Most lives, of course, are comprised of joys and sorrows. We don’t remember Daisy Low for the difficulties that plagued her, but rather for the funny things she said and did. Since I think that her reputation for being amusing and unpredictable is tied to the ways she compensated for certain unhappinesses, here is a taste of the troubles from her youth.
Juliette Gordon was born into a house divided. She was the daughter of a Southern father and a Northern mother. Daisy was barely a toddler when her father, William (Willie) Washington Gordon, joined the Confederate forces. Despite her inner conflicts, Daisy’s mother, Nellie Kinzie Gordon, had to appear loyal to the Southland or risk being ostracized in Savannah. In the end, her truest loyalty was to Willie.
Daisy was the second child, after the obedient Eleanor and before the beautiful Alice. All three suffered from the deprivations of war, but Daisy nearly died from “brain fever.” The recuperation period was the only sustained time when Nellie’s attention was focused on Daisy.
Nellie was volatile, sharp-tongued, moody, opinionated, and self-assured. Her whims and emotions drove the family. Willie was her ballast, and the level-headed, steady parent. Daisy and Nellie often clashed. Daisy seldom felt she had her mother’s approval in anything. She saw herself as a “burden” to her mother, and even thought of becoming a nun to remove herself from the family in the hope of making Nellie happy. After a disagreement, Daisy once wrote, “I know you will never feel the same toward me, but as I am your child you will have to endure me.”
The sharpest sorrow of her youth was Alice’s death. Daisy and Alice fought tooth and nail, as sisters close in age and forced to share a room at boarding school are likely to do. Daisy’s guilt was compounded by the fact that Nellie criticized the way she grieved, by suggesting that Daisy didn’t really love Alice enough. When Alice died, Nellie went a little crazy, and it fell to Daisy to try to comfort her mother—even though she could never be an adequate substitute for Eleanor, who was traveling abroad and whom Daisy was also trying to console.
Growing up in a house fraught with the tension of divided loyalties in war; coping with the realization that her beloved father’s Confederacy was defeated; observing the tensions in her parents’ marriage as the post-bellum years began; never getting all the love and attention from her parents that she desired; hating being sent away to school; competing with her mother and her siblings for her father’s notice (especially after brothers were born); and the wrenching death of Alice: all of these created a childhood full of mysterious, unspoken but very real tensions.
Daisy compensated in part with humor. It’s no surprise, then, that when she married, in a classic case of Psychology 101, Daisy married a person just like her mother, only crueler.