ice cream cone. As in my favorite summertime/anytime treat. As a matter of fact, if I were one of the Israelis wandering the desert with Moses, my manna from heaven would have tasted like Breyer’s Natural Vanilla.

My love for ice cream is in my genetic makeup. While I was growing up, a day wasn’t complete in the Cohen household without our dishes of ice cream. In the 1950s in Keeseville, our small town in Upstate New York,, choices were limited. Our freezer usually held one or two half gallons of Sealtest Neapolitan. Having all three flavors for six people worked out well. My father chose vanilla topped with a huge helping of strawberry preserves. My mother went for the strawberry. The four children took whatever we could scoop up with our vintage gray aluminum Scoop Rite ice cream scoop.

Our favorite food also played into all of our family’s special occasions. We dished out ice cream at birthday celebrations, Yom Kippur break-the-fasts, the first post-Passover meal, and Thanksgiving—what was apple pie without the a la mode! As an added treat, my parents would take us for ice cream at the Frosty Dairy Bar, a restaurant on Route 9 in Plattsburgh. Going there allowed us to go beyond Neapolitan, giving me my first tastes of “exotic” flavors like pistachio, chocolate chip, and cherry vanilla.

Fortunately, I met and married a man who, although not as fanatical as me, enjoys ice cream. He loves me enough to tolerate my addiction. Otherwise, I doubt if the marriage would have lasted. Our first date was a movie and a trip to Friendly’s. Larry had a chocolate Fribble, and I had a hot fudge sundae with—you guessed it—vanilla ice cream. It became our go-to place after every movie or play for many years.

Once we had children, we usually kept at least one half gallon of ice cream in the freezer, vanilla for me and Stewart’s Swiss chocolate almond for Larry—he still hasn’t forgiven Stewart’s for phasing out his favorite flavor. Once they could hold a kiddie cone, we would bring Adam and Julie during summer months to the Country Drive-In, a popular hamburger/soft-serve ice cream stand off Exit 8 of the Northway. Julie took Larry there every Father’s Day for a hamburger, fries, and an ice cream cone from elementary school until she graduated college.

My now-adult children don’t place ice cream as high on their favorite food list, but they take care of their mother. Julie and Sam makes sure they have Haagen-Dazs ice cream or gelato waiting for us in their freezer when we visit them Colorado. Adam humors us by taking us to Bi-Rite Creamery for a waffle cone whenever we visit him in San Francisco.

As empty nesters, we usually have a half gallon of vanilla ice cream in the freezer. I will have a small scoop once a week. Larry will indulge a little more often using his own “in-house ice cream routine.” First he softens the ice cream by putting the whole carton into the microwave for a few seconds. He then uses the Scoop Rite ice cream scoop we inherited from my parents to transfer one or two scoops into a cereal bowl. He squirts on Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate syrup, throws on a few Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips, and tosses on a healthy handful of chopped walnuts and sliced almonds. When Larry was laid up with a leg surgery, I tried to cheer him up by ‘recreating’ his masterpiece. I failed miserably as I messed up the proportions of ice cream, chocolate syrup, and nuts. To be honest, I think Larry treats ice cream as another way to eat nuts.

For me, however, a simple unadorned dish or cone of vanilla ice cream is my favorite food, a link to my childhood as well as one of life’s great pleasures. Ice cream even has played an important role during one of the most poignant times of my life. When my mother fell gravely ill four days before she passed away, she lost her desire for food. I asked her if she wanted anything special to eat. She whispered, “Strawberry ice cream.” The cafe at Coburg Village, the independent living place where she was living, had none. The wonderful young woman working behind the counter, upon hearing the story, went up to the main restaurant and brought me back a huge dish of strawberry ice cream to honor my mother’s request. When I got back to Mom’s bedside, she ate three or four spoonfuls before she pushed my hand away. “That was delicious! Thank you!” That was the last food she ever ate, a true Cohen to the end. I can only hope that I, like my mother, will a long, happy, healthy life that concludes with the sweet taste of vanilla ice cream on my tongue.

Until we relocated to Florida, one of my favorite stops was the three-mile trip to the Country Drive-In for a vanilla soft serve. As a matter of fact, I needed to make a trip there to take a picture of my eating my cone for the Jewish World, It was a cold, rainy, day, making it quite tough to buy that cone and eat it. Someone had to do the job, however, and who better than Marilyn Cone Shapiro?

