My mother’s voice

Over the holiday weekend I have been going through my mother’s calendar diaries. The earliest I have (right now; I’m sure there are more hidden in boxes, although earlier years may not be in calendar books) begin with 1967 and end in 1992. That was when she was first diagnosed with “mild Alzheimer’s Disease.” It is sad to watch her entries in the late 1980s become confused and tail off, but it is heart-warming for me to read her earlier entries, when the voice of the mother I knew was strong.

One thing that popped out was her referring to me as “Lish.” This was my parents’ nickname for me, pronounced “Leesh” and taken from the family pronunciation of “Aleesha.” (The one person who gets away with calling me “Alisha” is Gary Boyd Roberts.) The only time I had a problem with “Leesh” was my first day in kindergarten, when I introduced myself to a boy with my nickname. He looked at me quite confused for a minute, then processed it: “Oh, like a dog leash!”

I probably have told you the story of how I got the exotic name of Alicia, but to repeat, my mother wanted to name me after her mother, Alice, but Alice refused to be known as “Big Alice.” So Mother got the baby name book out and found that Alicia means “Little Alice.”

Going through the calendars, I am reminded of some other family names. Mom, Lois, was known as “Lowey” in her youth. Dad, Roger, was known as “Rod” in his school years. Mom’s parents, Edward and Alice, were referred to as “Ed and Al.” Dad’s sister Vera was “Vee.” Other names were more common – David/Dave, William/Will, Ralph/Ralphie. Then there are the names like “Sonny” for my uncle Lauren and “Tad” for my oldest nephew Edward Earl.

Mom’s calendar diaries were … not lengthy, but she managed to get the important stuff in.

Mom’s calendar diaries were written in the little boxes of week-at-a-glance and month-at-a-glance calendars, so they were not lengthy, but she managed to get the important stuff in. On May 28, 1972, for example, she laid some carpet, the Duke of Windsor died at age 77, President Nixon gave an address to the “People of Moscow” (he was on a trip in Russia), and Dad sprayed the maple tree for moths.

She also recorded the TV shows she watched: On Sunday, June 6, 1971, “Celebrated Father’s Day early, rode downstream on the Sam Clemens [a riverboat on the Mississippi River; they were living in St. Louis then].” After they came home she cooked “Hawaiian smorgasbord” and TV was Ed Sullivan, Glen Campbell, Ice Palace, and This is Your Life, Jonathan Winters.

The good ol’ days.

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia is the lead genealogist on the new NEHGS study project, Early New England Families, 1641-1700. Prior to joining the NEHGS staff, she compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant, the Alden Family Five Generations project, and the Harlow Family : Descendants of Sgt. William Harlow (1624/5-1691) of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University. In October 2016, Alicia was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists.

26 thoughts on “My mother’s voice

  1. What a lovely piece . . . and in the month of Mothers Day. The other day hubby and I were going through some family papers and found some notes on a photo. My heart leaped when I saw my mother’s handwriting! . . . and my grandmother’s! It was wonderful to me how just the sight of them brought back to me their voice, their physical presence, their aura. It seems that handwriting is as distinct and recognizable as a photo or a recorded voice. Thank you for the reminder

  2. What is Hawaian Smorgasbord? I wish I had recipes for some of the dishes my mother cooked when I was growing up. Flummery, for instance, made with raspberries fresh from the garden. Thank you, Alicia, for bringing a note of reality into our genealogical world. I found a diary my mother kept in 1903 when she was 15 going on 16, a tiny, tiny memorandum book, in the tiny, backwards-tilted left-handed script she used all her life. I transcribed it. The people and places resonate with me, because I grew up in the same house she did. However, her interests were mostly social, and my son reacted with disgust: “It’s so shallow!” Not to me. It opened up a world of family I never knew and a side of my mother that was long gone by the time I was born.

    1. Jane, regarding family recipes, here’s a story. When she married my husband’s older brother, my sister-in-law requested family recipes from his mother. She shared them, hand-written on notebook paper, when the family gathered in a big rented house in Hawaii for a nephew’s wedding a few years ago. One recipe was for Spanish rice and called for a chopped mango. My first reaction was, oh, that would be delicious. But then I thought to myself, I don’t think there were any mangoes available in mid-western grocery stores in the late 1950s or even during the 1960s. How could they have included a chopped mango in the family recipe for Spanish rice? It turns out that in parts of the Midwest green peppers were (and even are) called mangoes. You can Google “mango green pepper” to find an explanation, for example, this one, http://www.word-detective.com/2009/04/mango/.

    2. Jane, my mother had an eclectic interest in cooking — i.e., it was boring to make the same thing over and over, so she found recipes in the newspapers, magazines, etc. She had a full set of the Women’s Day cook books, too. Could have come from any of them. Bill wouldn’t like most of Mom’s entries either, cleaning and weeding.

  3. Thanks for this lovely description, Alicia, and this reminder of the treasured memories preserved in such items. My mother also wrote a calendar diary, and my parent’s kept a budget record. If I want to see a brief description, date of purchase, and the price of every pair of shoes I had as a child, I know exactly where to find it! The calendar diary and current year’s budget book even accompanied us on family vacations, taken by car in those days. My grandfather saved every letter he received from my mother, starting with those from Camp Fire Girls camp when she was 13, and my mother saved every letter from her parents. Linda, I so agree with you about the wonder of a loved one’s handwriting and the voice and aura preserved and projected by the words they wrote. Thinking about this today, I am reminded about the value of exploring, preserving, and sharing these “recent” family treasures. It is so easy to get caught up in sleuthing traces of ancestors who lived hundreds or even a thousand years ago that it is good to be reminded about the treasures we may have from the most recent generations.

