Thanksgiving

This is my 83rd Thanksgiving.  I don’t remember the first one.  It was probably snowing.  The early years are a blur, but I do recall sitting around the large, otherwise unused dining room table with the crisp, white holiday tablecloth which had been properly stored, washed and ironed for the occasion.  My mother’s special china, brought out for Thanksgiving and the High Holidays, was carefully laid out at each place.  My dad always sat at the head of the table and was served first.  Mom never seemed to sit down.  She was always jumping up to respond to dad’s commands.  She ate while preparing the meal and snacked her way through our dinner.  The menu was a blend of old world and new – the traditional turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie was served alongside beef brisket, matzoh ball soup, gefilte fish and kugel. Everything was kosher. The early holidays were special in that all five of us were together –my parents, me, my brother Marty and sister Ruby.  In later years my sister brought her new husband, but my brother was a no-show after 1951, once he left for college and then his life beyond, dealmaking in New York City.   Thanksgiving holidays for me represent different parts of my life.  Early childhood, brother and sister at home, the years I returned for the holiday from college followed by marriage, and then returning to my childhood home with my late wife and our young children.  After my parents retired to Florida, our family Thanksgivings were on our own in East Hampton. 

                Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that is fixed in the calendar, always the fourth Thursday of November.  These holiday milestone markers remain the same, while the participants and locations change, dictated by where one sets down a home.  Looking back over 83 years of Thanksgivings, reflecting on memorable times with parents, siblings, loved ones past and children, I realize it is a holiday about looking to the past, not the future.  Unlike New Year’s celebrations when we look ahead, Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for all we have and have had, and for simply sitting at a table to share a meal with those close to us — being in the room where it happens, so to speak.  I look forward to this year’s Thanksgiving, despite the fact that we are not all at the table.  Each Thanksgiving is a short, shining moment in life’s story – enjoy it while you can. 

“Billy – yu wanna go fishin’?”

…I texted my grandson.  I am always asking him, but never get the response I want.   I would like Billy to come down to Florida by himself, for some freshwater fishing on a river I discovered off Jupiter inlet.  During the summers, I have coaxed him to fish with me in Maine at our camp, but only if his father or mother were in the canoe with him.   I can understand that at age 12 he may be too young to travel by himself from New York to Florida or Maine, but I keep asking and hoping for at least a “maybe.”   Instead, I get a definitive “no.”  I know Billy enjoys our Maine excursions with Andy our fishing guide.  Andy always puts Billy into small mouth bass (that’s fisherman talk) and in fact, Billy boasts to friends and family about how much he catches.  Last summer with his mom, he caught more fish than I did.  But my dream of having my grandson fish and hike in the woods with me, just the two of us, won’t be a reality until Billy is a little older. 

In the past, my girls would not want to go on my fishing trips, whether in the U.S. or abroad. Even the promise of international travel was not enough to tempt them.  They were teenagers, more comfortable at home with their mother and their peers, none of whom were of learning how to flyfish.  I always imagined that someday I would have a grandson to accompany me, and that’s why I am a little impatient waiting for Billy to grow up enough to wave goodbye to his parents and go along with Grandpa’s plans.  I know he will eventually – Billy is a terrific, adventuresome kid.  Of late, I suspect there may be another factor making him hesitant about leaving home, even for a short time:  his sister is away at her first year of college.   Billy may be enjoying all the undivided attention from his mom and dad, and at the same time, may not want them to feel lonely without any of their children around.  I am no substitute for his parents, whom he adores. 

As a child I had no qualms about taking adventurous trips without my parents.  I joined my friends and their parents on trips to the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River and I attended Camp Seneca, which was sleepaway, every summer growing up.  I went to basketball games with my Uncle Sam, getting home long after dark, and went on weekend excursions to the farm of one of our neighbors.  I was always up for getting out of the house and being somewhat on my own at Billy’s age.  When I received an Indian Racer bicycle I was off every day after school, exploring. During the summers I was out on my bike from after breakfast until sundown.  Back then, being at home just wasn’t as entertaining as it is for kids these days with television and computers and video chatting with friends.  I didn’t even have books at home –I had to go to the library for those and read them there, my bike parked outside.    When Billy hits his teen years, I won’t take “no” for an answer.  And my wifi is working just fine for video games, computer, all of it–AFTER we get back from a day on the lake. 

