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And Sometimes…What’s Hidden Stays Hidden

By Ana Brazil
April 20, 2023

Instead of writing about some hidden history that I’ve uncovered, today I’m going to share something historic that I’ve kept hidden.  

Long ago when I was 23-ish, I inherited a collection of odd-looking, World War II-era records that had belonged to my mother. Although she told me nothing about these records, I’ve been able to piece together that during the war the Red Cross set up recording booths like these to help servicemen record and send vocal letters to their loved ones. (Here’s one of the original mailers.)

From looking at my mother’s photo albums, I can tell that she volunteered for the Red Cross when she moved to Southern California. Sometime during her volunteer gig with the Red Cross she must have made her own recordings and sent them to her widowed mother in South Dakota. That’s what I inherited: 40-plus six-inch records of letters between my mother and grandmother and a few more kept-by-my-mother recordings of my mother and her friends singing.

My mother died when I was twelve, and as a daughter who loved her mother very much, as the baby of three children, you might think that I’d want to listen to my mother’s recordings as soon as I got them. But you’d be wrong.

It took me twenty-five years to even look at them. And even then (back in the late 90’s), all I did was gently clean and dry the surfaces and put each record into an acid-free record sleeve. I was keeping them safe for that moment in the future when I had both a turntable and the time to listen.

Fifteen years later, when I finally purchased a turntable, I listened to exactly one record, where I heard the light-hearted chitchat of a Midwestern farm girl having the time of her life in friendly, sunny California.

Although it had been forty-five years since my mother had spoken to me—and although the record had been made twenty years before that—I recognized my mother’s voice right away. In that instant of recognition I was no longer a middle-aged woman, I was suddenly a twelve-year-old daughter.

Hearing my mother’s voice so many years after her death made me tingle; it made me tremble; it made me cry. It was wondrous, hearing that specific cadence of her voice once again, but it also broke my heart.

Four of Forty plus Red Cross recordings made by Ana’s mother in WWII.

Not just because hearing her voice reminded me of how much her death devastated me, but because I realized that she had no idea who I was. At the moment she spoke into that recording machine, my mother was five years from the birth of her first child, thirteen years from mine. My mother had no idea I existed or that I would ever exist. I was not even a twinkle in her eye.

Later that day I put all of my mother’s records back into their storage place—back into hiding—and I haven’t touched them until today, when I took them out to photograph them. 

I would love to read a transcript of my mother’s WWII recordings, so sometime in the future I’m going to hire someone to listen to and transcribe them. Until then, I’m putting the Red Cross recordings of the young woman who-wouldn’t-be-my-mother-for-many-years back into hiding.

Ana Brazil
Written by Ana Brazil

Ana Brazil writes historical crime fiction celebrating bodacious American heroines. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Historical Novel Society, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers.
Ana’s latest historical mystery is THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE, which features murder, mayhem, and music in 1919 San Francisco. Her award-winning historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER is set in Gilded Age New Orleans.

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1 Comment

  1. Alina Rubin

    I’m touched by this post. My mom died when I was 14. While I don’t have recordings, I remember her notebooks with lyrics of songs she enjoyed. I found most of those songs on YouTube, and I listen to them often.

    Reply

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