Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sister Nancy, HOME IS WHERE...

         Nancy, my younger sister, was my constant playmate and roommate until 1963, when I got my own room. We were always together; we got our new bikes at the same time, for our birthdays. I was 12 and Nancy was 10; my bike was red; hers, green. We put a lot of miles on those bikes: uptown, down to the candy store, over to our Cousin Pam‘s, up to the post office, on to Chaffee’s, Watt’s Drugstore for ice cream, or to the Y.M.C. A. for ice cream or candy.

         Nancy and I would sometimes go, to the house we called “The Red House,” next to our yard. It was empty for years. We would go exploring and scaring each other for fun. I guess it was a rooming house for the railroad years ago.

         We would go looking for hickory nuts or berries, and across the street we would look for arrowheads. By the stream, there was watercress that we would pick and take home. Some days, we would be gone all day. There were times when we would pack a lunch, go across the street, up the hill, and sit on the moss; after we ate, we would lie in the sun and watch the cars go by.

         Growing up, we had a toy box in the kitchen. We had Tinker Toys, Pick-up Sticks, little Pocket Books. We also had a  tin doll house, with plastic furniture, Old Maid cards, checkers, roller skates, but mostly we stayed outside, looking for stuff to do, such as tag, kickball, hide-and-seek, dodge ball. There were always things to do inside, also.

         Mommy and Daddy had a cabinet filled with old records. We would look through them and pick out a few to listen to; there were Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller, Harry James, and Perry Como. Many years later, Mommy started our own record collection off by bringing home Bill Haley and His Comets’  “Rock Around the Clock,” and then came Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Connie Frances, and many, many more. We would turn the record player on in the living room and play them.

      Nancy and I would play upstairs with the wind-up Victrola and we would also roll each other down to the railroad in a wrecked baby stroller. We played out in the chicken coop. There were not many chickens. Grandma would go out to the coop, and we would have chicken for supper. We just didn't see the deed, thank God. Nancy and I would explore out in the shed: old tools, the horse sleigh, a grinder to sharpen tools. A lot of these things Grandma ended up donating to Museum Village.

         Our friends Roseanne and Linda loved to come over. They adored Daddy. A few years later, Linda’s mom, Marge, had a late-in-life baby. I think it was 1963. The baby loved Daddy, too, and when they brought the baby over, he would carry her around. She called Dad “Ernie.” When she married many years later, that was the name of the man she married.

         Nancy and I loved Capt. Kangaroo; every morning at 8 a.m. we would sit in front of the TV. On “crafts day,” we would wait to hear what he was going to make and what we would need in order to make the same thing, for one example: crayons, colored paper, scissors, okay so far, and then he said “a shoe box;" well, that ended that. We only got two pairs of shoes a year when we were young and had no extra shoe boxes. That took care of crafts that day and Capt. Kangaroo; we were off to do something else. 

         Nancy and I would watch television on Saturday, the usual fare: cartoons Fury, Flicka, Sky King, and The Dead-End Kids in the afternoon. We had living room furniture that had wooden arms. We would each take an arm, and use it as a horse for Fury and as an airplane seat for Sky King. We had good imaginations and fun at any time. You could hide in many places in the house: upstairs there was a closet and inside, in the back of the closet, was a door and two steps down were two rooms. We were told years ago they were servant quarters.

            Nancy was great company for me when I was really sick or she was sick. We would play cards or board games. When we weren’t sick, but just bored, we could always find something to do together. When no one was home and Grandma was napping, long before caller I D, we would make prank calls. We would order a taxi for Mrs. Glocker or a pizza delivery for Mrs. Mietta or make that most beloved call to the store, "Do you have Prince Albert in a can? Well you better let him out."

              Another call was, "Is your refrigerator running? You’d better go after it."