“Keep the Thorn to Keep the Rose”

My smart watch showed “snow showers in Danforth.”  It is the time of year when Greg and Katie scramble to open the storage garage and sort out where all the “stuff” accumulated over the summer and summers before will be stacked away for the next year’s adventures.  This year not only do we need a bed for the canoe and my old power boat, but I recently shipped up to camp my complete library of books accumulated since the mid-1970s. Greg is to build, over the winter, a new set of shelves to house my beloved, mostly-read books in my man cave-office-studio.  I always feel comforted surrounded by books, as I am by the small fireplace in the studio.  Next spring, I will organize the books, and figure out where my fly-tying apparatus goes, as well as my painting easel and other assorted tchotchkes. But now things are winding down.  The closing up of camp in the fall coincides with my birthday in October and is always a time of reflection for me.

A recent article in the New York Times, “Fall Can Be a Season for Building Resilience” by Erick Vance, describes the melancholy one feels at the loss of sunlight and greenery at the end of summer.  Yet those who “lean in” to the discomfort can gain from it, as it enables them to build up a tolerance to other fears and uncertainties in life. “Mindfulness” is another way to simply observe and accept life as it is rather than thinking about change as a source of distress.  Useful advice, as this autumn is a bit scarier than most given what is happening in the world:  important mid-term elections at a time when our democratic system is at risk, an escalating war in Ukraine and the threat of nuclear confrontation, plus the economic turmoil of inflation—and we cannot forget about the damage caused by Hurricane Ian on the west coast of Florida.  It is getting harder for me to read and accept the front-page news.  I know I must keep abreast of what is happening in the world, but it is becoming burdensome.  I find the obituaries and wedding announcements more enjoyable than the current events being reported.  Personally, I am fortunate to be healthy, to have a life filled with adventure, love and career success.  Yet there is an unsettling feeling of uncontrollable events on the horizon.  My form of mindfulness is to delve into a good book to take me to another place. Mysteries, biography, classics, as well as a new project—research on a historical novel I plan to write about my father’s escape from Ukraine during the First World War in 1918, and his journey across Europe to Argentina and eventually to upstate New York. Now there was someone with resilience. 

Vance also talks about autumn as a time of year for “harvesting” memories, looking back and collecting the moments, good and bad, without judgment: “Keep the thorn to keep the rose.”  At my age, I have plenty of thorns, but even more roses, for which I am grateful.  The months ahead will be filled with various adventures and other ways to cope with the blues the changing seasons can bring, and of course my professional work is always a constant source of fresh challenges and excitement.  And camp opening in May is only eight months away. In the meantime, stay warm, Katie and Greg.

The Cygnet

I had a short stay at camp with my high school friends this past week, all of us class of 1958, Benjamin Franklin High School, Rochester, New York.  The camaraderie and closeness with the guys and the warmth of us all being around the fire pit, the shifting smoke notwithstanding, made for a strong sense of wellbeing.  We were together from early morning coffee to late night story sessions of times past and memories relived. But the good feeling, which I hoped would last, was overshadowed by a disappointing discovery on my return to New York.  My house is situated on a cove that is home to a longstanding flock of swans that have co-existed with us since the 1970s.  Before I left to go to Maine, I noticed a bevy of young cygnets trailing a mother and father in the water.   Now I found that the entire family had dwindled down to one lone cygnet survivor.  Sadly, the female swan was found floating in the water and there was no trace of the others, aside from the last offspring swimming alone in Jones Cove, fluttering about among the phragmites, looking for its family.  Coming off a trip with my oldest and dearest friends from upstate, the missing swans seemed a metaphor somehow, to those longstanding relationships we have, to illness and aging and the inevitable loss we face. The surviving cygnet represents our own children and the future. 

