Alice Rosemarie Dawn: June 19, 1940 - August 20, 2002
September 21, 2002
Beaver Country Day School
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
Remembrance by Jan Polatschek
I met Alice Dawn in the spring of the year 1966. We were married in October.
Alice and I parted in 1981 yet I do believe that recently, Alice and I were good friends.
I am grateful that I have the opportunity to tell you about some of my recollections.
Alice was then, thirty-six years ago, as she was until last month, energetic, enthusiastic, articulate, and always smiling. She was also determined, thorough, challenging, relentless and please forgive me, stubborn.
Whether it was over the larger war in Southeast Asia or the many battles she fought over the proper way to run a French Department, or an entire school, for that matter, Alice was determined to instill her sense of fair play and justice. Those poor besieged embattled headmasters; Alice was irrepressible.
There is an old saying that I liked but which I will now eliminate from my repertoire: “People don’t change, they just get more-so.” I think that saying fits Alice. Don’t you?
Sometimes I felt bad for Alice. I thought, “Poor Alice. She doesn’t change. She won’t change. She never really learned or understood how the world works.”
Irony? Sarcasm? Stoicism? Cut corners? A little white lie on a medical claim form? A little exaggeration on an Income Tax Return? Forgetaboutit. Impossible. Too bad for Alice.
Well, too bad for me. Too bad for all of us. Maybe we can just learn from her example. Maybe we should be less tolerant of little white lies or of bending the truth to suit ourselves. Maybe we should be a little less figurative and a little more literal in our lives. Maybe we should compromise less and insist more on what is right. Maybe we should tell the truth. Maybe we should “follow the directions” as Alice tried to teach us
Years ago Alice told me she was a victim of one of those obnoxious random audits by the Internal Revenue Service. Alice, a victim? What a joke. If anyone was a victim it was the IRS auditor.
I will wager half my pension that Alice had every scrap of paper, every piece of backup for every line item for every deduction for every category for every year. I will wager the other half of my pension that every scrap of paper, every piece of backup for every deduction for every category for every year is in a box in her attic.
I am part of an earlier chapter in the life of Alice Dawn. That earlier chapter includes driving across Western Europe and driving across the United States to visit her sister and brother-in-law, Carolyn Dawn and Bill Leland and their children, Deborah and Michael. Along with Alice's brother Robert Dawn, we played summertime tennis in Westhampton Beach on Long Island in New York, and wintertime tennis in Boca Raton, Florida. And natutally, 100% natural, healthful, fresh, salt free, sugar-free produce and groceries from a specialty store in the East Village in Manhattan.
The early chapter also includes her absolute favorite 100% natural, fresh double chocolate fudge, extra high layer cake with extra thick chocolate butter cream icing with two huge portions of schlagsahne (whipped cream) baked by William Greenberg on Madison Avenue.
The earlier chapter includes strictly observed organic gardening in Philadelphia and Southampton. Despite her father’s protestations to the contrary, there was never one drop, one iota, one molecule of chemical fertilizer on her tomatoes, eggplants or melons, either on Red Coat Lane in Philadelphia or Helga Dawn Lane in Southampton.
On the Jewish calendar, today is Sukkot or Sukkos as we called it back in The Bronx. There are two strands that run through the holiday of Sukkot – one is historical and the other is agricultural. During Sukkot we commemorate the forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert after The Exodus from Egypt. By building a straw booth or hut, we re-live and re-create their fragile surroundings, their lack of a sturdy home, and the precariousness of their existence.
Sukkot is also a harvest festival since it is the time of the ingathering of crops in Israel. Alice, the gardener and protector of the environment would agree that all of us being here today is a remarkable coincidence. And if you happen to visit a sukkah in the course of the next week, you will find that the walls are decorated with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
There is an earlier chapter of Alice’s life of which I had only a glimpse. That very early chapter included: Confirmation at a synagogue in White Plains; Scarsdale High School; Connecticut College and Columbia University Graduate School of Education where she perfected her French accent. Her accent was so good that when we traveled in France people thought she was a native speaker. Alice was French. I am sure her parents Ida May Dawn and David Dawn and her grandfather, Max Briskin, were all proud of her accomplshments.
