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Sheila Kassoy's Speech at her Father's Memorial: August 2008

We have come together here to remember my father, Bernard Kassoy.  When I was in high school, my best friend accused me of idolizing my father. Of course I denied it, but I realized it had a lot of truth in it. At a time when other teenagers were rebelling against the conformist ideas and complacent political positions of their parents, I didn’t have to rebel.

My earliest memories of my father include being swung up and down to “Hot diggity, dog-diggity, Boom, what you do to me…” and dancing on his feet. I remember walking on the beach and at home, the smell of turpentine – their “bedroom” was their studio, and my parents slept in the living room. I remember watching Daddy draw political cartoons for The Teacher News, the publication of the Teachers Union.

When I was nine years old, our parents taught us how to save money – we all cut our spending to save for a trip to Europe to see the works of the great European Masters. They dragged us into all the museums in London, Paris, Florence and Rome until my sister and I refused to set foot in another museum. Then they left us outside. I think it was a decade before I was willing to enter an art museum. Then I retraced our steps to see it all again. And when the Mona Lisa came to NY and thousands of people bought advance tickets and waited for hours on line, I shrugged my shoulders because I’d already seen it!

My father taught me not to rely on the mainstream press to inform me what was going on in the world and introduced me to I.F. Stone’s Weekly; the legacy goes on. I still subscribe to its successor, the Washington Spectator.

My father and mother have had the most interesting friends. The level of discussion, debate, and activity they’ve had puts my generation to shame. When my husband Mitko first met them, he said to me, “You know, your parents’ friends are a lot more interesting than your friends,” (no offense to my friends who are here!), and if you knew my friends, you’d know that that is saying a lot indeed. Wherever my parents went, and they went all over the country and the world, they had the extraordinary ability to connect with people and make new friends, to give their love, as is indicated by the crowd here today.

Things you may not know about Bernard Kassoy:

  • He was born in the south Bronx, the youngest of my grandparents’ five surviving children. His parents, Hershel and Toby Kassoy, immigrated to the U.S. so that their children could have an education, and they followed him to the Amalgamated.

  • As a child, he slept on two chairs pushed together and spoke only Yiddish until he started kindergarten.

  • He was doing Pilates with Pilates, when Pilates was his exercise counselor in camp! He continued to exercise every day until he became physically unable.

  • He discovered that he was an artist at the age of 15, and he later attended City College and Cooper Union simultaneously, both full-time.

  • His first job was with the WPA.

  • His photographs of the 1936 May Day parade are in the archives at the Fenimore Museum in Cooperstown and in the permanent collection of the New York Public Library. About 150 of his cartoons of social protest are in the Theodore Kheel Labor Archives at Cornell University.

  • Somewhere in the archives of the NYC Police Department is a record of the arrest of Michelangelo Buonarroti for participating in the first sit-down strike in the U.S.

  • My father started his teaching career in Morris High School and then DeWitt Clinton HS – where I now teach, at the age of 21 – and was stopped by other faculty asking for his hall pass.

  • He was a member of the top-secret joint Canadian/American First Special Service force – the Devil’s Brigade – during WWII. Will someone please tell Americans that it’s not secret anymore? No one seems to have heard of the First Special Service Force here, but the guard at the Canadian border got out of his booth and saluted as my father entered Canada.

  • After the war ended, Bernie saw Honey going up the stairs at a Teachers Union meeting, and he called to her. He said that when she turned around and came back down the stairs, he knew she was the one. They were married five months later. And my mother says they had sixty-two wonderful years together.

 

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