North Cambridge Artist Association

Dan Lynn Watt

mollyI am writing a length memoir about my childhood growing up in an idealistic communist family, living in New York City during the cold war years of the 1940s and 1950s. My book combines the personal and the political as in the excerpt, “Union Man”, about my grandfather. The book starts with my earliest memories of my life as a two-year old while my father was serving in the Air force during World War II. It chronicles my disillusionment with communism as a young adult, and my continued political activism as part of the non-ideological “new left” of the 1960s. It ends with a chapter about my experiences as a volunteer civil rights worker in Fayette County Tennessee during Freedom Summer, 1964. I expect to complete the book in 2015, hoping for publication in late 2015 or early 2016.
book cover

A chapter appears in the online Wilderness House Literary Review for Spring 2013. See Marching on May Day 1948. A partial oral history of my 1964 civil rights experiences in Fayette County can be found on YouTube, My Story - Dan Lynn Watt. Shorter printed excerpts appear in the annual anthologies, “Bagels with the Bards” volumes 6, 8 and 9. I have given readings from the book at Fireside Readings, at readings of the Bagels With The Bards anthologies, at NOCA Holiday Arts and Crafts Sales, and art openings at the O’Neill Library, and at other venues around Boston.

Before I was born, my father George Watt, served as a volunteer in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War. In 2002 my wife Molly and I discovered a cache of letters written during that war, between George Watt and my mother, Ruth Watt. In collaboration with folk singer Tony Saletan we coauthored and perform a musical historical docudrama, incorporating my parents’ letters and topical songs of the era. A 2-CD recording can be purchased, and excerpts listened to on CDBaby. George and Ruth: Songs and Letters of the Spanish Civil War.

Union Man

By Dan Lynn Watt

If the boss gets in the way we’re gonna roll right over him,
We’re gonna roll right over him, we’re gonna roll right over him
If the boss gets in the way we’re gonna roll right over him,
We’re gonna roll the union on.

Grandpa Maurice is a union man. He sings as he steams oatmeal in the double-
boiler on the gas stove in our New York apartment. I am seven or eight, waiting for my
breakfast. His singing is more like chanting. He punctuates the chorus, swinging his
right fist across his chest.
My voice joins his. I swing my own little fist to roll the union on.
Grandpa Maurice, is always the first one up in our household. My mother says
that when people get older they don’t need as much sleep. Before making breakfast
he’s already nipped around the corner and come back with copies of the New York
Times, the Herald Tribune and the Daily Worker, three papers he and my parents read
every day.
Maurice makes breakfast for the whole family on school days. When the hot
cereal is ready he scoops it into bowls, meticulously, evenly sprinkling sugar over the
surface. As we sprinkle we sing,
Put it on the ground, spread it all around, dig it with a hoe, It will make – your –
flow – ers – grow.”

We spoon our cereal from the edge of the bowl, digging a little trench just inside
the rim. By the time we eat all the way around the outside, the rest of the cereal is cool
enough to eat. I can’t imagine what sprinkling sugar on cereal has to do with making
flowers grow, but occasionally, as I eat, Maurice sings a verse of the old union song.
If you want a raise in pay, I’ll tell you what to do

You go and ask the Boss for it and he will give it to you,
Yes, he will give it to you m’boys, he will give it to you,
A raise in pay – without delay – yes he will give it to you.
Oh-h-h-h, Put it on the ground, spread it all around, dig it with a hoe, It will make
– your – flow – ers – grow.

I get class consciousness along with my oatmeal every morning.