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The Chicken Soup Lady - 2004-02-13

This latest Maughan musing is coming to you via Australia where Da Ole Sports Emperor first drew breath some sixty-two years ago.

The woman responsible for that event (along with a big assist from my late Dad) is a lady well known to former listeners to my sports program. To refresh memories, she's the one I dubbed "The Chicken Soup Lady."

Some of you might recall her steadfast refusal on and off the air to reveal our old family secret recipe -- a recalcitrant attitude that subsequently endeared her to our listening audience.

The fact of the matter is that her inclusion on my sports program was calculated at fostering the show's family image. But it's equally true that there was, in fact, such an old chicken soup recipe handed down to my Mom from Grandma Williams who, in turn, got it from her mother in Devenport, Tasmania. And so it went....

The passing years may have weakened Mom's body and mind. But at ninety two years of age she still steadfastly refuses all my attempts to wheedle from her that highly acclaimed and much sought after culinary blueprint.

Looking back at those broadcasts I remember all the fun we had in Studio 12 at Voice of America's headquarters in Washington. And judging by the countless letters received from listeners the length and breadth of the continent, our audience got caught up in the shtick as well. It was as if they enjoyed listening in to these wild and crazy Maughan family shenanigans, just for the sheer fun of it!

Ever the performer, I was most proud of how my Mom handled herself during our many interviews on the subject. Think about it. How many mothers could or would subject themselves to such journalistic hay hem to help enhance a son's radio program. Speaking in her typical and highly distinctly Aussie accent she followed the script to perfection by refusing all my chicken soup recipe overtures.

So well did she play her part that we soon had listeners getting into the spirit of things and sending in their own chicken soup recipes.

Most poignantly, of the hundreds of recipes received, we still treasure two special letters from matriarchs in Kenya and Zambia. They not only enclosed their treasured recipes but sent along lovely intimate greetings to my Mom, along with personal photos.

Seeing my Mom bravely battling the ravages of time has helped me put my own life into clearer focus. This visit, more than any earlier ones, has made me appreciate my roots and where my talents, such as they are, might come from. So indulge me as I take this trip down memory lane.

It's hard to imagine that a woman, now nearly crippled, was once a headline theater act throughout Australia. She performed under the name of Princess Lei Mahelona, the South Seas Island Beauty. She wore the obligatory grass skirt, performed the hula dance, strummed the ukulele and sang sweetly to large appreciative audiences across the Australian continent.

It was while touring as a headline act that she met and subsequently married Howard Maugham, a combination band leader, music teacher and local radio announcer of some note. But after a tempestuous and short lived marriage they divorced and I ended up in the United States with my mother at the age of twelve.

So with all that theatricality in my genes what chance did I have for any other profession than the one I followed for more than thirty five years, the last twenty two of them with the English to Africa branch of the Voice of America.

From before I was knee high to a grasshopper I was exposed to this world of entertainment through these two highly talented individuals. With that in mind, I can never recall wanting to be anything other than a radio announcer. From my earliest days I accompanied my Dad to radio stations in Brisbane, Murwillumbah and other places, all the while watching him "do his broadcasting thing" so to speak.

But none of these artistic talents seemed to have rubbed off on our two children who are both in the sciences. But, hang on a minute, there is a grandchild coming along this July.

So hopes springs eternal that the talents that helped mold my career may well once again, bear fruit. I can only live in hope.