At camp, we focused on the past and its impact on our respective lives.  After a meal of comfort food and several glasses of Sancerre, the stories flowed like the wonderful wines my friends brought to camp.  A predominant theme was the importance of our mothers on our lives growing up.  Our fathers were the vegetable broker, the electrician, the garment worker and in my case the parking lot manager.  We all survived like my lone cove swan to create our legacies for the future.  As the swan matures, the brown cygnet colors dissolve into white and it will, like some of us humans, find a mate for life and reproduce.  Unlike the cove swans, whose domain is our pond, my friends and I have “cygnets” of our own, who are well into maturity with established families and careers. They include entrepreneurs, a travel consultant, a teacher of autistic children, an attorney, and a museum director. My daughter Kara is a jewelry designer and my daughter Brooke an interior decorator.  Our children have “spread their wings and flown” and we are proud of them. The sole cygnet will, hopefully, fly out of the cove to thrive with a new flock on the pond.  

To my buddies, Harv, Arnie, Jer and Bobbie and their beautiful gals, thank you for coming together at camp this past week.  Enjoy the upcoming season as if it were that last break after graduation, before we started our new lives in the fall of 1958.   

The Cemetery

I haven’t made my usual cemetery visit to upstate in several years due to Covid. Now there is no longer an excuse not to pay my respects to my folks, as my mother educated me to do as a youngster by having me drive her to the cemetery once I earned my driver’s license at age 17, to visit her mother, Lena Ressel, at the cemetery on Britton Road.  A few weeks ago, I had some time in my schedule, so I decided to make the trip to Rochester.  

On the morning planned for the cemetery visit, the weather was appropriate –rain.  I parked outside the grounds and searched along the residential street for some stones to place on the headstone, as an act of remembrance and as evidence to all those who succeeded me that I was a good son.  Once inside the cemetery grounds, I was surprised how long it took my to find my parents.  The grass surrounding the graves was wet and my shoes were soggy before I saw “Ackerman” in the middle row of plots.  After paying respect to my mother and father, I looked for relatives of my father, in an area of the cemetery called Kupel Volochisk, after the village in eastern Ukraine from which the people, long since laid to rest there, once emigrated during their lifetimes.  My father’s parents perished in the Holocaust so there was no individual headstone for Hershel and Ida Ackerman.   When I visited in 2019 with my daughter Brooke and granddaughter Lilly, we found a monument in the center the Kupel Volochisk section, honoring those from the village who died in the Holocaust.  I added a stone to the several atop the monument. Not much had changed since my youth, except there were more graves crammed in the old cemetery of past congregants of the Koppel Shul on Joseph Avenue. 

Afterward, the next stopover of course, was Don and Bob’s, the original hamburger stand on Lake Ontario, where I had spent a good number of evenings dining out in my youth. I found my way from Britton Road over the Stillson Bridge to Beach Road and Don’s stand.  I had prepared myself with an antacid, so I was ready to indulge.  I savored the one-pound ground round with everything.  Reading the New York Times at the counter, I recalled memories of the 1950s in the northern part of Rochester and felt a little sad.  The neighborhood was once a thriving mecca for families with fish and kosher meat stands, bakeries and the like.  Now the area is in decline, with project houses and abandoned buildings.  Little remains except for a few churches and my old synagogue in form only.  The life of the city as the occupants of the Kupel cemetery knew it, like them, is gone.  Only monuments remain for those who are still here to visit and remember our loved ones who have passed on.  

Camp with the Kids

Lenny Ackerman

My adult children and grandson were waiting for me curbside at Bangor Airport.  They had all arranged to gather at LaGuardia to fly up together for their exclusive week with Dad at camp. My son-in-law Peter was on his cell catching up with business as my daughters waved me over.  After quick hugs and hellos, everyone piled in the Bronco, anxious to get to camp–but not before our planned stop for lunch at Governors, a family restaurant which is part of a chain exclusive to Maine. 

                A family week together at camp has become an annual event for the past several years. When we are all under one roof again it is immediately like old times, though we have had our separate homes for years now.  Shared meals and campfire stories of times past and plans for times to come reconnect us and deepen bonds. 