    1. Janet, my mother would write long letters to me and her daughter’s-in-law with the instructions that we were to save them for her “journal” and give them back, so I have both Mom’s letters and our letters to her! I am going to scan them and distribute the files to my nieces and nephews.

  4. I really enjoyed this post Alicia and hearing you speak of your mother’s voice. In so many ways I feel as if you and I have come this same road at different times, together, and perhaps in different ways – nonetheless I value hearing you talk about your mom more than you might know.

    All the best –
    Jeff Record

  5. Your praise of the “extraordinary” value for family memories that can be found in the “ordinary” diaries and off hand words of our ancestors rings so true. I only wish I had more of such jots, scribbles, and little notes. Reminds me of Thoreau, “Heaven is under our feet as well as above our heads.”

  6. It was a treat reading personal stories from my two favorite contributors to Vita Brevis over the past two days, first from Jeff Record, then from Alicia (no offence to the others whom I also enjoy). I am sure they would be great people to know in person, based on their story-telling abilities. And Alicia’s series on writing was very informative.

  7. Very much enjoyed this post … and as I am also now going through my Mother’s calendar/diaries ‘culling’ for information (She included some amazing and random ‘stuff’ in her calendars.) it was quite on point. One thing I have discovered is that even though Mom died 18 years ago, she can still make me laugh!

    1. Lynn, oh yes, the laughter. There are things that I completely forgot, but are brought back immediately. I did have a laugh on her with an entry where she simply wrote that my cousin Bill and his landscaping crew came and took town the old willow tree. She didn’t know the story behind the story, which was that Dad started to take down the tree on his own, had tied a limb to the hitch on the pick-up, which hung over another limb and brought the end of the truck up in the air! He called his nephew (Bill) who said “Don’t touch a thing until I get there!” Either Mom didn’t know about that part or was being discrete!

  8. Hi Dear Friend to us all- Alicia. It is great to hear so much of your life and that of so many other friends at NEHGS. My Mom and Grandmother Hilton gave me the start in Genealogy at age 14 -My Grandmother gave me our Hilton Family Coats of Arms in Needlepoint that is carved into the Stone of Hylton Castle, Co. Durham, England. along with at least 19 others which date from 1390-1410 AD. My Mom always gave me her all and I have never forgotten her. She and Dad died in 1994. My Dad was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts in 1901. I have many ties to a great city ass well. Thank you so much for your love and kindnesses. Paul Morris Hilton

    1. Hi Paul. My Dad’s family lived in Haverhill in the early 20th century. They were immigrants from Wales and England and worked in the mills in Lawrence, too.

      1. Hi Alicia, Thanks for your great writings. My Mom’s Ancestry goes back to Chepstow Castle, Monmouth Wales. It is amazing the number of Ancestors we both have and I have located many links to the Mayflower and to numerous other ships that came to North America as well. I was born near Amherst, Nova Scotia in 1939. The Mayflower et al mean much to me and it has taken a great deal to me and to some of the family. GOD BLESS and KEEP YOU all. I have many links to my Grandmother Margaret Archibald (Dad’s MOM) too and a lot of Mayflower Passengers and Crew. Keep up the great work you are doing. Love Paul Morris Hilton

          1. Hi Alicia. I have quite a few Williams Ancestors from Massachusetts linked to my Hilton Family. One never knows for sure who one will run into in life or how we might be connected. I also have some Magor family members that I have not been able to link up with yet, but hope to be able to down the road. I have located many of the Mayflower passengers and crew who are linked to my Hilton and Archibald families and also possibly to the Morris family. too. The Allertons, Cookes, Howlands, Warrens, are just some of whom I have been able to track down in the last few weeks. The Winslows, Aldens and more are in the mix as well. I need to really dig in on this data and find out just whom there may be in addition to the above mentioned Ancestry. Thanks so much for the data you have given to us all. The American Ancestors Magazine is so full of data – Spring 2018 Special Addition in particular is fascinating reading. Sincere Best Wishes to all of NEGHS staff and friends who have been so willing to assist us. Sincere Best Wishes, Paul Morris hilton

  9. As an Englishman living in England, I have never doubted that your first name was pronounced “Alisha”, and am surprised at “Aleesha”.. “Lowey” is of course exactly how the French pronounce Lois.

  10. Alicia, I actually have never encountered your name pronounced any way OTHER than “Aleesha”—am I weird? As for your mother’s voice coming through her writing, I understand that so well. Sadly my paternal grandmother also suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, and my aunt told me that reading some letters written years before her diagnosis flooded her with memories of Mimi when she was full of purpose and energy and drive. It’s truly a cruel disease. My grandmother graduated from UCLA at 19 and (according to her senior yearbook) was clearly in charge of much that happened on campus during her time there. How sad that her mind and vision were stripped from her in her final years. I knew that Mimi’s mother suffered from dementia by the time I was born, and from doing genealogical work I discovered that HER mother also suffered from dementia. Thankfully my octogenarian aunt shows no signs, so hopefully a fourth generation won’t need to experience that terrible curse. Thanks for sharing your mother’s thoughts with us.

    1. Pamela and Jared, I have heard it all. Aleesia, Aleeshia, A lissh ea. I tried to change my name to Alice in Second Grade, but the teacher wouldn’t let me.

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