Sunday, August 15, 2010

shoulda woulda coulda


I'm going to try to write a little bit about my late sister, Martha. Everyday I say I'm going to write. Everyday I don't. Because I need to tell Martha's story.

I can't do it justice here, but I'll share a little bit.

Martha was born in Germany. My father was a Secretariat in the Navy during the Reconstruction after World War Two, and then he worked for the State Department. My mother was a nurse. When Martha was born, my mother knew something was wrong. My mother was 23, in a country where she didn't speak the language, away from her Des Moines, Iowa family. Martha was her first baby. Her husband was busy drinking with the Russians. (His job was to translate, which apparently translated into imbibing copious amounts of Vodka.) He was also having an office affair. We read in his papers after his death, that while our mother was in the hospital in Germany with her baby who was not doing well, our father was frolicking with 'his one true love'.

Really? I feel bad for both of them. (I believe my father did end up loving my mother, or at least respecting her. He provided tireless end-of-life care for her, before there was hospice. She died of colon cancer when she was 51 years old. In her own bed.)

But something wasn't right with Martha. The doctors in Germany put her in an incubator, and she was not allowed to be held or cuddled for six weeks. Nowadays we know the horrible effects of depriving a baby of physical contact. My mother knew in her gut, but had no power to do anything. Martha was a beautiful baby with a head full of curls and our mother's blue eyes. In every other way she resembled our father. And her head was a little too large for her body.

In the photo Martha is around twelve, and I am six. Can you see that I am already nearly as big as she? When she was all done growing she was about 4' 8". In heels. She couldn't bear to be touched or hugged. She had a slight case of Cerebral Palsy; just enough to make her clumsy. She couldn't do a jumping jack, but she appeared normal. She spilled things and tripped and fell all the time. She was extremely intelligent.

My father was embarrassed by her. Appalled. He saw his oldest daughter as his personal imperfection. When Martha was an adult and his other two daughters had (perfect) babies of their own, he made this stunning statement. "The one thing the Nazis had right was the notion of euthanizing imperfect babies at birth."

Martha was in the kitchen when he said that, and I prayed she hadn't heard. Which was silly of me. He had humiliated Martha her entire life - he specialized in humiliation, I mean he was so good at it. How could she have possibly not known how he felt?

When she was fifteen she tried to hang herself. That bought her some psychiatric care, but can you imagine in those days? Everything was Freudian and no doubt the shrink was trying to convince her that she wanted to do away with our mother so she could have our father to herself. Now that would be One Scary Thought if you were Martha. "Um, no thanks, REALLY. No. Thanks."

There were some fun times. I had a loose tooth and was too chicken to slam the door hard enough, once the string was attached to my tooth and the doorknob. "I know!" said Martha. She disappeared and returned shortly with Blackie, our schizoid cat. (Stripey was the calm one. And you wonder why I name my dogs things like Giacomino and Mama Pajama.) Martha tied the other end of the string to Blackie's tail and stomped her foot and said, "BOO!" Poor Blackie was gone for three days and we never did find my tooth.

I'm working tomorrow, so I'll write more on Tuesday. I think it's all going to come out now. It may even need to be more than some blog posts.
... Martha's story is continued HERE

thank you


13 comments:

  1. Some people shouldn't be parents. How awful for Martha to have to deal with that attitude.

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  2. You are telling Martha's story beautifully, in words that have grown from your love and loss. Bless you darlin'(see, we talk Virginan here) for having the strength to do this.

    muzzer

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  3. We are in awe again at how you can touch us with your words. We look forward to reading more!

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  4. Martha deserves to have her story told and you are doing it well!

    Jo and Stella

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  5. Writing is cathartic. I want you to know you are not alone. My father was an alcoholic who specialized in verbal abuse. I did not invite him to my wedding.

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  6. Always feel good that you gave your sister the love that other family members didn't. Sometimes you just have to think: deliver us from those who should be protecting our childhood.

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  7. You write so well...and good for you for writing. When my father died, I wanted to write, but it just seemed so...I don't know -- just bare and raw. My job took over (as it always does), and the muse left. Now, I find myself wanting to write, but somehow being unable to.

    I know that you loved your sister. Through writing, you will keep her alive.

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  8. We are waiting for the next installment.

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  9. How do you manage to make every story beautiful and touching? You do Martha every justice.

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  10. In telling Martha's story, you honor her life and her resilience. And you shout out your love and respect for her. Many of us had not-so-great parents and are afraid/ashamed to discuss this aspect of our lives. Your courage is remarkable. And we are here with you, listening, nodding, and holding you close as you write.
    Gayle

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  11. It's hard enough to speak or write about the loss of one close to us, but to also share the loss of Martha's happy childhood... your childhood.... is truly courageous and inspiring. Until I neared my adulthood, I really had no idea that families were not all like mine.
    With everyone else, I'm waiting for more; your happy story made me laugh and I hope those memories will return to you more and more!
    Thank you for trusting us with her story...and hugs while you continue!
    laurie

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  12. It's hard enough to speak or write about the loss of one close to us, but to also share the loss of Martha's happy childhood... your childhood.... is truly courageous and inspiring. Until I neared my adulthood, I really had no idea that families were not all like mine.
    With everyone else, I'm waiting for more; your happy story made me laugh and I hope those memories will return to you more and more!
    Thank you for trusting us with her story...and hugs while you continue!
    laurie

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  13. The other Martha and P-doggy and CheAugust 16, 2010 at 5:24 PM

    ((((dear P,))))

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