              We didn't do this too often, only when we were really bored. Then we got older and switched to calling boys, only local boys. We couldn’t call long distance, too expensive. I've told you much about Nancy, but I thought of a couple of more things, one of which occurred on a Sunday when Aunt Toddy and Uncle Bill came in the afternoon for a visit; Mommy asked if they would like to stay for dinner.

             There was always enough, but this one day she didn't make any dessert, so to us Mommy said, "All I have is ice cream, and not enough for all, so when I ask you if you want some, say, ‘No thanks, I’m full.’"

             Around the table Mom went, and it was going well until she got to Nancy. 

            “Just one scoop, please, just one scoop,” Nancy said, as Mommy gave her The Look.

            Nancy got her ice cream, though.

            One more Nancy story relates to her closeness to Grandma. She was alone with Gram for two years after I started school, so when Gram began to decline, it was very hard on Nancy. At school we went for a full day, naps included. Nancy initially refused to go to school. No one could get her onto the bus, and when they finally did, she cried, so Grandma went to kindergarten for awhile. I don’t remember for how long.

             We went on a picnic when I was about 3½, over to the swimming hole. I don’t know who we went with, but at some time Nancy became missing. Mommy said that everyone ran in different directions looking for her. It took awhile, but she was found at the end of the road, unharmed.

            When Nancy was a baby, Mommy had her in the baby carriage, all wrapped up. It was winter. We took her down to the railroad and left her there---me, Doreen, and Linda from across the street. There's a photo of us after we brought her back, and Nancy’s eyes were beet red from crying. I don't know if we were trying to get rid of her or not.

             I have heard that when I was born, Doreen tried to take the screws out of my crib. Guess she didn't want me around, either.

            I believe everything happens for a reason, and if it were not for my first diagnosis, I wouldn't have started this book. I started it for my two grandsons. Every time I go up North to their house, they love to have me tell them stories of my childhood, and of course they know Aunt Nancy and Aunt Doreen.

           On one visit, they asked me what Nancy and I did all day when we were kids. I said, "We did this crazy thing. We went outside all day, playing games, and visiting friends and neighbors.”

           Daddy always said that no grass grew under our feet. Nancy and I would sit under the tree and plan our next adventure.

           There was a girl who lived down by the Y.M.C.A., not far from our house. She would come by often and ask if she could play with us. We always said she couldn‘t, but one day when she came over, we said yes; of course, she had no idea what we had planned. You see, she had long curly hair, and to be mean we put bird ox in it. If you don't know what bird ox is, it is little balls of stickers, almost impossible to get out of your hair or off your clothes. I still feel bad about this. It was really mean. We never did anything like that ever again.

         One summer, they were paving a new road through town right past our house. Nancy and I set up a lemonade stand and sold about one dollar’s worth before stopping, then we split the money and went right to Sandy's for some candy and a popsicle. Once in a while, Uncle Bill would take us to Walden for a pizza at the Subway Restaurant or to the Crossroads for a milkshake. We always enjoyed those times.

         Choosing gifts to give was important for us. We thought hard for weeks before Christmas, Mother's Day, Father's Day, or birthdays. Nancy and I would walk up and down the aisles of the local five-and-ten-cent store until we found just the right things. For Daddy, we would get work gloves, hankies, or Old Spice cologne. Grandma would get a pin or hair comb or a figurine. Mommy was the hardest; one time we got her a big bottle of apple perfume; she was very kind to wear it. One anniversary, Nancy and I made dinner for Mom and Dad; we worked on the menu for days: stuffed chicken, mashed potatoes, peas and gravy and home-made muffins. They said it was great.

            Nancy and I shared the same bedroom for years. Before this, the three of us slept in the big bed together. One of the first memories I have is being in that bedroom standing next to a painted green dresser, getting my PJs on after a bath, probably at three years old. I was told that either Nancy or I would often wet the bed.

            Doreen moved upstairs to her own room, and we got twin beds. Then, at the age of 15, in November 1963, I got new furniture, a full-size bed and my own room. Nancy moved upstairs across from Doreen.

