A Picture of Ms. Martha’s

Memories are a “funny” thing. They can surface at odd times. Or become jarred loose by similar settings. Recently, I have been remembering a scene of an old neighbor with unusual clarity, and the irony is that I have always been puzzled and confused about that day with her.

Maybe it is because 9 years later, it is finally coming into focus; It was a picture that took a decade to develop. A decade filled with my own processing and development.

During the first years of our marriage, my husband and I lived up the street from an older, widowed woman named “Ms. Martha.” I would stop and talk with her occasionally on my walks with my two small children when she was out working in her yard. She was kind, a bit spunky, and very lucid.

All I really knew about her was that she seemed a very capable,  professional woman in her prime. And that the two beautiful, large maple trees in her front yard, that my oldest loved to climb, were volunteers from Tennessee. She had brought them over the hills nestled in her lap, like small children, during her relocation to the Tar Heel State some 50 years earlier.

So, we would have our casual talks on the front lawn, or I would simply hope that all that was needed from me was a smile as I went on my way. One afternoon though,  she stopped me as I headed up our street pushing my girls in the double jogging stroller. She told me that she had 4 small kittens and wondered if my oldest daughter would like to see them. Emma was an infant at the time. Though highly allergic, I could not pass up such a sight. Especially, because my preschooler’s favorite stuffed animal at the time was named, “Baby Kitty.”

She asked us to follow her around to the rear of the house, so we could enter in through the back door. Crossing over the threshold into her home is what I have never been able to forget but at the same time was not able to fully comprehend all these years. I guess I needed to be older and have lived more.

I do not know why I felt it, but  the inside of this house seemed to be somehow frozen in time. I don’t mean to communicate that it was in bad need of repair, upgrading, or remodeling. I mean that it felt as though no one lived there . The walls were bare and the room had very few furnishings. It had a very lonely feeling. And the irony that had me confused was that this was such a stark contrast to the woman I knew from the front yard, and now watched sitting on the floor with my daughter and four frisky kittens.

I began to look around again with a curious but not critical eye. I noticed on the mantle all alone, was a framed black and white photograph of a very young man. “Ms. Martha,” I asked, “Who is that man in the picture?” She turned to see what I was referring to, and her face changed. It drooped. It got small, and she looked very little.

“That is a picture of my husband,” she said. I told her that he was very handsome, and she blushed. She then told me a little bit about how they met and  were married in their early 20’s. But ended the conversation by speaking quietly and curtly of how he had died there in their home of Leukemia 5 months after a diagnosis. That was all she wanted to say, and I respected her privacy.  It was just a snap shot.

I am horrible at mental math, but remember figuring as I sat there, that they had been married only eighteen months before he got sick and passed away very, very young. They had no children and to my knowledge she never remarried, and she was now well into her 70’s.

That was the first and last time that I was ever invited in. Into her home and consequently into her story.

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