I recently wrote this for the TOURIST NEWS, a York County, Maine publication where my name is on the masthead. The photo above shows my great-grandmother Lucille Danhauer in 1865.
Immigration records reveal that Fraulein Lucille Danhauer arrived at Ellis Island from Hanover, Germany in the late 1850s. Young Lucie made her way to New York City where, with husband Wilheim, she started a family. Little did she know then that her first name would be honored and cherished through three subsequent generations.
Lucie’s granddaughter was named Lucille; she was my mother. Her great-granddaughter was named Valerie Lucille; that’s me. Her great-great-granddaughter was named Alexandra Lucille; she is my daughter. Alex and I go by our first names, but we treasure the Lucille appendage and the family heritage it represents.
We three share more than blood and given names. Similarities abound, from fierce devotion to our children to a zest for travel. Over the years each of us has delighted in creating colorful flower gardens; both Alex’s and my garden have perennials that once grew in my mother’s plots. We have all also dabbled in nearly every craft from knitting to decoupage.
Each of us graduated from Skidmore College (founded by none other than Lucy Skidmore). During the destitute 1930’s, Mom supplemented her tuition at the all-female school in Saratoga Springs, New York, by waiting on tables in the cafeteria.
When I graduated in 1964, civil rights sit-ins and Viet Nam protests were reverberating across the country. My journalist mother took such pleasure hearing Helen Thomas, a renowned member of the White House press corps, speak at my graduation.
Skidmore had turned co-ed by the time Alex arrived on campus in 1988. When her proud alumna grandmother asked if she would like something special for her dorm room, Alex suggested a blender. The first Lucille was aghast.
After graduating, each of us got married, had children, and settled into suburban life and its responsibilities. My mother was my Girl Scout leader; I was Alex’s Brownie leader; Alex heads her daughter’s Girl Scout Troop 10368 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The three of us have hauled more than our share of Thin Mints.
The hospitality gene runs strong in the three Lucilles. Until she died 20 years ago, Mom hosted an annual family reunion weekend every July, with “room in a bed” for more than 50 relatives. On many Thanksgivings, my husband and I welcome brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews, along with our own kids and theirs, to our Kennebunk Beach home. Just this past Easter Alex and husband Tim served 40-plus relatives a midday buffet followed by an egg hunt.
Mother, daughter and granddaughter enjoyed family reunions in Miltown Malbay, a hard-scrabble town on the coast in County Clare, Ireland, and ancestral home of Mom’s grandfather. Today, photos on my bedroom dresser of Lucille and Alex wearing Aran Island sweaters vie with snapshots of Val and Alex at Bunratty Castle.
Our growing extended family made three separate trips to Miltown Malbay — 1988, 1998 and 2014. During those boisterous reunions, any one of the three Lucilles savored nothing better than sitting around the burning peat fire in the simple stucco cottages, surrounded by her children and grandchildren.
I recently asked my sister, Do you think there’s a special link between Mom, Alex and me? Are we cut from the same cloth? She said, “Yes. You all put family first. You reach out and embrace friends and strangers alike. You live with clarity — no lies or fudging.”
These days when I look in the mirror, I see my mother, with the same stubborn wavy hair, the identical strong chin. I watch my daughter teach her daughter Maddie how to bake a chocolate cake, and remember how Mom taught me to make seven-minute icing in a double-boiler.
And I feel so lucky to be the middle Lucille — graced by the memory of a witty intelligent mother who insisted I do my best but always encouraged me with love and sound advice, supported by a beautiful daughter whose generosity and strength shore me up when times are tough. Their presence in my life has been the best Mother’s Day gift I could ever want.