The Man in the Glass

old pics-456He was born an only child in 1887 but, later, he was a father to eleven of his own, raising them during tough times and in very modest circumstances. From his eleven children, came forth nearly forty more children and I am among the youngest of those. Since his birth, William Albert Adlam’s ancestral tree has grown and, today, it must have well over one hundred leaves growing on its branches. Yet, few are left to convey the “Bert Adlam” tale and so, as time passes on, it risks fading from view (and importance) altogether – quietly and inconspicuously in the winds of the ages.

In my own mother’s dresser drawer lived the purple-stained mimeographed pages of the brief, original autobiography her father crafted shortly before his death. Save for that, much of his memories and life’s story would probably have gone completely untold or would have, by now, withered on the family vine. In my teenage years, I would occasionally stumble upon the folder containing that autobiography when I was rummaging around looking for something else. Once, I remember fanning the 22-page account of his life and thinking that the act of writing it had been a cool thing for my grandfather to do. Beyond that, especially at that time, it made little impact in my mind, let alone on my life. Besides, it was difficult to read, I recall; it contained run-on sentences, awkward grammar and recollections that I believed had little real meaning to me.

But, fast-forward forty-five more years and twelve house moves back and forth, across the country. Throughout the ongoing journey of my own life, that autobiography surfaced every single time I packed and unpacked and, as it did, it found its way into a new drawer or file. Each time it did, I vowed that I would take it out and read it through…sometime. Finally, a few weeks ago, just prior to my 57th birthday, I stuffed it into my purse on the way out of the door for a five-day mini-vacation. It seemed like the perfect poolside companion for my trip, although I never anticipated that it would end up consuming that vacation… as well as the week that followed it.

I will admit that, initially, getting through the rough and somewhat broken nature of the original manuscript was a little challenging. At the same time, however, I found it charming. It was filled with the author’s sometimes disjointed and assorted-yet-authentic human experiences, which had been poured onto the pages, often with vivid descriptions and touching emotions. Naturally, because I was a child when my / our grandfather died, I knew him, but not with any real sense of intimacy. As I began to read his story on the plane ride, his “voice” emerged as my traveling companion, literally from within the text, and his personality oozed through the words on the pages.

That said, I also began t to realize that there was a second story subtly buried within his first one. However, because of the style and the condition of the original text, both stories would likely not live to ever again see the light of day for all of the descendants of William Albert Adlam if it was left as it was. My cousins, and their children, and their children’s children would not likely ever read the original text, much less take the time to decipher some of the original paragraphs – which were rife with misspellings, run-on sentences, fragments of thoughts and, let’s face it… NO PICTURES! In this more modern era of the Internet, there were photos to be found that could make his original story come alive… and there was a writer (me) with a laptop, who would be captive by a pool for five days. I was gradually falling in love with the idea of a 21st century version of a 19th century grandfather’s life. And so, this expanded (yet edited) version of his original story came to life, in my villa overlooking the ocean, just as he started to come to life for me, through his words. Interestingly, as I researched each and every detail he recounted, I was stunned at just how accurate his recollections really were. He, of course, never had the benefit of checking his facts on a computer. But, other than a few names and spellings, his raw memories were essentially spot on. That is impressive, for sure.

The “story within the story” mentioned above, however, was my real motivation. Sure, it is fantastical to read about life in 19th century England. To finally piece together some of the photos of our family’s past with his accounts of Britain’s royalty seems magical. And to realize, in our present era of the hit television drama series Downton Abbey, that our grandfather visited the real Highclere Castle (where the show is filmed) is awe-inspiring. But I wanted to share a less obvious, parallel theme with my husband and children when I arrived home from my trip. That secondary tale is about a man who was fundamentally grateful to others for their impact and generosity in his life. That story within the original story reveals a man who struggled with some philosophical issues of his time, but sought to reconcile matters on sound principles. It is the story of hard work, an abiding faith, duty to one’s country, respect for one’s elders, love for one’s family and hope for one’s future. All of those secondary themes were pleasantly evident in his twenty-two pages. He considered himself very fortunate, even though he had little property, a modest education and his fair share of life challenges and heartaches. All of our modern lives can benefit from taking pause, taking note, or both.

I have tried to keep the new, edited version of The Autobiography of William A. Adlam as close to the original as possible. I’ve cleaned up the grammar, the spelling and a number of minor historical details. Whenever possible, I’ve researched the history he references and have included explanations in shadowed text boxes, alongside his story. Because this is just for our family, I have not gone to the painstaking effort to provide proper credits or footnotes in those text boxes; in some cases, I’ve copied and pasted right from the pages of Wikipedia… so please forgive those instances where I have “borrowed generously.” I spent a considerable amount of time finding photos that matched his journey, in an effort to make an old story new, even more engaging, cogent and descriptive.

Finally, you will see that I’ve included an Appendix of his original autobiography, as well as his original “resume.” If any of you have other documents you think would add value, please pass them on to me and I will add them appropriately. I am thankful for your input, help and feedback in what I consider to be a living project of a past era. Naturally, I dedicate this labor of love to William Albert Adlam, the Adlam family and to God, whose hand has guided us all, protected us all and led us all – each in so many ways, for over one hundred years. We are extraordinarily blessed.

To access, read or print the revised autobiography (110 pages in total), click on the link here:

The Autobiography of William Albert Adlam

1 Comment

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One response to “The Man in the Glass

  1. Matt English

    Victoria – this is simply amazing. Your mother was a warm, wonderful, and worldy person, and this helps explain why. I can only hope to leave my grandchildren with such a wonderful legacy (and curiosity).

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