New to Richmond and RRUMC, I often took note of the elegant, immaculately attired woman who provides piano accompaniment for the 11:00 service. She was always present, in place, on time, navigating the hubbub with a confident serenity that caught my attention. Martha Narron, her name I later ascertained, is definitely a standout. She and I crossed paths in meetings where I admired her penchant for speaking her mind as information, rather than argument. She is passionate about her love for her Lord Jesus Christ, a conviction that shines in a quiet humility, testament to whom she loves and whose devoted servant she is.

Martha, with her perfect posture, tasteful couture, and impeccable manners, is easy to envy. I jumped to an assumption of old money, finishing schools, and Junior League, sitting up a bit straighter and reminding myself to select cutlery from the outside, progressing toward the center. That defensive posturing turned out to be unnecessary and inappropriate. It’s so tempting to associate present day Virginians with old south plantation wealth and culture, and in so doing get it all wrong. Martha and Vince Narron do have a lovely home, tastefully appointed, comfortably hospitable, but there are no slave quarters out back, just Vince’s office and the grand-babies play-house. The hospitality is the elegance of old fashioned kindness and courtesy.

From my spot on a comfy divan, I could see both Martha and her favorite wall. The wall told the whole story of Vince and Martha, their three much loved children, and the next generation in the making. Floor to ceiling, every shelf displayed pictures framed in custom decorative surrounds and arranged multiple layers deep, offering themselves for inspection and delight. Snapshots that didn’t merit such special treatment were nonetheless scrapbooked in dozens of matching binders for safekeeping and at-the-ready enjoyment. Martha may present the image of professional career woman, but her heart is Mom and Gramma.

Walking through the house, every item of furniture or decorative element seems placed in feng shui balance with the life lived in the space. I acknowledged that this is the result of truly being a wife and mother, not just getting through and beyond it. “Of course you didn’t work away from home,” I asserted, an eyebrow raised as question.

“Oh yes,” she replied. “Full time. Always.” I learned that she had worked as an Executive Secretary for many years, rising eventually to Administrative Vice-President for a contracting firm. How she could sustain a professional career, raise three exceptionally successful progeny, and also create and maintain such a home stunned me. She did it all!

But not all by herself: The first time I met Vince Narron was at a small group meeting. Going around the room, each telling one especially significant thing about ourselves, it finally was Vince’s turn. He grinned, leaned back in his chair and announced, “I’m Martha’s love slave.” The meeting fractured for riotous commentary. Now that I’ve met both partners of this romance, I’ve changed my mind. It may actually be possible to have a perfect marriage. Theirs has passed the 50 mark and still evidences life.

Martha didn’t grow up Methodist. She was raised, one of several siblings, visiting a little Freewill Baptist Church out in the country where her mother’s family had long been staunch members. Whenever the doors were open, they were in attendance. In her own city church, following that early example, she served every way she was asked, finally becoming president of the Women’s Organization to augment her commitment to Music and Worship. Joining up with Vince brought her into the Wesleyan tradition.

During our discussion, it was like pulling teeth to get Martha to discuss herself and her considerable accomplishments. Her work at River Road she minimized as simply playing for the kids downstairs, then playing at the 11:00 when Mary left. There was no grand discussion of goals set and achieved, or angst over any failure to fulfill personal expectation of performance. She simply mentioned services rendered as needs presented themselves. She especially enjoyed serving as “Friend in Faith” for confirmands. She would love to see the church grow and has several ideas that she would gladly help implement. Since one of her children is hearing impaired, she would especially appreciate the addition of signing for at least one service. Adding a children’s sermon, styled to appeal to both kids and adults, tops her wish list. I’ll treasure forever one bit of wisdom she seemed to send my way: “We shouldn’t look back and ask if we made a significant mark. Only God knows how He used us to help others in ways we may never imagine.”

Concerning her career, all the passion I could elicit was that she had worked for and supported four wonderful men in their important careers. Remembering the men I had worked for, seeing them mostly as competitors, I caught a glimpse of what makes a person great. Martha must have known that secret early on and used it, glorifying others and sharing their happiness in joint achievement. Her favorite response to my questions about her life, her work and her art was, “It’s not about me!”

Well Martha, this time it is about you.