                I planned to take everyone to Sucker Lake for fishing and a cookout.  Kara and Peter opted out for yoga and conference calls.  Brooke and Billy drove with me in the Bronco over the snowmobile path to the entrance of the lake area.  A bumpy ride but the Bronco handled it as advertised.  Greg met us there with a portable battery-operated motor for the rowboat moored at the shore.  The motor was silent so the quiet of the lake was maintained as we traveled the short distance to a small island for a barbeque.  Greg started his campfire while I waded into the water for a few casts.  Billy tried his hand at wading and casting alongside me and I noticed he was more confident in his technique this year.

                Lunch was a typical Lenny picnic menu:  hamburgers with mustard and relish.  The appetizers and dessert were catching a bass, so after a few bites I rushed everyone into the rowboat to find a spot where the fish were waiting for us. 

                We maneuvered over to promising-looking cove and before long Brooke and Billy caught several mid-size fish.  Dad landed a few but the exercise was to have the kids experience the lake and its surroundings.  There were no camps along the lake shore, no signs of anyone else.  Just pure wilderness.  Truly a heavenly place.

Camp with the Kids

My adult children and grandson were waiting for me curbside at Bangor Airport.  They had all arranged to gather at LaGuardia to fly up together for their exclusive week with Dad at camp. My son-in-law Peter was on his cell catching up with business as my daughters waved me over.  After quick hugs and hellos, everyone piled in the Bronco, anxious to get to camp–but not before our planned stop for lunch at Governors, a family restaurant which is part of a chain exclusive to Maine. 

                A family week together at camp has become an annual event for the past several years. When we are all under one roof again it is immediately like old times, though we have had our separate homes for years now.  Shared meals and campfire stories of times past and plans for times to come reconnect us and deepen bonds. 

                I planned to take everyone to Sucker Lake for fishing and a cookout.  Kara and Peter opted out for yoga and conference calls.  Brooke and Billy drove with me in the Bronco over the snowmobile path to the entrance of the lake area.  A bumpy ride but the Bronco handled it as advertised.  Greg met us there with a portable battery-operated motor for the rowboat moored at the shore.  The motor was silent so the quiet of the lake was maintained as we traveled the short distance to a small island for a barbeque.  Greg started his campfire while I waded into the water for a few casts.  Billy tried his hand at wading and casting alongside me and I noticed he was more confident in his technique this year.

                Lunch was a typical Lenny picnic menu:  hamburgers with mustard and relish.  The appetizers and dessert were catching a bass, so after a few bites I rushed everyone into the rowboat to find a spot where the fish were waiting for us. 

                We maneuvered over to a promising-looking cove and before long Brooke and Billy caught several mid-size fish.  Dad landed a few but the exercise was to have the kids experience the lake and its surroundings.  There were no camps along the lake shore, no signs of anyone else.  Just pure wilderness.  Truly a heavenly place.

Father’s Day

Growing up in upstate New York in the 1950s, what I remember most clearly about Father’s Day are the homemade gifts that we worked on for weeks in advance in shop class, before school closed for the summer. One year I labored over the construction of a tie rack, designed like a cowboy holding a long stick, over which the ties would drape in a row.  Like my father even wore ties?  Anyway, that was the task for all of us kids, to come up with something that showed great effort for our fathers.  By the time I was in high school, shop class long behind me, my mother would choose a Father’s Day gift from the family.  Despite her frugality, a week before Father’s Day my mother and I would take the bus downtown to buy dad a gift—usually something he could wear to work, like winter gloves or a flannel shirt—all on sale during the summer.  Afterward, we would walk over to dad’s parking lot and wait for him to close up. Then we would all ride home together, his present hidden in mom’s shopping bag.  