The old camp is destroyed; long live the new camp.

For most people, summer camp means children packing up a trunk and a knapsack and heading off for their own adventure while the parents had a few weeks of freedom.  For my family, “camp” has had a completely different connotation: It was a summer place on a lake. Before my mother Frances Cohen passed away, she recorded many family stories.  This is one of them.  Ironically, today, May 22, Jay and Leslie will be heading up for their summer at their new “camp”  on the same spot as the original purchased by my parents 48 years ago. Jay and Leslie’s new place is absolutely beautiful, but the most beautiful part is the sunset, the same view my parents enjoyed for so many years.  Marilyn Cohen Shapiro

September 17, 2009, was a very bittersweet day for me.  That was the day the Cohen family camp on beautiful Lake Champlain was demolished. Personally it was a difficult day for me to realize that there was a huge pile of logs where our cottage was, where we had spend forty summers.  The cottage is gone, but all the wonderful memories will linger on. The good news is that it is going to be replaced with a beautiful new, modern cottage.

Let’s start from the beginning. Many of our relatives had camps on lakes in Northern New York and Vermont, and we enjoyed visiting them. We hoped that one day we would have one of our own.

In July 1966 we were told that a person we knew had a camp for sale in Willsboro, a very small town on Lake Champlain only 30 minutes from Keeseville.  That evening Bill and I went to see the camp.  The camp was very rustic, just a very large building made of logs that consisted of one big room. Two parts were sectioned off with thin wall boards for the two bedrooms. The wallboards did not reach the ceiling, so there was no privacy.  A large bar with benches for ten people separated the kitchen from the dining and living areas. The small bathroom was the only room that was completely enclosed. Bill asked me what I thought. I looked out on the lake. Just then the sun was setting. The view was magnificent. I said, “Buy it!” Bill was so surprised as I was the one who always said, “I’ll think it over.” By August 1966, we were proud owners of a camp on Lake Champlain.

A few weeks later we received the following letter from relatives downstate in Westchester County made us smile:

Dear Fran and Bill, Good luck on buying a camp.  But we are worried about you Fran. With a large family and working full time, we hope it won’t be too much for you.  Is it a boys’ camp or a girls’ camp?Love, Hilda and Morris

I guess Hilda was right.  I looked up the word “camp” in the dictionary, which defined a “camp” as a temporary place for children out of the city.

Although the camp needed lots of repairs and wasn’t my dream cottage, it was one of the smartest moves that Bill and I ever made.  The property was reasonable and we could afford it.  As our family grew, so did the camp. In 1968, we built on a large family room with huge windows facing the lake. Over the years we entertained lots of company and hosted lots of parties. All our children and our eight grandchildren enjoyed the camp for many, many years.

When Bill and I reached our eighties, we found it was too difficult to keep up the cottage and put it up for sale. We were so happy when our son Jay and his wife Leslie offered to buy it as it would still be in the family.

Ten years have passed. Jay and Leslie are now grandparents. Jay recently retired, and Leslie will join him soon. They plan on spending much more time in Willsboro.  So they are replacing the old camp with a beautiful new one. They are so excited and can’t wait until it is built.  The structure may be new, but the sunset will be the same.  May they enjoy many happy years in their new home on the lake.

Our Passover Bris

Larry and I at Adam's bris. Adam was asleep in his bassinet, waiting to go home.

Larry and I at Adam’s bris. Adam was asleep in his bassinet, waiting to go home.

This year, as we prepare for Passover,  my thoughts are not only on the upcoming holiday but also the memories of a very special Passover thirty-six years ago.

At this time in 1978, Larry and I were anxiously awaiting for the birth of our first child. My mother and my older sister had delivered their babies early and easily, and I was expecting the same experience for me. It didn’t turn out that way.  After I had gone through several hours of unproductive labor, our baby was delivered on his due date, Saturday, April 15, by Caesarian section. Despite the unexpected surgery,  Larry and I were absolutely thrilled.  We had a perfect healthy little boy, our little tax deduction, our Adam Michael Shapiro.

Now that we had a son, we needed to plan a bris. Unlike today’s births, the average stay for a woman who delivered by c-section in the 1970’s was eight days. We arranged to have the ceremony and celebration in one of the conference rooms in St. Peters on the following Sunday.