Visiting Martha’s home leaves no doubt that the center of her soul’s joy is home, family, and faith. The Narrons live on a street called Waterford, serendipitously named to celebrate Martha’s appreciation of crystal. Her opulent display of the useful and beautifully refractive plates, platters, bowls, and pitchers sprays shards of light in all directions when kissed by morning sun. In keeping with Martha’s philosophy of service, it contrives a visual metaphor for how God in His infinite wisdom distributes our simple gifts wherever and however He will.

When I meet someone and instantly dislike them, I ask myself why. What is it about them that makes me afraid? I see in them something I recognize in myself as ugly and wrong. I should accept that insight, bless it and pray for us both to be free of it. The years that I was nine and ten, I attended a series of neighborhood birthday parties. The only girl I remember from those genteel celebrations was the one who had hydrocephaly. Her head was gigantic. Even worse, her face bore a beatific smile that preceded her as inexorably as her wheelchair dutifully followed. The smile was a thing alive in itself, skewing the poor girl’s pretty mouth into a visualization of irony. How could she be happy when I was so sad?

My mother assured me that I would never become like her, but I refused to believe it. I was supposed to be a “good” Christian and be kind to that poor child. Even if I escaped catching her horrible disease, I was condemned to recognizing myself as a selfish person, lacking the grace to perceive others apart from their effect on my understanding of myself. I often wonder what happened to that brave young lady, forced to appear a monster, surrounded by a gaggle of shallow, thoughtless girls who though comely of mien lacked generosity of spirit. My mother, as in many things, was wrong. I did become like that hydrocephalic, my head big, heavy, and full of dread. The girl, unlike me, is by now blessedly free of her frightful appearance, while I am haunted even to this day by what she in her idiocy accepted with lively grace, and I chose to render immortal as memory of guilt and fear.

Why does the self absorbed gentleman in the back row of my Journaling class make me uncomfortable, even worse, angry? It’s complicated. Why does he take over the room, assaulting me with his too-loud vocalization? Why does he assume that he should be the one speaking on and on, binding others in silence? Where is his understanding of how we, his classmates peopling the room, perceive him? Why do we defer to him? Are we bound by the fetters of our culture that allow others to act out their neediness, while we good people all, must look on powerless? This vignette is a microcosm of our entire culture. My hypothesis is that any group of people could, given free rein to “be real,” heal each other’s psychological infirmities. In human society, truth is anathema. One obvious sign of social ineptitude is to invariably speak the truth. To live successfully in this world, one must lie well, with courtesy.

Consider a fantasy of truth’s reality in action: A fellow gets going on an endless egotistical harangue. We, the others, one by one, stand, turn, and assault him with quiet eyes. Then as a single purposeful body, we encircle him until he is surrounded by a solid wall of “real”. When he “gets” what is happening, he falls silent and understands. One of us, someone with the requisite chutzpah, bends over and gives him a gentle hug. Then we return to our seats and resume our balanced interaction. It would never happen. I know. But it’s fun to contemplate. The next time I get carried away with myself and begin to take over a room, maybe I’ll remember kindly that man in the back row and try not to replicate him.

__Dorothy Jeanette Martin


He died. He wasn’t supposed to do that. I had counted on his being there, a living part of a pain filled past, a bookmark holding, marking, stopping time at the place where I stopped and everything else went on.

* * * * *

He had become a great man in his itty-bitty town, a veteran, wounded, leg amputated below the knee, his hand mangled when an aircraft tractor’s wheel dipped into an open man-hole and slid off the carrier deck into a quiet harbor mooring. Other than a mighty splash, there were no military heroics involved. At 2AM an officer had wanted a bar of soap and ordered a PFC to go get it. James Taylor, the nearest swabbie available, shook off sleep, snapped a crisp salute, and took off across the carrier deck. He might have walked or even run, since “the goddam SOB was so hot to hit the shower”, he groused, but the farm-boy in him sent him scrambling onto the nearest tractor, the quickest way to get him back to his bunk where he intended to finish a sexy dream that had been getting right juicy.

He reached for the tractor light switch, but the moon was near full and mightily pretty, so he didn’t bother with lights. He and the tractor headed out, taking a short cut to the supply bay. He might have seen and avoided the circular void, plainly outlined in the moonlight, had he been paying attention to the surface ahead, but the moon was full and had a ring around it. Must be gonna’ rain, he mused. The diesel engine was warming to the task and picked up rpms as he tweaked fuel feed.