My mother’s gift to my dad on Father’s Day was to cook his favorite meal for dinner- beef brisket with sides of baked potatoes and roasted carrots, followed by chocolate cake.  Before sitting down to eat, my dad downed a shot of whiskey.  Then he dug into mom’s dinner like it was his last supper.  No restaurant could offer the same level of satisfaction and happiness as his favorite meal homecooked by my mom.   Whether the children attended this sumptuous meal on Father’s Day was beside the point with dad.  My sister usually found a reason to drop off a present and skipped out on the dinner.  My brother always seemed to be somewhere else—college, law school or selling something.  With mom in the kitchen, I was usually my dad’s sole companion and of course I watched what I said and how I responded to any questions he threw at me.  “Yes, school was fine.” “No I was not looking forward to summer because I am not going to camp.”  That one was my attempt to get him to agree with mom that I have two weeks away at Camp Seneca.  Usually between the first and second helping dad would be amenable to discussing the camp request which usually was about the cost. 

During my teens dad wanted me working the parking lot during the summer to cut down on his payroll.  I learned my negotiating skills by trading off hours at the lot for two weeks at Camp Seneca.  I was being paid, ha ha, and the salary was to be applied to camp fees.  Years later, when I got married and headed to law school, my mother presented me with a passbook to a savings account in my name with the notation, “Parking Lot Money.” My gosh my dad had kept his word.  I think there was $2,500 in that account.  My folks were real savers. I can almost hear my folks today, seeing the presents kids lavish on their father for Father’s Day: “Save for a rainy day, Lenny.”

Mother’s Day, May 11, 1958

May 2022

I think back to my last Mother’s Day with my mom, Rebecca Ackerman. I did not realize the significance of that Mother’s Day outing in 1958 until many years later. I was off to college in August, and after that graduate school, then marriage, starting my own family in New York City and then my parents moved to Florida for retirement. It would be our last Mother’s Day, with all of us together, to celebrate it with her, before she passed away in Rochester, New York in 1997.


Growing up, I looked forward to Mother’s Day. It was the one day of the year my family went out to dine at a restaurant. My parents were Orthodox and would not eat out unless the restaurant was kosher and the only kosher restaurants in town were delicatessens. Hence, they rarely dined out or travelled. The one vacation trip we took as a family, with my sister and her husband, was to Atlantic City in 1949, when I was still small enough to share a room with my parents. Every night of the trip we went to the same, possibly the only kosher restaurant in Atlantic City. Dinner always started with half a cantaloupe, followed by a typical heavy kosher meal of pot roast, potatoes and hearty soup, and it was summer, probably 87 degrees outside.


But on Mother’s Day, the rule was broken, and we would dine out at a non-kosher fish restaurant called Spring House, which is still in business all these years later. It was a momentous occasion for the family. My parents would dress in their formal High Holiday clothes, I would be in a starched white shirt and long pants. Despite all the excitement and preparation, my parents were not
very comfortable eating in a restaurant. Dad could not read the menu in English and relied on Mom to choose his food. Mom, being the chef at home, knew what she wanted before she sat down. They would start with coffee and then order a fish course, usually cod. She was always conscious of cost and knew Dad would question her later about the price of everything that was ordered. She would caution my sister and her husband, both of whom dined out a great deal, to be prudent in their meal choices, knowing that she would have to account to my father for any extravagances. Alcohol was never ordered. Jt was coffee start to finish. I knew to be careful when ordering. I did not like fish as a child and chose the least expensive one. I would eat a few bites, saving my appetite for the ice cream dessert.


Other than on Mother’s Days, my dine out experience in Rochester was limited to Eddie’s Corner, a luncheonette across from Ben Franklin High School, and to Critic’s, near the Paramount Theatre where my mother took me as a youngster to the movies on Saturdays. Mom did not drive, so we took the bus downtown. After the movie we waited for Dad to close his parking lot for the ride home. My parents were not always strict about my kosher diet and occasionally took me after school for a hamburger at a local barbeque, Don and Bob’s, though it had to be surreptitious, my father always parking away from the entrance to avoid being spotted at a non-kosher burger stand. As a teenager, where to go on a date was limited. None of us, my friends or I, had the resources for anything elaborate. After a high school ballgame, we might go to Bay-Goodman’s for pizza and Orange Crush. It wasn’t until I left home that I became an experienced restaurant-goer. When I married and moved to New York City, it opened up a new world, one I never could have imagined as a child sipping my soda at the counter at Eddie’s.


When I remember Mom on Mother’s Day, I think back to those once-a-year lunches at Spring House and how much they meant to her, despite breaking the kosher rule and the money pressure from my father. On that morning in 1958, my high school fraternity brothers delivered a red rose to each of the mothers of current members and to those whose sons had graduated the previous year. After that, our house descended into the usual chaos, with five people trying to get ready and only one bathroom. Dad of course got to go first, even on Mother’s Day, and I, the youngest, was last. It was sign up and soap up quickly. Nothing was ever easy growing up at 144 Navarre Road in Rochester, New York. My warmest memories are of Mom. I remember, before we left the house to go to the restaurant, my mother clipped the stem and pinned the rose to her dress, above her heart.

Fishing Paradise Valley with Kara

March 2022

As anyone reading my columns know, I have long had a special fascination with the state of Montana–its history, its landscape and its unparalleled fly.fishing opportunities. Last night I watched the final episode of the Paramount television series, 1883, which follows a frontier family on their long journey to Montana. To my surprise, Paradise Valley was their last stop– the final resting place for Ilse, the main character. I know Paradise River Valley well from several visits over the years, including a fishing trip with my eldest daughter, Kara, in 1992. Kara had avoided the trip her sister Brooke and I took to the Bob Marsha It Wilderness Area in Montana a few years earlier. Our enthusiastic reports afterward of our many adventures may have swayed her, as had the photos from another trip with my nephew to the chalk streams in Yellowstone. This time, when I had the itch to go back to the Valley, Kara was all in. She wanted to experience it for herself-to see “Big Sky Country” and to learn flyfishing.


I was delighted with her change of heart and vowed our time together on this trip would be special. We left New York and landed in Bozeman, Montana, rented a car at the airport and drove west on Highway 90–a long stretch of road running east-west–turning off at Route 89 into Livingston. The town of Livingston is at the northern entrance to the Valley and at the time, some 30 years ago, it was nothing more than an old run-down movie theater, a vintage hotel, a grocery– and one of the best fly­fishing outfitters in the west. We stopped in town to stock up on groceries and fishing supplies and then headed to our home base. I had secured a comfortable, furnished cabin to rent near the trailhead to the mountains. Our view from the cabin picture windows was the magnificent Gallatin Range –the western flank of Paradise Valley, which is the natural gateway to into Yellowstone Park.

Kara, surprisingly, made dinner that first night – I think her mom gave her some cooking lessons before we left. Afterward, we stepped out onto the deck to observe the evening sky. Millions upon millions of stars formed an elaborate tapestry of bright, twinkling lights. With no noise pollution, the distant howls in the mountains drifted across the Valley toward us, as if the coyotes were close enough to be in our backyard. Maybe some of them were.


Fishing was to start the following day with a float trip down the Yellowstone River, so we went to bed early for a fast start the next morning. I slept like a baby and awoke to a glorious, cloudless dawn. We met up with our guide, a young, long-haired fellow who was pleased to teach Kara, a city girl, how to cast. Kara had deliberately smudged up her brand-new wading pants so she would not look like a complete novice. She needn’t have worried because she took quite easily to casting in the first lessons at the bow of the drift boat. She had soon mastered those 11 to 2 swings essential in tossing a fly. Right off the bat she hooked a cutthroat trout on the bank. Excited as all hell, she kept crying out “Dad look at me!” The thrill of that first fishing experience has lasted nearly 30 years. Only yesterday we talked about our upcoming summer trip to camp in Maine. She and I and her husband, Peter, will fish for bass on East Grand Lake and take a float trip down the Baskehegan River.

These days, Yellowstone Park draws bigger crowds, and the town of Livingston has grown to accommodate them. Montana in 1992 was like a walk through the old west. Dinner on our last night was at a saloon, with cowboys in jeans and dirty boots and large hats that stayed on indoors. The next day, we stopped for lunch in Bozeman, where we would catch a connecting flight. Before going to the airport, we had a little time to stroll the wide main street, passing horses tied up outside where parking spots might normally be. We saw girls in denim with big hair and big belt buckles that represented star rodeo riders. Overhead the blue went on forever. Montana’s moniker “Big Sky Country” was apt.