Now we faced the difficulty of finding a rabbi and/or moyel. Sunday was the second full day of Passover. As a C-section was not a “natural birth,” the holiday technically superseded the commandment of the bris on the eighth day.  Fortunately, my brother and sister-in-law had a close friend who was the daughter of a local rabbi, and he graciously agreed to officiate on “yontiff.” One of the doctors in my ob/gyn practice, who was Jewish, agreed to perform the circumcision.

By the time we had set everything up, it was Friday, the first night of Passover.  Larry was invited to a friend’s for seder and I had a decidedly un-Passover dinner in my hospital room. One of the nurses came in to check on me, and I commented that I thought I had developed a bed sore from lying around the hospital bed for the past six days.  She took a look, and said, “That’s not a bed sore! You’ve developed a cyst on the bottom of your tailbone.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Well, I’m not a doctor,” she started. “ But you probably will have to have surgery to remove it, and you will have to stay in the hospital for another week while it heals. Of course, as it is an infection, you will have to be in isolation and not be able to take care of Adam until you are healed.”

That did it for me. I was recovering from major surgery, we were planning on a bris on Sunday, and now I was facing more possible hospital time. I did what any other sane, sensible postpartum mother would do: I had a complete, hysterical melt-down. Unfortunately and to add to the drama, Larry was at a seder at a friend who had an unlisted number, so it took some effort to get the phone operator to agree to contact Larry and then have him call me back. Once he was reached,, Larry left his friend’s house mid-seder and drove back to the hospital to comfort me. The next morning, my doctor assured me that a good dose of antibiotics would work in the short run, with surgery only an option down the road if necessary. The bris was still on, and it was time for us to focus on the celebration.

The day of the bris, my mother and mother-in-law  came with Passover wines, cakes and cookies, along with fresh fruit. They covered the tables with white table cloths, and used an extra one to  cover the crucifix that was hanging on the wall. Our family was all there, the rabbi was sweet and kind, and the doctor who performed the circumcision was steady handed.  The adults, including the father and mother, handled the procedure calmly.  The most attentive guest was our five-year-old niece Katie, who took a unusually close-up interest in the procedure. When asked if she wanted to be a doctor when she grew up, she replied.  “Yes, or a fireman!” After the ceremony, we all sipped Passover wine and ate sponge cake and macaroons. Friends and relatives said good-bye, and Larry drove me and our soundly sleeping son home to Clifton Park. We now could begin our life as a family.

I healed nicely, never needed surgery on the cyst, and, outside of having to call the paramedics my second day home after I got my wedding ring stuck on my finger, things settled down to the new normal of having an infant. Over the years,  Adam has had to celebrate many birthdays with Passover sponge cakes and macaroons instead of the traditional birthday cake.. However, he and our family always enjoy the retelling of the Passover bris as much as the required retelling of our “sojourn from Egypt” at our seders.

Best Gift

The baby grand was the center piece of our living room in Keeseville.

The baby grand was the center piece of our living room in Keeseville.

For our family, three of the best gifts we ever received were an ugly orange spinet, a mahogany baby grand, and a walnut Yamaha upright.

After the war, my parents and my two older siblings moved from New London, Connecticut, to Potsdam, New York, so that my father could help my Uncle Eli, my mother’s brother, with his clothing business. Housing was very difficult to find in 1948, and my parents were left no option but to purchase a very small ranch on top of a very windy hill. Cramming the four of them into the two-bedroom house was difficult enough. When I arrived in 1950, things got even more crowded. The kitchen was so small that the person sitting in the kitchen chair nearest to the refrigerator would have to stand up if someone had to grab the milk. Laura and Jay shared a bedroom, and my crib was sandwiched into my parents’ bedroom. The tiny living room had a couch, two chairs, my playpen, toys, books, and, in time, a very ugly piano that was one of my sister’s best gifts.

Potsdam was not only the home of the state college but also the location of the Crane School of Music, which provided many musical opportunities to the community. My sister walked past Crane on her way home from school every day and heard the students practicing their instruments. Intrigued and inspired, she asked my parents for a piano. After proving herself by taking lessons using the neighbor’s rickety spinet, she got her wish. My parents purchased an old upright painted a hideous butterscotch orange that barely fit into the already full living room. The tiny house often reverberated with music, especially when friends gathered around the piano. My Uncle Eli, who could not read music, played any requested song by ear, so he often was on the piano bench.