Then all Hell broke loose. The machine flipped, and he was under it, sliding along the stippled decking. His leg was gone, but that didn’t register yet. Lady Luck hadn’t completely abandoned him though: As the big machine tipped, rolled, hesitated, then fell into the drink, it left him behind, bleeding, screaming, and yes, howling into the moon-lit night. The watch, mercifully alert, sounded the alarm, and James Charles Taylor began the living of a whole new life.

Fifty-eight years later, the crowds that attended the funeral home viewing came for any number of reasons. Most assumed him to be a war hero, a wounded veteran. Veteran he was, but not actually a hero, more a victim of a soap shortage in naval officers’ quarters. If he could claim fame at all, it would be because of the wound to his hand. His pinky finger disappeared in the mishap, and the entire top of his left hand was scraped away, tendons and all. The surgeons at Portsmouth Naval Hospital saw him as an opportunity to attempt an hypothetical procedure that was benefiting from much speculation but lacking demonstrated proof.

Their theory postulated that specific tissue types could be induced to transmogriphy if placed in operation actually performing the newly assigned task. The doctors harvested strips of skin and connected them to the attachment points from the three remaining knuckle bones to their corresponding wrist bones.

The surgical team exchanged satisfied glances over white masks, breathed, rolled tight shoulders, and resumed. The arrangement looked promising but needed a living lid. So the bare newly revised tendon array took up residence under a layer of belly fat and skin, where it was sewn in situ and remained for many months while the covered strips of skin were duped into becoming tendons. In Jim’s words: “It’s a god-damned fucking nuisance walkin’ around with your god-damned fuckin’ hand sewn into your god-damned son of a bitchin’ stomach.” But finally fingers began to twitch, then wiggle. When the hand was at last cut free, taking reallocated fat and skin with it, the fingers slowly began to articulate purposefully. Jim had become an heroic guinea pig to a select group of US Navy surgeons, and many other people, military and civilian alike, benefited from his painful experience.

Discharged from the Navy as officially disabled, he snapped up a plum position as clerk in his home town’s state liquor store, where as a life-long teetotaler, he was an ideal candidate and served capably until retirement. James had no scholarly ambitions, and didn’t share his dad’s idyllic dream of tilling the Taylor Family Farm.

Although officially disabled, Jim continued to be an able deer and squirrel hunter, scrambling up and down rough mountain terrain, his stump patched with moleskin, cushioned in a wool stocking, and seemingly wedded to his prosthesis. Even with the prosthetic leg standing in the corner, he could get around single-footed with equal agility as many a man with two. Seven live births indeed attest to multiple varieties of prowess.

Jim Taylor was definitely a man’s man. He was born a natural storyteller, but it was in the Navy that he learned to cuss. After his accident with its ensuing physical and psychological trauma, he patently perfected the art of embellishing his dissemination of oral tradition to near Tourette’s level. His family and friends tried to get him to clean up his speech, but his colorful vocabulary didn’t trouble customers stopping by the liquor store for a pint. He had his faults, but people are forgiving, and he was a man who was easy to like, cut of sturdy simple cloth. Men of Jim Taylor’s ilk seldom ever die alone. He was loved.

Having sired seven children under wedlock and contributed to rumors of others about whom legitimacy is not discussed, he enjoyed dandling a passel of grandbabies on whichever knee was working best on any given day. His long-suffering second wife, sons and daughters, along with assorted grown grandchildren, themselves working on the next generation of Taylors, showed up to keep the old man company during his last days. During the time before he gave it up, his nursing home room became a temporary happy hospice, while hundreds of family and town folk meandered in and out, paying their respects and exchanging “dad stories”.

As Jim’s ex-wife, twice subsequently re-married and correspondingly divorced, I have plenty of “ex-stories”. I had never thought of Jim Taylor as a great man, veteran or not. To me he was the spouse who seemed determined to spoil my dream of life in a peaceful green West Virginia mountain hollow, part of a loving extended family, wholesome community, and freedom to create a romantically idealized life. I adored the farm, the people, the animals, the machines, and the march of the seasons. Always the writer, I waxed poetic about autumn color and sprouting crocus.

While we were still figuring out the mechanics of sex, things went as well as can be expected when neither party understood the concept of distaff orgasm. Indeed, I had borne three healthy babes before accidentally experiencing that ultimate mind/body experience, all by myself. Though well endowed, Jim had yet to figure out how to maximize his assets. In his defense, I was little help; I was painfully embarrassed about sex in general. I lied to my in-laws, insisting that nothing untoward had happened between Jim and me. It wasn’t until I was six months along that I finally admitted that a little something just might have happened.

