The Beginning

Where does my own story begin? What are the words I’d use to start to tell you who I am as a person who loves words, and uses them every chance I get? Maybe the beginning is in seventh grade. I was the editor of the Peck Observer, the mimeographed (yes) purplish blue school newspaper at The Peck School. It was a big brick building across the street from my childhood home, at 43 Holbrook Street in Ansonia, Connecticut. My seventh grade teacher was a man who took himself very seriously. His name was Mr. Stamos. He was never without a pencil in his hand to fix what was wrong. He was very bald, and had a kind and frequent smile. I liked him, and he thought I was ok enough.Every year my family would go on vacation with other Jewish families to Grossingers, one of those resorts where Jewish families would talk and eat. We were very happy doing that, all of us. No one had the impulse to do much else. We went every February for school break. We would sit in a big round table and eat. I have a picture of all of us (we went with our family’s best friends and their four children) and we all look VERY HAPPY.

I began every single visit to Grossingers (there were many) with a visit to the PR man who booked the talent. I would request an interview for the Peck Observer for anyone who was remotely considered a celebrity.
In seventh grade the PR man told me that Jayne Mansfield was arriving that night and I could be the first one to interview her. And her husband, Mickey Hargity.

I interviewed them in the Grossingers swimming pool, where she wore a leopard skin bikini and I wore a polka dot stretchy thing that covered my straight line body. Mickey lifted weights in the pool.

I had never really seen bodies before. That is, I had seen Connecticut Jews in pajamas but not much else.

I asked Jayne Mansfield many many questions. She didn’t mind that I was skinny and in seventh grade and didn’t know anything about anything. She was very kind to me, and I tried hard, the next few weeks, to describe what it felt like seeing her (oh my god) and her husband (ditto) and asking her about her life.

That experience was the beginning of my trying to write everything down.

Years later, I’m still trying.

Esther Cohen


What do I write about? What do my words look like?

Here are some selections for you:

→ Bread, and Roses

→ Israel and Palestine

→ Ken Across the Street

→ Lucy (for Emma)

→ God of Neighbors, and Sex



  1. Me, What do I write about

    Death and sadness and relationships
    Or maybe one relationship at a time
    But never, no never about happiness
    Sometimes, yes sometimes about a moment of joy
    But if you asked my friends they would say
    She is happy, resilient, energetic, ebullient, funny, gregarious, outgoing , enthusi…..

    Aw I misspeak, that is what I say about myself (on my good days)

    1. Dear Gayle, I tried writing to you from another site and couldn’t.
      Thank you (and thank Anita) for joining me here. And I very much enjoyed reading you too.
      This universe is a strange one, and I’m just learning my way. Maybe we all are. All best, Esther

  2. Just discovered your blog (through On Being) and want to say how much I like your style! So refreshing. Enjoyed your Paterson NJ piece. My husband grew up near there (Lodi) and I’ve heard many stories about the silk factories by the river. In Jr High School he also lived for a while with his grandfather and an aunt in Paterson in a house his uncle had built while engaged to the girl who would eventually become my mother-in-law. Said uncle fell off a ladder though and sadly never recovered. Died in 1918. His younger brother swooped in and married her instead. So we share a tiny touch stone about Paterson although our family lore is sad.

    Another piece of yours that I enjoyed is the one about your grandmother. About mothers and daughters. I’ve long been on a quest to trace my mother’s mothers. To track down that lineage, so much of which is lost. I wrote it up once and gave it to the daughter of my daughter. I love the connection and hope one day to find more grandmothers, but so many of these women’s names are lost.

    Looking forward to reading more of your delightful work,

    1. Dear JoMae, Thanks so much for your kind and interesting letter. Fascinating to hear about your husband the silk factories, and the sad family story. And about your family quest. In funny ways we are all on them. Keep in touch. All best, Esther

  3. “I tried hard, the next few weeks, to describe what it felt like” At 42, I feel like I know so little about myself, and if I had thought it mattered, I would have been trying hard, too. Thank you for the reminder. I will try more. I think it’s worth it.

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