Today my Mother had me bring home some precious and old LPs and recordings to my house while her house is undergoing some major interior design renovations. In the process of packing them up there were some fun discoveries such as my Monkees "Headquarters" album that I thought was long gone and an assortment of original cast/soundtrack LPs from the 50s and 60s of my favorite Broadway musicals. One spectacular discovery was a recording of a children's choir from St Josephs School in Libertyville in 1961 where Mom had been the music director. They sang Shubert's Ave Maria. Another record she thought long lost to time and multiple moves.
But then at the bottom, all dusty and looking rather unimportant, no label on the front, was a binder full of 30 records....upon opening it, I saw my Mother's maiden name, recorded in 1946 and 1947. Just 18 or 19 years old at the time, she was single and planning a career in vocal music and perhaps opera. She was attending Chicago Musical College which is now part of Roosevelt University. I had known all that but never knew that recordings existed of her time in music in Chicago.
Rheumatic fever first interfered with her plans, even though by 1947 she was a part of the WGN Calvacade of Stars, performing at Soldier Field with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers to name a few, and then within a year or so she met my Dad. Somewhere along the line she switched to marriage, motherhood, performing with some local "big band" type groups in and around Chicago and ultimately teaching music (which she still does today at 78 years old).
But as I looked through the records and wondered how they would sound when we find a turntable and get a USB turntable to digitize them, I thought about whether those recordings were hidden away all these years because that part of her life was something lost to her, goals lost, perhaps a dream not fulfilled...whether for health reasons at that time or falling in love, we may never know. There was even a duet in Christmas 1950 with my Dad, so music continued to be a driving force regardless.
Still, it is like meeting my Mom at age 18 and 19. Pictures are great but these recordings....that is the essence of who she was and who she hoped to be in the post-WWII years and most likely in a music culture in Chicago that had to be majorly exciting in those years. When I asked why she never showed me these or if my brothers and sisters knew about them, she said "Probably not...I don't remember." I did not pursue that line of questions. I think perhaps that along with happy memories those records might have served also as reminders of a career lost or dream not quite fulfilled? I wondered, too, if over the years when being married or having 5 kids got tough as both do from time to time, or when one of us was being completely unreasonable or just plain ill-behaved, if Mom ever regretted not pursuing a bit more in her music. I wondered, now that I have raised kids and I know that not every minute is joyful 100% of the time, if Mom let her mind wander back to those years post-WWII in Chicago when her future seemed so bright in music. Was her singing with bands in the 1950s or teaching in the 60s and since enough? Was performing more recently and doing some TV commericals in the 1990s enough to make up for the career that she came within inches of achieving back in 1947?
Most children do not really get to see their parents as having been young themselves except through old pictures and, of course, stories. But given the chance to add sound, whether through old movies or in this case, old recordings long hidden away, it is a rare gift. A rare glimpse into another time and place and a rare opportunity to connect with the youthful and optimistic 18 year old that was my Mom in 1946.