Now don’t be shocked: that earlier chapter also included a cross-country ride on the back of a motor cycle, hanging out with painters and writers in Greenwich Village, individualized shopping assistance at Gristede’s, and an occasional custom tailored outfit from a dressmaker on Bleecker Street. Finally, a gold embossed white ribbon that she won at a horse show near Central Park. Alice was so proud of that ribbon.
Like many of us in our modern world, Alice's immediate family is a litte bit complicated. Alice loved and respected her parents Ida May Dawn and David Dawn, of blessed memory. Alice always strove to be loyal and attentive to her sister Carolyn Dawn Leland and to her brother Robert Dawn. Alice loved her niece and nephew Debbie Leland and Michael Leland.
When Alice's father remarried, Alice became the trusted and devoted companion to David's new wife Helga. And Alice was delighted to have two new "brothers" - Helga's sons Peter Weiden and Michael Weiden.
Alice and I were both teachers. I taught English at Haaren High School in Manhattan. Alice, of course, taught French at Adelphi Academy in Brooklyn. Alice’s American born kids spoke better French than my American born kids spoke English.
Alice’s successes went beyond the classroom. She was selected to serve on the committee to grade the Advanced Placement French Examination. She wrote a text on French Language testing. Her most important contribution was the Exchange Program, which she created, implemented and managed at Friends Central School in Philadelphia and here at Beaver Country Day.
High school kids came from France to visit and study here. American kids went to Paris to live with families and study French. I am sure that all of those kids, now grown adults with children of their own, all of them remember that experience as a special event in their lives. And they all have Alice to thank.
I know that this is a peculiar thing to say about someone, but Alice had an acute sense of smell. She got angry when she saw unnecessary fumes emanating from a nearby automobile tailpipe. She hated cigarette and cigar smoke and I do believe that her father stopped smoking cigars at her behest, pleading and insistence.
One day Alice was wandering down the isle of her classroom when she stopped abruptly and looked down at a young boy. She said quite accusingly, “You have been smoking cigarettes.” “How could you know, Miss Dawn?” “Well, I can smell it on you, that’s how!” After that incident Alice was known as Miss Dawn, the French teacher with “the bionic nose.”
There is one final story that I must relate. Alice knew that I came from a musical family. She knew that I played the piano as a child and teenager, and that in high school I learned to play the bassoon. (The bassoon is the largest of the orchestral woodwind instruments.) She also knew that I had abandoned playing both the piano and the bassoon but my strong love and attachment to music was quite alive.
One day Alice presented me with a large leather case that I immediately recognized as one that held a bassoon. The rest is history. I began playing again and took a few lessons. Wherever we lived, I played that bassoon with a local community orchestra: The Brooklyn Heights Orchestra, The Main Line Symphony Orchestra outside Philadelphia, The Sudbury Community Orchestra, and finally The Brookline Philharmonic. That one generous gift reignited my musical life.
The story has not ended. As a result of my years of orchestral playing, I decided quite by impulse to go back to the piano. Again I took several years of lessons and made good progress. Three years ago I left my job and was trying to decide what I should do “when I grow up.” Again, on an impulse I decided to become a piano teacher. Now I have thirty students from age six to age eighty-two. And so, that one thoughtful, generous and loving gift from Alice has led me to a new professional life.
They say, “A teacher’s influence is infinite because you never know where it ends.” Through me, and through her gift of music to me, Alice is reaching and touching dozens of children and their families and I hope children and families yet to be born.
Alice is there, with me, and with Shayna and Ian, Alexis and Jacob, Emily and Ryan, Nicollet and Ben, Billy, Bennett and Paul, Annie, Sarah and Mollie, Ethan and Alex and Noah.
They all have Alice to thank.
Finally, I want to say one more time to Alice, “Thank you.”
see also: http://travelwithjan.com/mybestgiftever