     That was our practice. When each sister reached 15, she got to pick out a new bedroom suite of furniture. I remember the day I got my turn. It was easy to remember (and I have the best memory in the family), as it was the day President John F. Kennedy was shot. I was excited for myself but sad for the country’s loss. I did get my very own bedroom for myself, the most treasured private space. But---oh, no---I was lonely and missed the before-drifting-off-to-sleep chatting with Nancy.

             Nancy had a few toys that were stuffed animals. One was a dog. We got into a fight over something---I don't remember what it was. I took the stuffed dog down by the railroad where there was a shed that had a big barrel of melted tar in it. I put the toy dog in the tar, and of course it was all over us, too. We got into big trouble.

             I guess we spent a few years in the same bed because we only had potbelly stoves and fireplaces for heat. Mommy went to work to earn the money to put heating and plumbing into the house. I remember the heat’s being put in. It was a happy day. Daddy kept it at 78°. He wanted us to be warm. The big house needed no air conditioner in the summer, as the big door would be shut and the windows closed and the green shades pulled down; when we came in from outside, it was always cool.

            I do not know if we loved winter or summer more. We took the bus to and from school, before we moved to the big school, and we could walk home often on a nice day or on the last day of school. It took us about one half-hour to walk home, and sometimes Grandma would be napping, so the door was locked. There were two windows by the front door that opened, and you could reach in for the big key and then open the door. When Frisky was still alive, he would be at the end of the driveway waiting for us. He seemed to know what time we were coming home, and he would be so excited to see us, then he’d go wait for Dad at the end of the path to the railroad.

            Nancy and I were the Bobbsey twins, always together in good times and bad. We always had each other's back. At night before we went to sleep, we would make plans for the next day, depending on the time of the year and, of course, whether one of us had school.

      Nancy married a friend of Bucky's, Bobby, and they had one son and one granddaughter. Bob was a great guy; he died too early, in 2005, after an illness of one year.

         Nancy and I are still very close emotionally; she lives in Walden around the corner from our daughter and grandsons; they love her to death. We have many great memories that we cherish.


We are serializing the recently published memoir, Home is Where the Story Begins, by Kathleen Blake Shields, one of the "three Blake girls" who were well known while growing up in tiny Maybrook, NY, in the 1950s and 60s. I am proud to have coached and edited for Kathy's upbeat book, published by Outskirts Press and available from OP as well as from and and other on-line booksellers.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Sister Doreen from HOME IS WHERE

         Next is my older sister, Doreen. She is two years older than I, and she did not really play too much with younger sister Nancy and me. She had her own set of friends and her own room. She and her friends would go skating at Jewel’s Pond in the winter and go to the canteen every Wednesday night at the Y.M.C.A., carrying a box of 45-rpm records with her.

         Doreen and I were on the C.Y.O. (Catholic Youth Organization) cheerleading squad together.

         I remember that in October 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, Doreen didn't leave her room for days. She was scared to death. The stand-off between the U.S. and Russia had time ticking away at the threat of a war. Everyone held his breath waiting for Russia to back down, and thank heaven they did. It was the closest, since World War II and the Korean War, that we had come to going to war. I was 14, and I remember how frightening it was. We even had bomb drills in school. We would have to put our hands on our heads and get under the desks.

         There was even a family across the street from us (the Stores) whose father had them convinced that the end of the world was coming. One evening they were by the highway waiting for a bus that was coming to take them God-knows-where. We never found out, and soon they were gone.

         I remember Doreen sitting in the chair in the living room with a coffee cup, cigarette, and hairspray, getting ready for school. Going uptown to the custard stand with her friends was something else she did often. Every day after school we watched American Bandstand at 4 p.m. I was Doreen's dance partner.