In 1952, my father took a job in Keeseville, New York, managing a Pearl’s department store one of several in a chain owned by my great-uncle Paul. In order to save money, my parents hired a couple of men from Pearl’s to pack up the household belongings into the company truck and deliver them safely to Keeseville. Unfortunately, the men dropped the piano while unloading it. The piano, never in tune to start, was now hopelessly flat and sported several non-functional keys. That didn’t stop us from playing. My older siblings and I took lessons with varying degrees of mediocrity. We mixed our John Thompson piano lesson books with more popular sheet music, including such Fifties hits as “Stranger on the Shore” and “Mack the Knife.” My sister’s and my favorites were from the American Songbook. We had a healthy collection of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, and George Gershwin.

By the age of twelve, I had gone through a couple of piano teachers, one who retired and one who moved away. Despite the lack of lessons, talent, and a decent instrument, I still loved to play. I alternated between the classical music I learned from my former teachers and all the music my sister had left behind when she went to college. I began lobbying for a new piano. I knew, however, that getting even another second-hand one that was in a little better shape than our orange relic was probably out of financial reach for our family.

One evening before Chanukah in 1962, my parents called me into the kitchen. That afternoon, my father found out one of his customers was moving to a smaller home and was selling a used baby grand for only five hundred dollars. Was my father was interested? Yes, I was, in fact, getting my wish. I cried for joy, even more so when the beautiful instrument with its shiny mahogany finish was delivered later that week. Unlike our tiny box of a house in Potsdam, our Victorian house in Keeseville had enough room for the baby grand. With a minimal rearrangement of furniture, the piano became the centerpiece of our living room.

That January, I started lessons with the new young Keeseville Central School music teacher. Initially, I was humiliated to find out that I needed to start from the beginning level books to improve my skills. Over the next three years, I managed to work my way through the third level of the John Thompson series. My teacher, knowing my love for the movie and Broadway show tunes, also supplemented the classics with more contemporary selections such as “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel, and, my favorite, “Moon River.”

The piano again became a gathering place for family and friends. I often played while my siblings sang along. My brother even joined in with his trombone. I missed lots of the notes, my sisters were not known for their vocal talents, and my brother was no Urbie Green, but we loved the chance to be together. My Grandpa Joe played Yiddish songs after he moved in with us after my grandmother’s passing in 1966. Uncle Eli got to hammer out his share of songs when he visited us from Potsdam.

Once I left for college, I played infrequently, mostly on school breaks. When my parents moved out of their big house in Keeseville in 1982, the piano was sold as none of the children had room for it in their homes. Before my parents downsized, however, I collected all the sheet music from the house and stored it in our home “just in case” we ever got a piano. I had little chance to play—until I received my second best gift ever.

After my daughter Julie was born, I was home with the two small children. The days were getting long. Knowing how much I loved my baby grand in Keeseville, Larry encouraged me to look for one that would fit into our home. The Yamaha upright I selected from Clark Music in Latham was delivered two weeks before my thirty-second birthday. Armed with all the sheet music my family and I had accumulated since my sister started lessons in Potsdam many years before. I spent many hours playing the piano, both for enjoyment and for the peace and serenity playing gave me.

When she was a junior in high school, Julie decided to take piano lessons for the first time. I felt my musical life had come full circle when my daughter’s teacher recommended we purchase new, unmarked John Thompson lesson books. At her first and only piano recital, Julie choose Pachabel’s Canon and my old favorite, Moon River.

When Larry and I decided to move to Florida, I initially thought of selling the piano. It was expensive to ship to Kissimmee; I didn’t play that often; I could always use the piano in the Palms, the community center a mile from our house. It was Larry who insisted that we pay the moving company to bring the piano with the rest of our household. There was no repeat of the Potsdam debacle. The piano arrived safely in our new home. We placed it on an empty wall in the living room. From the moment I first touched the keys, I knew Larry was right. The tile floors and open floor plan improved the sound quality over that produced in our bi-level in Clifton Park.

Soon after we moved in, I had three couples over for a Shabbat dinner. After dessert, my friend Becky, who taught music in high schools for many years, started looking at my sheet music collection. “This is fabulous!” she commented. “Please play for us!” Not used to an audience, I played hesitantly for a few songs,then Becky graciously took over the keyboard. For the next hour, we belted out songs from Les Mis and Wicked as well as my old favorites, “Sunrise, Sunset” and “Moon River.” I had tears running down my cheeks from happiness. Thanks to my piano, our new home was filled with the sound of music.