Left in Andover: Myron’s sweet smell of success

By Susan Leader
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The trucks and modest sedans I grew up with in Andover were practical transportation, symbolizing not much more than the fact that we didn’t have to walk. For this reason, the two Cadillacs — one pink and one black — that punctuated my early childhood loomed large.

Dad’s uncle Myron Leader owned his own pharmacy on the Lower East Side of New York City. He was the youngest of my grandfather’s four brothers, and the last one to leave Poland.

Myron Leader as a college grad from Columbia University.

Drawing on his background in chemistry, he was also a self-taught nose. Myron was most proud of his concoction Shufray de Shufray, an unbearably sweet fragrance with aggressive sillage. We kids knew better than to be in the room whenever he opened a bottle; the sickly sweet bouquet lingered for hours, if not days.

Myron, with no wife or dependents to support, invested his money and aspirations in a candy pink Cadillac — a symbol of success and prosperity — that he drove up to Andover on visits. Upon one such occasion, the temperatures threatened to drop below freezing, and Myron was caught off-guard with no antifreeze in the radiator. Astonished, we kids watched as he emptied a case of his foul attar, bottle by bottle, into the tank, counting on its alcohol content to outwit the Vermont weather.

Anosmia, the inability to smell, may be an early symptom of the novel coronavirus. It is also a chronic condition associated with overexposure to strong scents. So it is quite possible Myron suffered from this, as he seemed immune to the festering chopped liver he habitually carried around with him.

Myron’s pink Cadillac

Myron’s other passion was keeping up with relatives, corresponding with them all around the globe and visiting them in person. He was the bane of many a female in-law obligated to clean the shoe polish with which he dyed his hair off her pillow cases, after one of his drop-in overnights. As a Greyhound passholder in the 1970s, he was liable to show up without notice at any time. Nevertheless, it is due solely to his efforts that we have contact, generations later, with a far flung circle of extended family.

The other Cadillac of my childhood was driven by Bess Hammond, my beloved 1st through 3rd grade teacher at the Peaseville one-room school in Andover. Bess grew up on a hard scrabble farm in Castleton. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Hungary, her mother an aristocrat, her father a farmer. Although Bess was born here, her first language was Hungarian.

One of Mrs. Hammond’s dolls, from her family’s collection.

Mrs. Hammond parked her majestic, finned black Caddy under a beech tree to the northeast side of Peaseville schoolhouse. One memorable day at recess, she beckoned a couple of us girls over to her open trunk. Spread out before us was the most marvelous display of internationally attired folk dolls. None of us girls had ever traveled; this was a peek into a broader outside world beyond our experience.

I itched to touch them, but this was a display collection, not meant for play. As a child, Mrs. Hammond‘s family never had the money for a boughten doll. Collecting them as an adult became a private joy, as she never, to my knowledge, repeated this performance.

When my family would go away for a couple months each winter in the late 1950s due to my dad’s health issues, I wrote letters to this favorite teacher. She wrote me back. Occasionally she would bring her accordion over to Popplewood to play duets with Mom on her violin. For me, a shy country kid, Mrs. Hammond was the next best thing to having a friend at school, a loving adult with an encouraging word who made me feel included.

Chava Chernitsky ‘Grandma Eggshells.’

But she was by no means perfect. She was responsible for my roasted-carrot-as-hotdog fiasco. And the time Mrs. Hammond got upset at all of us when one unidentified student soiled the seat on the girls outhouse is hardly describable. But this was a woman who aspired to more for us rural youngsters, with whom she strongly identified.

It is due to the resolve of Uncle Myron that my 71-year-old great grandmother, Chava Chernitsky, made it from Antwerp to New York City on June 22, 1922, on the SS Zeeland. She spent her first days in America riding an endless subway loop, unable to contact her sons.

Bubbe Eierschalochs — or Grandma Eggshells — as she came to be called, spent time in Bennington under the roof of her daughter-in-law, Frieda. She was adamant that her grandchildren, my father and his four sisters, eat the eggs she boiled in anticipation of the Sabbath, when traditionally no work is done. In retaliation, the kids strewed the prickly broken shells in between her sheets and over her pillow.

Unfortunately, she passed away before her youngest son could offer her unlimited access not just to perfume, but to pink Cadillac rides worthy of Mary Kaye, whom he anticipated by over a decade. But doubtless Chava would have appreciated both as markers of making it in America.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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  1. David Howald says:

    Thank you for your recollections of your past. I enjoy reading them.
    Hi to John and the girls….