When I married, I was in for a big surprise. I lost my identity.
All the mail we received was for Mr. and Mrs. Norbert–even my personal letters. Also, in the phone book was only my husband’s name.
Soon after being married, I became a stay-at-home mom with nine children, so I was Mom or Norbert’s wife.
What happened to that independent woman who lost her mother at ten years old…Who was left with a dad who was rarely home?…Who had moved to Chicago to work at a Shriners Hospital straight out of high school? She was nowhere to be found after I married and had children.
At 40 years old I went to work part-time as a home health aide to help pay the bills. In spite of my husband telling me how bad it was working outside the home, I loved my job. I joined the choir at church, and people started calling me by my first name.
When I was 55 years old, the Senior Games were starting up all over the country, and I found out I was good at sports, so I got in our local games
and won medals in track and field, bowling, shuffleboard, and I even qualified for National Senior Olympics. And went to them!
I have been in the Senior Games for 30 years locally and have been in
longer than any other woman in Evansville. But the most important reward was getting my identity back.
I am Martha I am 86 years young.
You ever just heard a poem that stuck in your bones?
This is Christie Thompson’s tribute to her father and her family. Thompson is a writer returning to her love of writing this year. She lives in Henderson, KY, and works at WNIN, the NPR station in Evansville, IN.
My father has been gone for almost a year
And I was on my way to visit his grave
Tucked sweetly within a family plot
Beside his momma and daddy
St. Peter’s Cemetery
Is in the tiny town of Waverly, Ky—
Very much a Catholic area
And very much a poor, Catholic area
Every time I drive to see Daddy
I listen to Hank
Those in my family, we just say Hank
Because there’s only One
But perhaps I should specify—
Hank Williams Senior circa 1952
He was my daddy’s favorite
I know every word
To every song
And if you’re not sure, or don’t know who that is
It’s that twangy kinda country music
That makes dogs howl
The stuff I absolutely love
That will always feel like Daddy’s arms around me
Transports me to another time…
You ever just heard a story that stuck in your bones?
And who was tellin’ it made you rejoice
But who it was about made you cry
Even if they were one in the same?
The story came deep from within my blood:
My father grew up on a farm—
No, it wasn’t really big enough to be a farm
But there were hogs, an ass and two old milk cows—
Bessie and Brownie
It was a tiny two-room shack
In desperate need of repair
Chipped white paint, missin’ slats of wood
An old outhouse for a bathroom…
Daddy remembered the outhouse
When he was around six
He hated walkin’ to it at night
‘Cause the old mean rooster would peck at his privates
My daddy’s mom and dad,
They were extremely poor
And this story must’ve stuck in my daddy’s mind too
‘Cause he cried when he told it
His house was the kind that had dirt for a yard
Wobbly, slanted floors
And chickens wild
My dad and his brothers were the kinda kids
That wore girl’s jeans ‘cause they were cheaper
Right around the time of James Dean and Brylcream
Can you imagine what that must’ve done?
And when their father would eat
He would let the lard from the pork, stew, or whatever
Run down his chin
Only to wipe it with his sleeve
I only knew my grandpa for a very short time
But to a four-year-old he looked ominous, grotesque and mean
He was known to have cut the family dog with a razor blade
Rub gunpowder into its wounds
Purposely drivin’ the dog mad
Swearing it would keep Coloreds away from the yard
And my grandmother—
I never got the chance to meet
But she married at thirteen!
What I wouldn’t give
To tell her
Her granddaughter and great-granddaughter
Have her blue eyes and red hair
But mostly, that her son
Changed the course of an entire family…
She died when Dad was fifteen or so
He found her dead
After the night his daddy had beat her
Just a little too much
Can you imagine what that must’ve done?
When a Hank Williams song can make his eyes water
And a little black and white girl playin’ together
Can make him smile
Or when he wants to hold on to his only daughter
He let me go—
Goin’ on pure faith that he had taught me right
To lie down and die