Seth Cohen (sethcohen) wrote,
Seth Cohen

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Robert Manning Cohen, 11/18/41 - 7/21/07 (6 Av)

I finished sitting shiva this morning after Shacharis, morning prayers. I wanted to write some about my dad. I doubt one post will cover it, but I'll get this one up now and figure out what else I want to say at a later time.

My father passed away either late at night or early in the morning on Friday/Saturday, 6 Av. Dad had been discharged from the hospital post-hip-replacement surgery earlier that week; the surgery had been on Monday, and he probably thought nothing of it. His own mother had survived hip replacement surgery three times (the second surgery was precipitated because the first time they put in the wrong size hip) and had lived for decades past that point, to the age of 95.

In fact, Grandma had only died in January. Dad also wasn't a person to bug a medical professional about every little thing...he'd went through a 15-year stretch where he didn't like any of the dentists in town, and so didn't see one. When he finally found one he was willing to see, their first opinion about the state of his teeth was, "Well, most of these will have to come out, and we'll get you fitted for dentures." So, he must have been feeling pretty lousy to get to the point of having hip replacement. He told at least one friend (and his first cousin Donald Shulkin) that he wasn't feeling all that well come the end of the week, but he didn't end up going back into the hospital. I don't know whether or not he got an opinion from his doctor about how he was doing, and I don't know what caused him to die. He might have had an infection or a blood clot as a result of the surgery...either way, he did not get enough additional help (medical or otherwise) to live out the week. He was 65.

Dad's family home was the Village of Massena, a town in upstate New York. My grandmother Dora's family, the Shulkins, had lived there for quite a while since emigrating from Russia in the late 1800's. My grandfather Lou had been born in Montreal, but his official place of birth was Ogdensburg, a larger town a few miles away. His mother had given birth to him in a Catholic hospital, and at the time Catholic hospitals did not record the birth of non-Catholics. This gave Lou's father the option of leaving his son a Canadian or making him an American. Ogdensburg and Massena were both across the St. Lawrence from Canada, but Ogdensburg was a more significant crossing point than Massena between Canada and upstate New York; thus in Ogdensburg was my grandfather born.

This proved useful during a little period of time in history called "Prohibition". According to family lore, my great-grandfather (who still lived in Montreal) found many a good reason to visit his son Lou, and always headed home with less liquid but more cash. Lou, an attorney, married Dora Shulkin and started a business with some of the other Shulkins. The business, Glo-Gas, was family owned until recently, and sold a variety of products, including propane and propane accessories. The last stockholder, my father's first cousin Don, sold the business around the time Don divorced his first wife.

Lou, as far as I've been told and experienced, was always a successful breadwinner. Admittedly, cost of living in Massena was never high, and it's not a tourist destination...the land is flat as a pancake, which meant that the heavy seasonal snows didn't exactly draw downhill skiers. Massena is surrounded by farmland - it's got good mud, and that's about all that I can for it...I've never spent much time there. Lou and Dora had three kids, Warren, Robert, and Samuel. My father was actually born in Ogdensburg, unlike his own father, who was merely "born" there.

Neither Warren nor Sam showed for Dad's funeral, which didn't surprise me much. There was no love lost. That's not what I'm trying to discuss, though, so I'll try to limit discussions of their brotherly love for each other.

My dad had a stint in the Army Reserves, and attended the University of Buffalo (now SUNY-Buffalo). He'd intended to be an attorney, but ended up a business major. I know that he spent some time in sales after graduating, selling insurance. He was a charming guy and was good at convincing someone that they should buy stuff from him. He was introduced to my mother through a mutual friend, "Buddha", and they married in July of 1970. In January of '72 plans were under way to move to Hanover, NH, but they were not moved by the time I was born, on 2/4/72 in Newark, NJ.

