Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Martha part 3 (of 4, I think)

(This is continued from HERE.)

I want to thank you for your kind comments. I have woken up every morning since Martha died in the end of March and I’ve said, “I’ll write Martha’s story today.” It is very difficult. I do not want to betray her privacy, I don’t want to be maudlin. I want to honor a Very Brave Soul. President Obama was at one point searching for stories of people without health insurance, and Martha encouraged me to tell hers, and then was thrilled when it appeared on the government’s website. I think she would be pleased with this telling, and I’m writing it in that vein.

Somehow Martha did survive her childhood. My memory of her early adulthood is muddled. I married at nineteen, our mother died when I was twenty, I had my son when I was twenty-two, and I divorced at twenty-four. Martha had gone away to college, and had been back living at home with our parents. (She went to a local Community College and then to Southern Illinois University – small world – where our mother’s first cousin was a dean. I think she lived with Cousin Jimmy and his wife. She completed all the requirements for graduation, but never turned in her thesis. Finished it, but never turned it in.) My first husband, JB, and I moved to Toledo, Ohio, to go to college where his father’s family lived.

JB was great with Martha. He made her laugh and laughed with her. One time, back home before we moved, I decided that I could teach Marth to drive. She had taken three different Driver’s Ed courses each ending in failure and our parents had long since given up, but I was sure I could do it. We were in our deathly little ancient Renault, driving in the country. About every two seconds I would ‘help’ a bit with the steering. Martha took a hairpin turn a hair too fast. She stomped on the gas pedal instead of the brake, and then she yanked the steering wheel this way and that, all the while accelerating like a pig headed for slop.

I clutched at the see-sawing steering wheel and shrieked, “Brake! Brake!” as we left the road and careened into a neighbor’s wheat field, gaining speed like Superman-faster-than-a-speeding-bullet. The sound of the wheat against the little car’s tin floor was deafening. But from the back seat, JB was laughing his fool head off and he started shouting, “Yeee haawwwwwwww! Ride ‘em cowgirl!” By some kindness of the Lord we didn’t flip and made it back on to the road proper. That was the end of Martha’s driving lessons, but thanks to JB we were laughing and having fun, instead of wallowing in humiliation yet again.

When our mother became terminally ill, Martha moved to Toledo and stayed with us. Well. I don’t think I was very kind to her during this time. I was nineteen, and I was pretty sure that whole marriage thing wasn’t the best decision I’d made. Oh I’ll skip the excuses. Basically, I think I acted out daddy’s part pretty well. I am ashamed as I try to remember.

Martha got jobs at Big Boy/Bob Evans type restaurants waiting tables. (She joked about being little Martha working at Big Boy.) Amazing. She loved it. Eventually she would drop one tray too many and get fired. She rode her bike everywhere. When JB and I moved back East, Martha stayed. She loved Toledo. She found a cute little inexpensive furnished apartment and she was happy, I think.

When my son was a baby, Martha got burned. Her shirt caught on fire when she was cooking at home. I came out to see her – I flew with the baby – while she was in the burn unit. She needed extensive grafting for burns on her arms and chest. She ended up being transferred to a hospital in Baltimore and then back home to our father’s house. I think that whole time was a nightmare for her. I think our father really tried; I believe he had promised our mother on her deathbed that he would try. Martha was so angry. Daddy was drinking heavily. What a mess. As soon as she was physically able Martha got herself back to Toledo ASAP.

Thank God.

I will finish this tomorrow. HERE


  1. Patience: As you write this the thing to remember is the love you had for Martha, not how you (think you) failed her, but how her strength inspired you and inspires others as you write this.


  2. Patience, your writing is so powerful that it is intimidating to leave a comment worthy enough.
    When I read this story, I am moved by the incredible love you have for your sister. I am sure that she is smiling right now. This is a beautiful story, please keep telling it.


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