Mother's Diary

Janann Giles

© Copyright 2013 by  Janann Giles 

Colorful 1940's poster advertising Cuba.

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.

Who was this person? I thought I was reading my mother's diary but this was not the mother that
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.

Drinking so much in Cuba that her teeth hurt? Really? Mother, mother, mother, it wasn't the
pineapple, it was the rum; from over 60 years distance I know that.

Apparently diaries aren't meant to be read by others, especially the children. She might have
considered a 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 this entry:

Surprisingly cool, except right in sun. Breeze all of the time. Country sightseeing tour -
cockfight, distillery, etc. Cocktails in the distillery, Hotel luncheon. Cocktail party at a new
nightclub. Went to Jai Alai games.

Cockfights! Gambling! I am shocked! What kind of parenting example was this?

I 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 poorest children.

Why didn't mother 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 escapades?

Oh! Maybe I don't.

As every teenager 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.

Mother and me; 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.

Finding her diary has given me insight into my mother and what it was like to be a housewife and
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 sandwiches.

Times were 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.

I, too, 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?

I 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, all female.

As 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 to be.

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.

My perception of 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.

After 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 for Cuba.

Spent day getting ready to go to Cuba. Might as well left for Cuba today - Couldn't settle down
to do anything.

EASTER!! Up early to catch plane from Lakeland - then it was 1 1/2 hours. Flew all over South
Florida to get to Miami. Just made connection for Cuba ...Walked all over in evening. Very
different. Sidewalk cafes. No screens.

Up late - to Presidente to see about changing our reservations (couldn't). Went thru some
stores. Bought nothing. Stores close at noon... Siesta time I guess. Long walk to waterfront.
Afterwards rested and dinner at Tropicana-Swank!

Obviously, just 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 spontaneity.

Convention 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 Furon Cabaret.
Hotel at 2 a.m.

Having read the 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.

Memories can be 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

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 stories.  

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