         When I was in third grade, we went on a class trip to Monroe Museum Village. I got three dollars for whatever I wanted, so I looked for something for Doreen, Nancy, Grandma, Mom and Dad. I was so excited to give something to everyone. Doreen was up in her room, and I brought my gift to her. When I got back downstairs and outside, the window opened, and she threw the hatchet out, yelling, "Just what I always wanted." I was brokenhearted.

              Doreen married a few years after I did, to her childhood sweetheart, Bucky, and they have two children and three grandchildren. Bucky and Doreen have been married for 48 year

         One day Doreen and I made mud pies. We got pieces of boards and made mud cakes. This is the only memory I have of playing with Doreen as a child. She also had a pet squirrel that would hang around us, for the peanuts we had.

              The phone was in our parents’ room, with a short cord. This made talking to your boyfriend, or to your friend about your boyfriend, kind of tricky. Oh, my! As we got older, Doreen and I would make that race to the ringing phone, often knocking into each other. I was often the winner, because Doreen was upstairs in her room mostly.

         When one of us sisters would start school, the older sister would watch out for her: Doreen for me and I for Nancy.

                As I grew older and reached my teens, Doreen and I grew closer, sharing boy stories, clothes, and secrets. The boy that lived across the street had a cousin from Brooklyn that Doreen had a crush on, so one day, prearranged, we took the bus to Brooklyn and rode the subway by ourselves. We had lunch and then went off to the Brooklyn Fox theatre to see a few rock 'n roll acts, then back to catch the bus home.

                It never turned into the romance Doreen wanted. I was 13 and Doreen 15. There were a few crushes, hers and theirs afterwards, and then the lasting romance she had with Bucky. It took a while to catch him, and the influence of the interest of another suitor, before they ran away to get married. The other party was crushed to find, when he came to get her for their date, that she had eloped. He cried, and Mommy cried with him.

         To this day Doreen and I are great friends and secret-holders. We talk on the phone every day, like talking about when she got her license, and we would drive to Newburgh, up and down Broadway or shopping for those special shoes or getting our hair done at the popular salon, Fred and George's, the place to be. We still talk about the old days: walking to the custard stand, listening to the radio, and hanging out with others. I was excited to be part of the in-crowd and be accepted by her friends. Then along came Kenny, with Friday night movies at the Didsbury Theater in Walden and parties and dances. Kenny was much taller than I. He was 6'2" and I, only 5’2”. He was very handsome. I've seen him a few times when I go up North.

              I cannot tell any other stories of Doreen, as she has sworn me to locked lips. We’ll take one big story to our graves…or until I need it!


         We are serializing here Kathleen Blake Shields's memoir, Home Is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood,  published this summer by  Outskirts Press and available in paperback from OP, as well as,, and other on-line booksellers. I am proud to have served as her writing coach and editor; my site is

Monday, November 16, 2015

Priscilla Taylor Cooper, R.I.P.

On 14 November 2015, our beloved mother, Priscilla Taylor Cooper, was commemorated at graveside burial services held at the Wallkill Valley Cemetery in Walden, NY. She had died of congestive heart failure on November 5th, two months and three days after the death of our dear sister, Diana Winslow Cooper. Eulogies were presented by her sons, Douglas, Clifford, and Christopher Cooper, and close family friend Philip John Nodhturft, Jr. Written versions appear below.

April 3, 1917 – November 5, 2015
Douglas Winslow Cooper

“The lovely shall be choosers,” poet Robert Frost assures us, but their choices may not work out well for them. My mother’s life might be an example of this. Then, again, maybe not. I think she would have maintained that she had lived a happy life.

In 1917, Priscilla Taylor was born brilliant and beautiful into a middle-class family in New York City. Although warmly welcomed by her parents, Ralph and Irene Taylor, she once said that her elder sister, Janet, was never seen smiling in a photograph after she was born. Both sisters were saddened by the death of their mother, Irene Driscoll Taylor, when Priscilla was only two years old and Janet, five.

