By Paul Goldfinger, Native-American
Elizabeth Warren is running for Senate in Massachusetts. She claims to be part American-Indian based on family folklore. Some people are skeptical because she looks like a clogger in an Irish dance competition. Her story reminds me of my Mom: Myrna Demby-Goldfinger. (I gave her the hyphen posthumously. She would have liked that.)
Mom had a vivid imagination and she loved to joke, sing and tell stories. Sometimes you couldn’t be sure if she was telling the “emmis ” (Yiddish for the truth) or whether she was telling tall-tales. It didn’t usually matter, because she was always fun.
One of her consistent assertions was that she was part Apache. Mom’s parents were Jewish, from Poland. They came here in the great wave of immigration early in the 20th century. Mom, who was born here, was one of nine children growing up in Bayonne, New Jersey. Grandpa Demby was a tailor. My grandmother Helen was a little gray-haired lady with a bun in the back. You can imagine how she kept busy, especially with six sons, every one a character of one sort or another.
All nine had alternative names such as Duke, Shmeel, Muttle and others, often based on their Yiddish versions. Mom was called Malka by her parents and brothers— and Myrna by her sisters. Her family was a little bit like the Marx Brothers. I loved to visit them in their little house in Bayonne where they all shared one bathroom and they slept all over the place. The food, the music, the jokes, the hijinks, the arguments—in other words, the “shtick”—was a treat if you were a little kid.
Mom was the youngest and the favorite. Her dad took her with him to the Yiddish theaters on Second Avenue in New York. As a youngster she would entertain the family by singing popular American songs, but also songs from the “old country” which often had ribald lyrics that I could sort of decipher. My favorite was a ditty called “Cockeyed Jenny”—It’s about a guy and girl. They are lovers. Her father catches them. Oy Vey!
Mom claimed to have once auditioned for Ed Sullivan. No one in the family would deny it, but…..I don’t know. Over the years she appeared in many amateur shows, usually as the star.
So Mom, who was a school teacher, insisted that she was part Indian. She told her students the same thing. She also told them that my Dad was a secret agent with the government and that he limped because he had been shot. He wore my old college ring, and she said that it had a secret compartment. Dad loved to play that role whenever possible.
One time we were out to dinner, and the waiter recognized her and said that she was his favorite teacher and that he loved her stories.
I always liked the Indian thing because that would make me part Indian. I thought that maybe I had an ancestor who was a medicine man. Mom loved the movies, especially the shoot-em-up cowboy and Indian flicks. She rooted for the Indians.
I think Mom would have liked Elizabeth Warren. Maybe they could have gone to tribal pow-wows together.
SOUNDTRACK: No story about my Mom would be complete without music. Here is the Yiddish tune Cockeyed Jenny by the Barton Brothers (veterans of the Yiddish stage). Sorry, but I can’t translate it. PG
Post script: Below is the link to the NMAI in Washington, DC.