TESTIMONY: NATALIE DAISE
For more than 30 years, Natalie Daise (November 1960-) has developed and facilitated interactive learning experiences for educators, students, and audiences in schools, universities, conferences, and other venues. Her belief in the positive power of stories is demonstrated in both the performing and visual arts. A self taught, visionary artist, Natalie’s paintings and functional art pieces arise from the tradition of storytelling.
She has been married to Ron Daise, her cheerleader, supporter, and committed partner in creativity and life for 31 years. They have two children, Sara and Simeon, by birth, and one, Sabrina, by heart. They are amazing adults. She earned a Bachelor’s from Vermont College (1982) and a Master’s in Creativity Studies in 2014.
Best known as “Ms. Natalie” on Nick Jr.’s award-winning television program, Gullah Gullah Island, Natalie is committed to making presentations that entertain, educate, empower and inspire.
Natalie’s grandmother, Elizabeth Josephine Shields (1916- 2016) was born in North Carolina near Cherokee. “She didn’t have a birth certificate because her parents gave her away, her father gave her away pretty young, but she was born we think about 1916.” She packed a lot into her 99 years of living in the physical form. Even though the man who adopted her sexually abused her, Elizabeth made a life for herself and her daughter that included happiness. “My grandmother was just always so happy. I mean it was a choice. It was a choice she made and not only was she happy, she wanted everyone around her to be happy. So, she just moved through life like that…she was a bubbly woman and she didn’t know any strangers and everybody that she met was her friend. I used to call her my road dog because when I was traveling and she had moved down here to be with me, near me if I was going somewhere to do a show or something she was like, ‘I’m coming.’”
For Elizabeth, choosing happiness was not only a choice, but also it was hard won. As a teenage, unmarried mother she was ostracized. “It was a hit and run pregnancy. She was seduced by this older man and then he just disappeared and she was left you know to do this by herself. I can only imagine the strength that that took and the mistakes that she made that she was just determined to overcome. She just wanted so much to try to make it right. ….She was a beautiful woman and after she had had my mom, she was determined that she was not going to have men in and out. So, she married a man that didn’t last long and then she stayed single until into her forties because she just didn’t want, you know she was cognizant of the responsibilities she had raising this girl.”
Elizabeth became a Christian when her daughter was 3-years-old. “There is so much about her life story that I will never know, but she was strong. It was her faith. Her faith just kept her….she just put all her life into her faith, she just wrapped it around herself. She was determined she was going to be this kind of woman and she just was.” Loving God gave her life meaning, as did loving her family. “She lives in me in that I knew I was so loved with her and I think when you’ve been loved that way it marks you for life in a good way. She loved my children. She loved my husband. I was really blessed to have her live with me some years near the end there. So, I see her in me.”
Natalie shared with her daughter and RBGM digital archivist, Sara Daise that her grandmother lives through her in other ways too. “I break into song at any moment like my grandmother. I smile all the time. And it’s genuine and it’s so important to me that my life be significant and I think in some ways that is also my grandmother. I wish I had that kind of faith when I want it.” Grandma Shields contributed to her granddaughter’s quest to make her life significant. One of her fondest memories was receiving books from her grandmother while attending college. “She sent me books regularly because she knew that I liked them. I was in college, my freshman year of college, I wasn’t sure whether I should stay at that school or transfer and so she sent me a poem. It was actually not one she wrote. It was “The Road Less Traveled.” But she knew I was trying to make a decision and she hand wrote the poem out and she sent it to me. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…and I memorized that poem and it helped me make that decision.” Although Natalie went through a situation with her grandmother that created some distance between them, it didn’t change the love Grandma Shields had for her. “But she loved me. I had no doubt of that. She was my champion. She was my buddy. She made my life survivable.”
It is that love, that being championed that Natalie misses most about Grandma Shields. “That unconditional love of my grandmother and her certainty, her faith and certainty. If she told me something was going to be alright or that God was going to do something, I had no doubt. When I was going to buy the house that I raised my children in, I wasn’t sure it was so expensive and I didn’t even tell her. I didn’t even tell her that I was thinking of buying this house, she called me up and she said, ‘Natalie, I had a dream. I had a dream that I came over to help you pack.’ And she didn’t even know.
The last time she ever called me she had been living in a nursing facility in Florida she had moved and we hadn’t talked on the phone in months and months and months and that day she called me I had not had a call from her. It’s funny because I woke up. That day I woke up and I was going to work and I felt ‘I’m going to get fired today,’ and then she called. I thought okay that’s my grandmother, that spiritual connection. Even if you know she is in her late 90s and she is not exactly sure why she called me, that was just this God this confirmation that even though this is going to happen and I was right I got fired that day that God was with me and she knew. She was just that connected to me. She prayed for me and was like, “Well I guess that’s done.”
Natalie appreciates the ways in which her grandmother was, tried to be, and was not a “traditional grandmother.” “Traditional grandmother, that loving cheeky person who cooks and puts her grandbabies on her knee and you know sacrifices herself. I suppose that you know that this traditional idea of the traditional grandmother and in some ways she was in and in some ways she wasn’t. She traveled all over the place, she moved a lot. She was a restless woman. And she was always trying to make meaning of her life and so while she cared about her grandchildren it was so important to her to make meaning of her life you know? She would go off and would do prison ministry and she moved out she would just you know, the feeling was really important for her that her life mean something to her. So, in some ways she wasn’t traditional in that way. She didn’t learn to drive until she was like almost in her sixties or so. She was a nurse and one of her private clients gave her a car and so she learned to drive and then she just went everywhere.
My grandmother was not a good cook, but she wanted to because she thought as a grandmother she should be, but she really wasn’t. But she would try because her mother was a good cook. She wanted to be a good grandma and she thought that was part of it. But I think I was more moved that she would write poetry. She was the first woman I knew who was a writer, who I knew. She would write poetry and she would get her own book published. She would write songs and sit at the organ and play them and sing them. She would teach them to folks at church. There are still people throughout the community that she last lived in who are singing songs that she wrote and I just love that. I just love that.”
Using her 5 senses, Natalie most associates the following with her grandmother: Taste: vegetarian lasagna. Touch or feel: Satin, Satin, satin. That was the feel of her skin. Sound: Singing, this robust singing. She played the organ and she sang. It was her voice, which is always musical that’s the best I can say. Sight: Smiles. Smell: The first thing I thought of was yeast. It was her mother who baked the yeast bread and yet I still associate the scent of yeast bread like with her as well.
To learn more about Natalie visit her website: