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From the Founders I

Of Kids and Those Who Help Us Raise Them

Photograph by: Bob Capazzo

Ada died. Can you believe it? She was immortal. The slight woman with the wise old eyes who stood (never sat) behind the counter at the Riverside Variety Shop, the little white house near the train station. The woman who patiently doled out penny candy to several generations of our kids and taught them to be extra polite or they wouldn’t get any. (She’d hold the top of the paper bag closed until she heard a thank-you.) Nobody budged the line at her shop. Uhn-uhn. You knew it was your turn when she’d say, “What can I get ya, hon?”

We Riverside parents would say to our children, “If you go to the doctor and don’t cry, you can go to Ada’s.” It always worked. For potty training, too.

Your child gone missing for dinner? Call Ada. “Yup, Jonathan walked by here about an hour ago with David Sawyer,” she’d say. “They were heading for the Sawyers.” Then you’d call the Sawyers and sure enough, there he was.

When two grandfathers, who hadn’t seen Ada in forty years, stopped by to invite her to a Riverside School reunion, they said, “Remember us?” (They felt pretty sure she would, along with what kind of licorice they liked.) “You’re those Bourne boys,” she responded right off the bat. “I just don’t know which is Jimmy and which is Billy.” They hired a limousine to bring her to the yacht club for the festivities.

When we were photographing Ada for a story in 1997, my left hand was holding up an umbrella light so it wouldn’t get knocked over, and my right foot held down a rat’s nest of electric cords so nobody tripped. “You’re the guard,” noted young Jesse Zannino with a giggle, “and Ada’s the queen. The Queen of Sweet Hearts! Get it?”

We got it, Jesse. A long time ago. And with Ada’s passing, I started thinking: Every one of us remembers the people who have taken a special interest in our children. During World War II, my eight-year-old brother developed a rare bone disease that kept him immobilized in traction for nearly three years. We had a milkman named Mr. Stern who couldn’t get another kind of job because he was German. A brilliant man and a philatelist, he would come by our apartment in his off hours, sit by Mike’s bed and teach him the art of stamp collecting — properly taking care of them, later buying them. Something Mike could do when his friends were out riding bikes. Something that became a lifelong interest.

Perhaps you remember the friend who had a great rapport with your pubescent daughter and talked her into going shopping with her to buy her first bra. Or the lovely gentleman down the street who agreed to be interviewed by your shy nine-year-old for a school paper. Or the neighbor whose toddler tried to take a bone away from your golden retriever and got an air-nip that sent her crying to her mother, only to have her mother come to the dog’s defense.

Encouraging kids, teaching them life’s lessons, building their confidence. That’s what it’s always been about, and we parents need all the help we can get.

I guess it does take a village to raise a child, and we Riverside folk will be eternally grateful that Ada came from ours.

— Donna Moffly