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Carol Cott Gross, wrote columns on LI life for Newsday, dies at 78

Longtime Newsday contributor Carol Cott Gross died of

Longtime Newsday contributor Carol Cott Gross died of sarcoidosis on Dec. 17 at age 78. The resident of East Northport and Lake Worth, Florida, wrote columns about middle-class life on Long Island. Credit: David M. Gross

Carol Cott Gross, who distilled the humor and pathos of middle-class Long Island life in columns that appeared in Newsday and other outlets, died Dec. 17 at her winter home in Lake Worth, Florida.

Gross, who also lived in East Northport, was 78. The cause was sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease, said son David Gross of Manhattan.

The through line for hundreds of stories published from the early 1980s through last year was Gross’ own life: the loneliness that sometimes seeped into a well-appointed suburban nuclear family home; the emotional stakes of cooking a seder dinner knowing it would never match what your mother and mother-in-law used to make; the absurdity, in one’s autumn years, of being nagged by one's offspring to stay clear of the Long Island Expressway and the Northern State Parkway during rain.

These columns were based on close observation, often featuring her husband, Herb, and their friends, as they aged and began to divide their comfortable lives between Long Island and Florida.

An early story was about ordering cream puffs for dessert at a restaurant with Herb and another couple, who sanctimoniously abstained. The premise was slight but relatable and infuriating, featuring a man — not Herb — whose idea of dinnertime conversation was boasting that "I’ve eliminated all refined sugars" and "I drink eight ounces of water before every meal and it kills my appetite."

Another story, about the North Shore/South Shore cultural divide, culminated in a disastrous dinner party with guests arguing about the Sound versus the ocean and the Loehmann’s in Hewlett versus the one in Huntington. The night was saved when everybody united against a schlemiel from Westchester who said, "Every time I cross the Whitestone Bridge, I vow, ‘Never again!’ Nothing on Long Island is worth the hassle."

Gross’ last published Newsday piece, which ran on April 26, 2020, was about being stuck in a subtropical paradise and longing for home: "ordering a $70 ‘quarantine package’ of brisket and kugel sold by a restaurant because a roll of toilet paper comes with the food … changing the mezuzah on my front door to my refrigerator like Floridians are doing because it's the only door we open these days. I responded 'Yes, I will attend' along with Herb to a wedding in Commack in July, which was postponed from earlier this spring, if we can finally leave Lake Worth and fly home to East Northport."

Gross was born in Rockaway, Queens, on Oct. 9, 1942, to Estelle and Nathan Cott and grew up there "in a three-family house with four generations squeezed under one roof," she once wrote. After graduating from Far Rockaway High School, she attended Queens College but dropped out after marrying Herb, an advertising executive.

In 1973, Gross began directing Fly Without Fear, a support group for would-be travelers that met at LaGuardia Airport. For decades, she and her husband ran the group, which had been founded by her father. At the time of her death, Gross had been planning a reunion and seminar at the TWA Hotel at Kennedy Airport for this spring.

Gross went back to college in the mid-1970s, graduating with a bachelor's in English and comparative literature from what is now Stony Brook University. There she met the critic and professor Alfred Kazin, who encouraged her to write, which she did, voluminously: at first in Pennysaver and letters to the editor, then in Newsday and other newspapers and Jewish publications primarily in New York and Florida.

Her style was informed by Erma Bombeck, Ann Landers, Steve Allen and Woody Allen. "She rewrote a million times, word by word," David Gross said. "She was interested in capturing her own voice but also the voice of a certain type of ethnic Long Island, the cadence of it. The house was filled with notes, annotations, quotations."

Besides Herb and David, she is survived by daughter Terri Stubing of Commack and son Saul Gross of upstate Edmeston. The family had a private memorial at home on Long Island and plans a more formal service next year on the anniversary of her death.

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