There is a great phrase, “keeping a person’s memory green.” It’s basically an expression for the never-ending process of telling stories about a person who has died, talking about the things they believed in, using the funny expressions they liked, more or less just passing on a little of what made them them. Whatever may happen after we die, if people are keeping our memory green, our spirit lives on.
I asked Lee Albright to compose a small piece about her mother, Martina Louise Brandegee Lawrence, because in her everyday conversation and comments, Lee has devoted an enormous part of her life energy to keeping her mother’s memory green… She didn’t send me a finished piece of writing, but rather a series of notes.
The following is a compilation that I cobbled together from those notes. When I showed it to her, she said it didn’t sound like her voice, but to “leave it in.” Take that as a caveat of sorts.
Langdon, you asked me to put together some thoughts and memories of my mother and so I shall… reminding you that these thoughts are simply my experiences and remembrances and are perhaps different from those of my brothers or others who knew my mother well.
Father told me in 1994, half a year before he died, when we were at the Dark Harbor church, that it was there, at age five, that he spotted her. She was also age five. He said “She had a big white straw hat, and I thought she was beautiful.” Father was envious of Mother’s French governess. He thought it must be wonderful to have an in-house tutor and would come by to talk French. “Le petit Garcon Lawrence, il est merveilleux.”
Mother’s early life was spent at home with governesses and tutors. School began for her at Winsor at age 11 or 12, in 5th or 6th grade.
Of all her friends, Betty Bartlett McAndrew and Mabel Thayer Storey were the two whom I would come to know the best. Mother asked Betty to be my godmother, but it was Mabel, or “Aunt Mabel,” who later became a wonderful, lifelong friend of mine, and in 1968 I asked her to be [my daughter] Martina’s godmother. Jean Sears Alexander was another very close friend, and became my brother Jimmy’s godmother.
Mother was, according to Aunt Mabel, a very bright, fun-loving child who laughed and enjoyed friendships, parties and life. She was the “apple of her father’s eye.”
Stories of her childhood… At age twelve, my mother spent a winter in Egypt on a cultural trip with her parents. And she told me that her father always insisted on tipping the hotel staff individually because otherwise the major domo would keep the whole amount. For some reason, this made a huge impression on me. I remember her telling us about the time Uncle Langdon, her brother with whom she was very close growing up, rowed the French governess to Gull Rock, leaving her there as the tide rose! She also used to tell us about the butler in Dark Harbor who each morning, when Granny and Grandfather Brandegee were in Europe, would swim over to Seven Hundred Acre Island and back, and serve the children luncheon in a wet bathing suit.
As a teenager she loved skating, and there is a wonderful photo of Mother at The Country Club in Brookline with friends. I think when it came to school she was “over lessoned,” as she would always relent whenever we refused our own lessons (alas!). She had always had a rigorous program, and was therefore more forgiving to us when we wanted to hang out. She used to tell me “the mistakes I make you won’t make and the ones you make your children won’t make.”
She spent her junior year with her parents in New York city, and attended the Chapin School. She loved it! She said it was her best year of school. She wanted to go to college, and was accepted to Radcliffe for the fall of 1923 or 1924, but it was not to be.