The girls went to live with their maternal grandmother’s family in the Boston area. Her father worked as a stockbroker in NYC, visiting on weekends. In high school both girls excelled. Money had been put aside for their education, and both girls went to college, not common in the 1930s. Janet became a teacher.

First, Priscilla spent a year in art school, learning that she did not have nearly the artistic talent needed for success there. Chagrined at having “wasted” some of the college funds, she went to U. Mass Amherst as an English major, did four years of study in three years, and emerged second in her class, magna cum laude

She eloped and married a schoolmate, Alfred Page, who soon became an accountant and a drunk. They had a child, Douglas Alfred Page, “to save the marriage,” and I did not. I nearly died of hydrocephalus shortly after birth, and her devotion to me and his lack of concern doomed their relationship. They soon separated. They divorced in 1945.

During the rest of World War II, she was effectively a single mother, who worked in the post office in NYC, and at some time she also modeled dresses and furs. Pictures of her in my mind and in my home are of a beautiful woman.

Soon after the war ended, she met and married a very intelligent man, Michael J. Cooper, a New Yorker with a recent law degree, who chose to work instead as a salesman for the next 15 years. He converted from Judaism to Christianity and had a difficult relationship with his family, the working-class Coopermans in lower Manhattan. He also proved to have an anger management problem that, for example, once led to his choking me, when I was around age 10, into unconsciousness. [Later in life, he had physical confrontations with my other siblings, too.] There were many angry marital arguments, enough to make one doubt the value of ever getting married. I was in love with my mother, and she often defended me in such disputes.

Michael Cooper did not adopt me, but he did insist I not be reminded of his step-father status, and I swiftly forgot it, being passed off as “Douglas Winslow Cooper,” a name I had to legally change to in my mid-thirties, when seeking a birth certificate revealed to me that Michael J. Cooper was not my father and that my mother had deceived me for three decades. There were numerous other family secrets that eventually cause discord.

During the post-W.W. II decade, we lived in a two-bedroom apartment on Riverside Drive, by the George Washington Bridge. Nick, Diana and Cliff were born during that time. Being a salesman is a feast-or-famine occupation, and Mom often had to push to get her husband out the door to work. Money was tight. Although we always had the cash to pay the $40/month rent, we often owed money to the local grocer. At one point, Mom tried to sell her blood, but was rejected: she was too thin. 

During this period, Mom wrote an anti-segregation story published in the Amsterdam News, a Negro publication in Harlem. Later on, she wrote many other unpublished stories and even completed an unpublished book, a line-by-line explanation / translation of Hamlet.

After 1954, there followed a period of moving from place to place: next to Inwood Park in northern Manhattan for a year, six months in an uninsulated home lacking running water, in a beautiful mountain setting in Middleburg, NY; a year in Mount Vernon in Westchester, two years in a country home between Walden and Montgomery, and two years in Walden itself, where my youngest brother, Chris, was born. Mom was 41. 

As soon as I graduated from high school, in 1960, we moved to Gardiner. My step-father had recently resumed being a lawyer, and he continued at this until his death twenty years later. Soon, Mom became his legal secretary in the part-time law office he maintained in Rosendale, NY, where they had moved after a year or two in Gardiner. She also wrote part-time for the Kingston Daily Freeman newspaper.

In Rosendale, my mother was delighted to have forty-some acres, with a pond, a place for many dogs, cats, ponies, horses, chickens, even a goat. She loved her children and she loved animals, and this somewhat rugged setting was ideal for all of that. It was not ideal in other ways, however, including being so secluded that my step-father’s angry outbursts could readily be hidden from the public. Eventually, despite therapy, he killed himself, in 1981, and a few years later, Mom and Diana moved to Tucson, which they came to love, except for an occasional snake. Nick, Cliff, Chris, and I had all graduated with one or more college degrees, and we lived elsewhere. Diana worked as a nurse. Mom and Diana loved the weather and their pool and the scenery and the Saint Bernards they had as pets, but an invasion by a family of snakes one season was enough to drive them back to New York’s Ulster County, where they had lived before. 

