The Life and Times of Henry Cohen

by Terry Plotkin

There was a schism in my family 43 years ago that never healed. The argument, looking back these many years, seems trivial and not even worth detailing, but the personalities involved made it mushroom into a full-fledged feud. A big extended family was divided in a short time into two blocks. On one side of the wall fell my brothers, parents, uncles and aunts and most of my cousins, on the other side of the wall fell the Cohens; there were lots of us; there were only 6 of them.


The backdrop of this sad tale is a small town that was not enamored of and not interested in integrating with my extended family, and we were not interested in integrating with them either. We were Jews; they were Christians. There were a lot more of them than us. It was not a good situation to grow up in, but when you are born into something, you can accept the most bizarre things as normal. We lived in a psychic ghetto imposed from without and within. When the Cohen faction of the family was cutoff off amid harsh words, selfish acts, thoughtlessness, and, yes, fisticuffs, they were exiled from the psychic ghetto, and there was no place left for them in town; the Christians didn’t want them and we had nothing to do with them. I, like many others on both sides of the divide, never participated in any of the nastiness. My cousin on the other side of the fence – an innocent bystander – and I stopped being friends. Literally, one day we played together, and the next day we pretended as if the other didn’t exist. The Cohen family moved out of town not long after that. What else could they do? They had no friends and no family. I saw my cousin once at a funeral 12 years ago. We shook hands, said hello, and had very little else to say to each other. There are others in my family who had similar interactions with the Cohens over the years when they happened to run into them, but a real healing never happened.


My estranged cousin’s older brother was not so innocent. Henry Cohen was one of the people who threw punches, taunted my old uncle, and oinked when my elderly aunt went by.  There were other things he did that would make no man proud, but I won’t go into it here. Suffice to say he was the lead protagonist in the whole sordid affair. That was a long time ago. He may have changed his ways. He may have matured, reflected on his mistakes, felt regret, and repented. There is no way for me to know.  The branch of the family was cut off from the rest of the tree. I know not where it went.


Yesterday, Henry Cohen jumped off the French King Bridge that flows over the Connecticut River in order to commit suicide.  There have been 31 people who have done this since 1938 when the bridge was built. Three survived.  He was not one of them. There is a beach far below and just downstream from the bridge where the Connecticut and Millers Rivers merge. It is a beautiful spot, a place I ride my bike to in the summer and swim.  There is a picture in the newspaper of his body being pulled up onto that beach from the river. I cut it out and put it on my refrigerator. My cousins and I have been exchanging e-mails about Henry’s death. Everyone is sad.   One of my cousins wrote there are 2 tragedies here: The one that just happened, and the one that festered for 43 years.  I agree.

One Response to “The Life and Times of Henry Cohen”

  1. Hi Terry, I’ll definitely call, but thought I’d also leave a message here, since you sent this to us. I am sorry to hear about this man’s suicide — and the long estrangement you write about. It sounds like it may bring these two parts of the family back together — it is amazing how little we know of the future. Thinking of you and wishing you well. -Nicole

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