I can’t believe it, but it’s been ten years since my mother died. With Mother’s Day approaching, I can’t help but think of her more than I usually do. Mothers are on my mind these days anyway, seeing how scrupulously Calder’s Mother is raising him (no TV, no devices, no screens; just lots of books, good food, creative activities, museums, gardening, and respect) and how the TG, in becoming Calder’s “Nana/Nanny/Nan,” is mothering a little boy again after all these years.
I also think about my mother because she was a terrific grandmother. She wasn’t just an ordinary good grandmother; she had been a kindergarten teacher for more than thirty-five years so she was a professional when it came to little kids. She had so many cool things for my son to do when he was a child that he called her “Magic Ada.” I’m not sure if my son would have found and developed his artistic talent so early and surely without my mother’s guidance and encouragement. (Check out his new sculptures in a show at the Good Weather Gallery at Interface at 486 49th Street in Oakland, opening on June 1.) The TG would also say that Ada was a great mother-in-law.
Just the other day, I came across an old CD of a music mix I made for the memorial service we had for her after she died. We held it in New York where most of her family and friends lived. I had a good time putting together some of her favorite music – along with a nice selection of the the nursery rhymes that were such a part of her teaching repertoire. (I still do “Thumbkin” with Calder!)
ADA MEMORIAL MIX
1. Frank Sinatra – September Song
2. Ella Fitzgerald – Manhattan
3. Isabel Bigley – If I Were A Bell (“Guys And Dolls”)
4. Where Is Thumbkin?
5. Harry James and His Orchestra with Kitty Kallen – It’s Been A Long, Long Time
6. Donald Richards and Ella Logan – Old Devil Moon (“Finian’s Rainbow”)
7. Ella Fitzgerald - But Not For Me
8. Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert – Tonight (“West Side Story”)
9. Frank Sinatra – Where Or When
10. Heads, Shoulders, Knees And Toes
11. Ella Logan – How Are Things In Glocca Morra (“Finian’s Rainbow”)
12. Ella Fitzgerald – Mountain Greenery
13. Les Brown and His Band of Renown with Doris Day - Sentimental Journey
14. Ella Fitzgerald – Thou Swell
15. London Bridge Is Falling Down
16. Tony Bennett and Bill Evans – Some Other Time
17. Ethel Merman – Small World (“Gypsy”)
18. Ella Fitzgerald – Someone To Watch Over Me
19. Stubby Kaye and Johnny Silver – Guys And Dolls (“Guys And Dolls”)
20. Frank Sinatra – I Get A Kick Out Of You
21. The Excellents - Coney Island Baby
22. Barbra Streisand – The Way We Were
23. Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra with Frank Sinatra – I’ll Be Seeing You
24. Reri Grist and Ensemble – Somewhere (“West Side Story”)
25/26. Giovanni Martinelli – Celeste, Aida (“Aida”)
I put together a Spotify playlist so anyone can listen along.
The playlist brought back so many memories of Ada: her love of Broadway shows (Rodgers and Hart, more than Rodgers and Hammerstein) … WEST SIDE STORY and GUYS AND DOLLS and FINIAN’S RAINBOW … Sinatra and Ella … her tales of the legendary performances she saw (Walter Huston in KNICKERBOCKER HOLIDAY, singing “September Song” … Paul Robeson in OTHELLO … the Lunts!) … her father, the opera afficionado who wanted to name her “Aida” because his favorite singer, Giovanni Martinelli, was a famous Radames … her roots in Brooklyn.
My mother sacrificed greatly for my brother and me: for many years, she worked twelve months a year (during the school year as a teacher and during the summer as a camp administrator) so that we could have a privileged upbringing. Only by working at that rich kid’s camp could she and my father “afford” to send my brother and me there.
Ada saved her money. Though she started life in a tenament, she ended up living her last days in comfort, in the marble-and-limestone luxury of Pasadena’s most elegant assisted-living facility. Thank her incredible worth ethic and the power of her union, the United Federation of Teachers. She even left my brother and me some money, plus enough to endow the “Ada P. Robinson Library” at P.S. 156 in Laurelton, Queens, the school where she taught for so many years. Pretty nice.
But that was ten years ago, and life goes on. And now every so often, someone says, “Ada would have loved Calder!” And we all agree.
The thing is, he would have loved her, too. So we have to content ourselves with photographs and family legends. It’s all we have.
Reri Grist sings “SOMEWHERE” from the original WEST SIDE STORY
Jean Simmons and Marlon Brando – “If I Were A Bell” from GUYS AND DOLLS
Stubby Kaye sings “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” from GUYS AND DOLLS
Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence sing “Tonight” from WEST SIDE STORY – from THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW
Ella Fitzgerald sings SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME