Copyright 2013 by Janann Giles
Janann Giles, who lives in
Georgia, enjoys writing about history, usually Civil War through WWII.
Simply put, she enjoys writing about some other family’s
history. This story is different: it’s from her own family
history. The story explores her thoughts as she discovers her
mother through a small tattered diary.
April 24, 1946, Cuba
Breakfast at hotel. Taxi to cocktail party
at 10 a.m. Luncheon at Seville-Biltmore. Shopping,
walking, looking, listening. To hotel to
take nap. Cocktails, dress, more cocktails. Finally out to
dinner. Walked around later. Drink at
sidewalk cafe. I've eaten and drunk so much pineapple I
could hardly brush my teeth.
person? I thought I was reading my mother's diary but this was not the
raised me. The
woman who raised me was proper, community involved, and church going
In other words, a mother of
the 1950s; tending towards dull. Mother helped with the PTA, Sunday
School and made every
birthday cake I had as a child; they weren't rum cakes either. Her
specialty was an angel food cake frosted
with swirls of pink and blue homemade icing.
in Cuba that her teeth hurt? Really? Mother, mother, mother, it wasn't
pineapple, it was
the rum; from over 60 years distance I know that.
diaries aren't meant to be read by others, especially the children. She
padlock on this booklet but I'm glad she didn't. I have learned a lot
while reading it. After being thoroughly
shocked by the amount of alcohol my parents consumed in one day I found
cool, except right in sun. Breeze all of the time. Country sightseeing
distillery, etc. Cocktails in the distillery, Hotel luncheon. Cocktail
party at a new
Went to Jai Alai games.
Gambling! I am shocked! What kind of parenting example was this?
knew my parents
had gone to a convention in Cuba even though it occurred many years
before I was born.
Surprisingly in mother's diary one of our great family legends did not
appear. I know from having heard the story
numerous times that while my parents were in Cuba my older sister
decided it would be ok to wear her
bathing suit, under her dress, to school. To be really cool and
lengthen her swimming time she also
went to school in her bare feet. She must have thought no one would
notice: they did. To this day she
states that the worst part of that day was when the principal told her
since she had no shoes she would
need to get a pair from the charity box of clothes donated to the
mention that in her diary? Certainly Grandma and the principal
mentioned it on her return to Central
Florida. Was it too embarrassing to write about a child's misdeed?
Don't I wish I had her diary from
when I was growing up to see what she wrote about some of my teenage
and young adult avows I was going to be different then those staid
boring people who raised me. I had
spent decades running from "being my mother." Then it happened, I woke
up one morning, looked
in the mirror and realized the race was lost and it was time to embrace
my genes. I officially now looked
like my mother but was I "like" my mother? The diary says yes in more
ways that I ever imagined.
appearance wise we are alike and yet in so many other ways we are quite
different. She did not use
4-letter words. I have been known to hyphenate many of them and, yes,
string them together in a
tirade that would make a sailor proud.
She kept diaries her entire
life. I don't particularly want to remember
things I did previously, especially during the 70s. She could paint,
draw cartoons, knit and crochet.
I, while I recognize a skein of yarn, creating something with that
skein and two knitting needles is not
going to happen.
has given me insight into my mother and what it was like to be a
mother in the
early 40s. As I read her diary I can still recognize the streets and
schools she mentions because it's
where I grew up. When she wrote about going to visit her parents I can
visualize the house because as I came
along I played on the wide porch next to Grandma's ubiquitous ferns,
slid down grandpa's smooth
stairs and chowed down on his buttered toast, baked beans and vinegar
different nearly seven decades ago, yet still familiar today. One spring
found mother checking out a hiking
trail for the Girl Scouts. It seems she was living up to the
organization's motto of "Be Prepared." She
hiked the trail before ever taking the group out. Her reward for her
diligence; a bad sunburn.
became a Scout leader but these days part of being prepared is to be
sure there's sunscreen near
the top of every camping list. Did they even make sunscreen in the 40s?
may not have
attended the movies mother writes about in her diary. She thought
"Going My Way" with Bing Crosby
was "Excellent." Still I know the theatre she wrote about. I recall
impatiently waiting in a seemingly
endless line wondering if there would be any tickets left for the
Saturday matinee. Amazingly there
always were tickets, even when we were at the end of the line. Last
year I revisited my home town and saw
the movie theatre. Since the ticket line never went around the corner
of the short block I now
realize why mother could wave, drive away and never worry about me
getting a ticket.
Mother casually wrote about a
hurricane and the damage to the trees. The hurricane did not have a name or even a
number. In the 40s hurricanes just blew through, as generic as the
countless thunder storms that pop
up in Central Florida. By the time I was a child hurricanes had names,
I turn the
pages of this small diary there are people that show up who are
mysteries to me; perhaps they are the
unknown faces on unmarked family photos. There's a faded clipping
tucked in the pages of the diary - a
funeral for a relative that died fighting for his country. I can imagine that had he lived he would have been a
favorite cousin that I would have gone to for advice...but that was not
One short entry
by mother mentions being approached by a committee that asked her to
run for Mayor. She declined. It
makes me think: were women political in the 40s? I know my father
thought mother always voted the
way he told her but I have my doubts. Once the curtain on the voting booth
was pulled shut she would
vote her conscience, not her husband's.
life in the 40s has changed since reading her diary. Yes, she did
mention rising food costs,
specifically eggs, but all was not gloom, doom, and deprivation.
all it was 1946 when my parents attended
that infamous convention in Cuba. Those were the glory years in Cuba;
the heyday for nightclubs and
gambling and apparently quite a heyday for my parents as well. Still
some of the entries could easily be
written by today's travelers, just substitute another destination name
getting ready to go to Cuba. Might as well left for Cuba today -
Couldn't settle down
early to catch plane from Lakeland - then it was 1 1/2 hours. Flew all
get to Miami. Just made connection for Cuba ...Walked all over in
Sidewalk cafes. No screens.
Up late -
to Presidente to see about changing our reservations (couldn't). Went
Bought nothing. Stores close at noon... Siesta time I guess. Long walk
rested and dinner at Tropicana-Swank!
like the Girl Scout pre-hike, once again mother was not prepared. She
had not done her research on
vacationing in Cuba. Without the internet or a Rick Steves travel guide
she was on her own; something I can't
imagine. When I travel I'm prepared with maps (now GPS) and a library
of travel guides telling me
what to expect in food and local customs. In reality she probably had
more fun because of the
officially over yesterday - up late to town to shop -went to movies,
got Clark a coat
at Sears -
to hotel about five. Hired cab for night. Rode, long ways. Went to
Hotel at 2
other entries I'm now not as shocked by my parents staying out until 2
a.m. as I am by the fact that
there was a Sears store in Cuba.
so strong and yet so wrong. Our genes connect us and now mother's diary
has given me a glimpse into
a person I never really knew. The mirror may be right, we do look
alike, but it's only a glimpse at our
similarities. It's the paper memories of her diary that are bringing
the ghost of my mother and my
living self together.
The stories keep pouring
out. After raising 2 daughters and retiring as an Administrative
Assistant from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, she now has
time to research interesting subjects and write , write, write.
Her current blog is Foodthoughtsbyjhg.wordpress.com.
Born and raised in Central Florida
she was witness to the dramatic changes that took place when Disney
moved into the neighborhood. She now resides quietly in
Covington, Georgia, helping out with grandchildren, Girl Scouts, Boy
Scouts, and church activities. Through Toastmasters she is now
stretching her wings and attempting to turn her writing into oral
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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