Dad's business was a bicycle shop called "The Pedaler". It was on a street behind the Dartmouth Bookstore; if we trust Google Maps, that means it was on Allen Street, for those of you familiar with Hanover. Woo hoo, I say. Starting any business is a struggle, and Dad asked my mother to go back to nursing overnights to help make ends meet. Eventually, things must have smoothed out, because my Dad's business stayed open until I was fifteen. The store was relatively simple - it was a long, thin shop, with bikes on the left wall both on the floor and on an elevated rack, and there were usually fifty to a hundred bicycles in stock. Along the right was a glass countertop set a few feet away from the wall with various supplies underneath, that Dad or his staff usually sat or stood behind when they weren't being customer-servicey. Dad also sold model rockets and other hobby supplies. Behind the first room was a room that was used for bicycle repair. That room eventually got moved further back in the building, and Dad added another special interest: stereo sales. "The Sound Room" and "The Pedaler" may have been our nation's only combined bicycle/stereo shop, but I'm not going to search Google to see if that's actually true. So, these two businesses lasted until I was fifteen. My parents marriage only lasted until I was four.

Not to ignore my brother, mind you. Jay had been born 5/23/74, at Mary Hitchcock Hospital in Hanover. It's a mystery to me how my parents got together and stayed married, as their personalities really could not be more different. I have memories of some of the fights they had, and I think it's a good thing they divorced. My mother found someplace else to live in Hanover, and my dad eventually moved to Lebanon or West Lebanon, NH. Probably both; it's not fresh in my memory. Mom got into graduate school so she could get an advanced nursing degree; she achieved her MS in nursing a couple of years later in Albany, NY; my brother and I went with her, leaving New Hampshire behind in terms of permanent residence. We were there often, though.

The terms of their divorce required Dad to pay child support, and gave him visitation rights. Depending on how close we lived, we either drove to see him or flew. As our trek through the country started in New Hampshire, progressed to New York, and eventually covered Ohio, Michigan, Florida, and Maryland, you can guess that we eventually flew more often than drove. Dad often had us during the summer, for at least one month. Jay and I would be at day camp during the week, and head back to the Pedaler after camp. We'd hang out in the shop making a nuisance of ourselves until Dad would send us to the Dartmouth Bookstore to buy some comic books or other things to keep us busy. When he'd leave for the day, he'd take us back to his place (he almost always had an apartment), cook us dinner, and we'd hang out for the rest of the evening. He kept a room in his apartment with bunk beds for Jay and me, and there were toys and other stuff that stayed there permanently. In relation to his business, Jay and I always had bikes, and he was the one who taught us to ride. He didn't impress bicycle repair skills upon us, but eventually both of us picked them up. Jay spent more time with Dad overall than I did, and tended to acquire more of Dad's knowledge than I did; I never got the hang of using a real camera, where Dad managed to impress his love of photography on Jay in a permanent fashion. We weren't there only in summer, mind you - New Hampshire has excellent snow, and during our winter visits, we'd spend a day sledding, or Dad would send us for ski lessons. We stayed busy, most of the time.

While Dad had the Pedaler, his life was pretty mellow. I think he worked a fair amount, but also played a fair amount as well. He was serious about bicycling and downhill skiing, and generally stayed the same weight from the time he left the Army until the time he died, give or take a few pounds. I doubt he lacked for companionship, although he never remarried. He disagreed with my mother about child support, and was both passive-agressive about not paying it as well as sometimes downright unlawful; Mom had to have him arrested on more than one occasion for nonpayment. I don't know that he was ever really cut out to be a parent. Not that I'm not happy to be here, and not that I regret having him as a father; I just know that his natural tendencies took him in the direction of solitude more than gregariousness.

In 1987, Dad's landlord informed him that rent was going up on the property where his business was...three times what Dad had been paying before. I don't know what the cost would have been to move, but rather than moving or paying the increased rent, Dad closed the Pedaler/Sound Room. He went back to sales, and eventually moved from West Lebanon to Concord, NH. He would essentially stay in Concord the rest of his life.

This post took a long while, so I'll put it up and write more later.
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