So, in 1993 Mom and Diana moved to Wallkill, and they lived together there until 2010, when Mom need to be cared for at my home in nearby Walden, and Diana stayed in their Wallkill home until she died September 2, 2015. Until 2010, Mom and Diana lived together for all but a couple of years of Diana’s life.

Mom drove until she was nearly 90, stopped by the consequences of a hip replacement surgery. She fell a few years after, cracked a bone, and became bedridden, moving in with Tina and me, daily hoping to return to her home in Wallkill. Eventually, she needed a pacemaker and a ventilator, became virtually quadriplegic and her last year was a mix of sleep and only partial awareness while awake. She had loved life, and she had lived to be 98. We deeply appreciated the around-the-clock care she received from our nurses.

What to make of her life? Despite losing her mother at age two, she was well cared for in childhood. She was saddened by numerous family funerals, however. She had beauty and brains and money enough to go to college, where she excelled and greatly enjoyed it. She chose a schoolmate to marry, and he became a drunkard. Her next husband was also very bright, but with a different problem, harder to classify. She wanted many children, and she had five. She wanted to live in the country, and she spent decades there. She was a White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant who welcomed all her children’s friends and lovers, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. She loved and was loved by my wife, my dearest Tina Su Cooper, of Chinese ancestry. Mom was intensely self-reliant, self-sufficient, and would never want sympathy from anyone.

Priscilla Taylor Cooper was special, much loved, and will be greatly missed. She loved her children and grandchildren and two of her daughters-in-law. May she rest in peace, along with our dear sister, Diana, who so recently died, and eventually with the rest of her family…in good time. 

Eulogy by Clifford Taylor Cooper 

First, I thank my brother, Doug Cooper, for his noble, selfless service in caring for my mom for all these years. He complied with Mom's desire to live as long on this Earth as humanly possible, no matter what her condition. Doug provided a safe sanctuary in his home by Lake Osiris. He did what no other one in this family could have done. The stress and strain were incalculable. He had the noble fortitude and took on the financial responsibility that no other sibling could, nor wanted to, bear. Thanks , Doug. You are a saint.

To Mom's nurses, all of you, thank you. It was always comforting while I was living in California, to know that I had professional, caring "pros" guarding over my mom...much like Marines guarding a depot. Thanks you, again.

Mom was beautiful, brilliant, witty and politically savvy. She instilled the proper tenets of life in all her children:

  1. The first tenet was that life is precious (and as Doug states is a corollary: that is because and why it is finite). 
  2. God created all things---Mom would say, "look at a tiger, a giraffe, a goldfish, all intelligently designed by the hand of God, and that's not an accident."
  3. Family (broadly defined) is the most important group, and here I include such close friends as Michael Chamberlain and Phil and Ginny Nodhturft. All other relationships fade with time. Only family stays with you.

Some anecdotes about Mom, especially her wit; the entirety would be T.N.T.C., which from my days as a bacteriologist [before his law degree and then his career in automotive sales finance management] means "Too Numerous to Count":
  1. A solicitor called her on the telephone and prefaced his spiel with, "Mrs. Cooper, don't you want to be a millionaire?"  In all sincerity, consistent with how she lived in a non-materialistic fashion, she responded, "No!"
  2. She loved Christmas and made sure that each of her children got the same number of presents. During one such celebration she became concerned I was one gift short. I reassured her that it was O.K. with me, that my "pile" was plenty high, although I too feared I may have come up short. She searched and searched throughout the room and the discarded wrapping paper, and sure enough...found one more, mine, behind the tree. 

More broadly, my mom always "found the gift" for me; that's the way she was in life, and that's why I'll cherish the countless memories of the fun times we had, and I'll miss her and love her forever.

I love you, Mom.

A Tribute to Mrs. Cooper