Go Tell Aunt Rhody by
200
(240 Stories)

Prompted By Aunts & Uncles

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Daisy at 95, summer 2010, Staten Island

My mother and father each had only one sibling, a sister. My father’s sister, Adele, was a pharmacist who never married. We were her only family, so she spent holidays with us, and always gave us presents on our birthdays. But my sisters and I never felt close to her. She talked too loudly and had dyed orange hair and didn’t know how to relate to kids. I don’t think she was all that interested in us either, although she tried. We always called her “Aunt Adele” whether speaking to her or about her – in fact for many years I though that was all part of her name “Anntadelle.”

Daisy was a wonderful singer and taught me many songs, including "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" and "Go Tell Aunt Rhody."

In contrast, my mother’s sister, Daisy, was always just Daisy, no honorific required. We felt very close to her. Her husband had left her shortly after he came home from the war, and she was raising her two daughters on her own. These two girls, our only cousins, were about the same ages as my two sisters, so the four of them used to have great times together when Daisy came to our house. Daisy and my mother had a very close relationship, so she visited often. Daisy was a kindergarten teacher, and she always spoke slowly and clearly, and seemed to have an infinite amount of patience. Unlike Adele, she knew how to relate to children, and often would spend time with me when all the older girls were off playing Peter and the Wolf or one of their other games that I was too young for.

When I was seven, I took violin lessons at school. I don’t know why I chose violin, we were always a woodwind family, maybe violins were all they had available at the school at the time. I had my school-issued violin at home, and I was showing it to Daisy, and very proudly telling her about how important it was to put “lozenge” on the bow. She didn’t laugh, and didn’t correct me, just listened attentively and then at some point managed to mention “rosin” in the conversation. I got it, the word was rosin, not lozenge, but she gently spared me the embarrassment I might have had with anybody else.

Daisy was a wonderful singer and taught me many songs. I vividly remember her teaching me all the verses to “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” in the car when I was about 9. It was new then, although I didn’t realize it at the time, because I now see that while Pete Seeger wrote the first three verses in 1955, the last three verses, which bring it full circle, were added in 1960, the year I turned 9. She also taught me old standards like “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” and “My Dame has a Lame Tame Crane.” These are all songs we continued to sing over the years at family get-togethers.

She was part of the lefty New York schoolteacher world, and knew lots of interesting people. She was good friends with (and possibly dated) Milt Okun, who was an arranger and producer for Peter, Paul & Mary, the Chad Mitchell Trio, Harry Belafonte and others. I have a vague memory of going to a PP&M concert with her and going backstage to meet them. She knew the Meeropols, who adopted the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg when they were executed. She also knew the founders of Lincoln Farm Work Camp, the lefty camp for teenagers in upstate New York that I went to as a teen, as did the Meeropol/Rosenberg boys.

In 1956, Daisy got married again. All the 5 cousins dressed up in little pastel dresses with matching flowered headbands, and if I can find that picture I will add it to this story. Here’s the only picture I presently have from the wedding, with Daisy and Ed in the center, and my grandparents to the right of Ed (his left). The other six people are aunts, uncles, and cousins of Daisy’s and my mother’s whom I never saw again. Oddly, my parents are not in the picture, I don’t know why.

My new uncle, Ed, was a dentist and also a Communist. Ironically, he made a lot of money in the stock market, and then gave it to the Communists. He loved the Soviet Union, and adamantly denied that there was anti-Semitism there. He went to Moscow every year for the May Day festivities. I rarely had much interaction with him, but I do remember one Thanksgiving when I was in college and taking a course on China, we had a debate about which form of Communism was better, the Russian or the Chinese. Neither of us convinced the other, of course, but I was proud of myself for holding my own against him.

After Daisy and my mother both lost their husbands, they did quite a bit of traveling together. They were both in their eighties, but that didn’t stop them. They had great times together. Eventually they got too frail and stopped their trips. One of the last times I saw Daisy was at her 95th birthday celebration in 2010, and she was still doing remarkably well, although her mental faculties were starting to deteriorate. Apparently towards the end, she was living completely in the past, talking about her kindergarten students as if she were still teaching them.

Daisy died in January 2018 at the age of 102. I miss her. My sisters and cousins and I like to imagine that she and my mother are frolicking somewhere together, no longer troubled by their physical or mental ailments. It’s a very appealing idea.

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Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Alexander says:

    Wow! Daisy had a long and fulfilling life, not to mention some interesting linkages. I’d hate to take her on in a game of “six degrees of separation.” You framed a nice contrast between ‘Anntadelle’ and ‘just Daisy.’ Sweet story.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    What a great story, Suzy. Your love of Daisy and why she was such a wonderful person came shining through. Particularly poignant was how you showed just how perfectly attuned she was to children — neither patronizing nor dismissive. (And the one time I met Daisy, she knew just how to deal with my then two year old daughter, who was busy proving that “The Terrible Twos” was a real thing.)

    I also like that you were able to enlighten us on Daisy’s life outside of your own interactions with her: her “lefty” circle of friends, her second husband, her travels with your mom. It provided an even fuller picture of a truly amazing person. And I love your last paragraph — and only hope it is true,

  3. John Zussman says:

    How ideal to have an aunt who taught kindergarten and knew how to treat young children! I love that her kindness in correcting “lozenge” to “rosin” sticks with you to this day. I also like the way she let you into her adult life, taught you songs, introduced you to her friends, and let you debate her second husband.

    • Suzy says:

      Not sure she had much control over the Communism debate. At that point I was in college, and not inclined to wait for anyone to “let” me do anything. I do think my mother was grimacing in the background, and probably Daisy too.

  4. Retro author paints sweeping portrait of aunt and proxy uncle in bold strokes and good-humored hues. Thanks for introducing these two. I can’t help including the uncle because you brought us such acutely distinct citizens. Beautiful to read and enjoy.

    I also resonated to the common ground: “lefty New York school teachers” and, of course she knew the Meeropols, the ground floor of the folk music scene that had begun to emerge from its cloistered enclaves as the old left morphed into the new. Oh, and introducing your dynamic duo with Adele set a terrific stage for Daisy and Ed to dance across.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment! I’m flattered by your description of my writing as “bold strokes and good-humored hues.” And love your image of setting a stage for Daisy and Ed to dance across.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Well, I am two weeks late to this dance; others have already commented on your wonderful story. The contrasts between your two aunts is striking. Your dear aunt Daisy is just wonderful. And her circle of friends with her second husband is remarkable (I particularly like your Russia vs China debate with Ed and holding your own…of course you did!) What a wonderful, charmed life she led and allowed you to join in. May she and your blessed mother be dancing together for all time now.

  6. Suzy, as I’m relatively new to Retro, I’m reading your wonderful story for the first time and what a beautiful picture of your aunt Daisy!

    A New York red-diaper baby myself, I can relate to all those lefty references and I can remember many political discussions between my folks, and my aunts and uncles amid table thumping and someone storming out of the room when a more conservative relative locked horns with a more liberal one.

    For some reason I remained fairly apolitical – maybe as a reaction to my activist parents – until I was radicalized in 2008 working for Obama.

    As for my parents, aunts and uncles, I’m thankful they’re not here to see the travesty that sits in the White House today..

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Dana, it was fun for me to re-read this story now that we are doing the prompt again! Glad that with your New York upbringing you can relate to the scenes I describe. Also glad to hear that Obama brought you out of your apoliticism. It was Gene McCarthy who made me political, just a few years earlier.

  7. Kathy Porter says:

    Looking over the stories written in response to the most recent prompt, I came across this lovely story of your favorite aunt. Very different from my Aunt Jocie, but the same affection comes very clearly across.

    • Suzy says:

      Kathy, I know you met Daisy, because you came to my East Coast wedding reception at her house on Staten Island. You were the only person besides family who made it to both the wedding in CA and the reception in NY.

      • Kathy Porter says:

        So that was Daisy’s home? I do remember that it was a lovely party and she was a gracious hostess.

        • Suzy says:

          Yes, that was Daisy and Ed’s home on Staten Island, and the living room where she is sitting in the featured image was probably exactly the same in 1983 when you were there. (I realize you can’t see much of it in the picture.) Ed died in 1989, but she stayed there until the end.

  8. Thanks for introducing me to Daisy, Suzy…you painted such a vivid picture of her I almost feel like I’ve met her in person! With a name like Daisy, she had to be special, and weren’t you lucky to have had her in your life for such a long time! A beautiful tribute, just beautiful. Oh, and I love the line “I don’t know why I chose violin, we were always a woodwind family.” I don’t know why, it just made me chuckle.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Barb, she WAS special, and I WAS lucky to have her. Glad you enjoyed meeting her through my writing. And I agree, that line about being a woodwind family sounds pretty funny, but I ended up switching to the oboe and was much happier with that than the violin. My sisters played flute and clarinet, and my grandfather also played clarinet, so we really were a woodwind family.

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