Most problematical, Jim developed a mean streak. If I was winning at a card game, he would turn the table over. Though he never struck me, he routinely strapped Dale, our eldest, with his belt. The end he chose to use depended on the level of his rage. Too often the buckle end won out.

In the early spring he would turn the cattle in to graze in our yard creating a knee deep muddy mire. I bitched and moaned effectively enough that he strung up an electric fence around the house to keep cow tracks and green steamy pies off the porches and walkways to the barn lot. When the children went out to play, they faced electrified barbed wire. When I tried to warn Dale about the hot fence, Jim shut me up and waited for him to grab it. Then he enjoyed a great belly-laugh at the three-year-old’s expense, burned hand and humiliation aside.

Leaving was imperative.

Eventually I realized that to leave I must get a job. The night before I was to go to Parkersburg and be tested for IQ and job aptitudes, Jim stayed awake the entire night. Every time I fell asleep, he kicked me out of bed. The floor was a long way down and hard. Too stubborn to let him win, I took the tests exactly on schedule. Sleepless, but grimly determined, I scored 155 on mechanical. Engineering had been the right place for me.

Surprisingly, I didn’t flee the hollow until I had to. Our third child, a son I named Lane Byron, was six weeks old when the casing on our water well gave out. Tap water was tainted with dirt, grass and no doubt dung from the cattle grazing above the well head. I had our kitchen water tested, and it came back as “not potable”. I showed Jim the result of the test and begged for bottled water. His response: “The God damned little fucking son of a bitch can drink it if I can.” The next day I took the children and left__finally. A local garment factory hired me to sew darts in ladies blouses. Lane was only two months old when I started work, and I ran home during lunch every day to nurse him.

What surprised me, when I got the call that confirmed Jim’s passing, was that I felt no satisfaction in out-living him. What came back to me clear as sieved honey was the sweet quiet times we had shared before he was maimed and began his radical disintegration of personality. I had so appreciated his honest persona after a miserable year of putting up with arrogant Carnegie Tech engineering freshmen. Their idea of conversation was to compare the relative merits of each other’s slide rules. “Longest” won every time. I had discovered the advantage of using a round rule, a device that speeds calculation since each step need not be re-set before performing the next one, but they laughed at my silly round rule. It was a phallic issue; I lost. No wonder Jim, a handsome, sweet, down-to-earth farm boy, looked good to me that golden summer of 1955. On a high school vacation, I had been visiting a neighboring farm owned by my step-Aunt Winnie, and made some nice memories with the farm-boy who lived across the river and through the woods. Halfway through my first year at Carnegie Tech, my father had gone bankrupt, and I completed the year by re-upping for the debt myself. My step-mother filed for divorce, and Daddy was staying in a serial progression of motel rooms, so I had no-where to go. I crawled to Aunt Winnie’s to clean house, cook, milk cows, and make commercial butter in the mornings; I learned to drive tractor, cut, tead, rake, bale hay, and work the garden in the afternoons. Evenings were for reading and writing letters to Jim. Ever since that idyllic summer vacation, Jim and I had corresponded. When, months after his accident he proposed from Portsmouth Naval Hospital by air mail, I accepted.

We were a matched pair of walking wounded; he with his amputation rage; me with my disappointment at being forced out of engineering school for lack of funds. It’s amazing we put up with each other for as long as we did.

How could I actually grieve a divorced and adversarial husband after fifty-three bitter years apart? I don’t know the answer, but I did. I gave him my share of tears. As soon as I learned that my first love had passed from my world, all I could remember was how one summer I met a boy, and began to learn what love really means. It was Jim who died, but I too, watched the images of our early gentle friendship flowing past, recollection of happiness long forgotten. After that last agonal breath, I picture Jim striding purposefully on two good feet toward his tunnel of light, muttering, “Well, I’ll be god damned and go to hell__’er, make that heaven”!

__Dorothy Jeanette Martin 7/27/2013


I forgot to put the tarp away, and morning found a dozen or so little brown birds using it as a bird bath. Last night’s rain had pooled in its folds. For me the big blue tarp had been yesterday’s play, a vehicle for dragging leaves from lawn to curb for city pickup. Now sun’s first rays conspired with daylight’s first cup of brew to warm my hands as the whole happy scene warmed my spirit.

One bird’s coloration set it apart from the others. It was light beige, graduating to a blush of peach that warmed the fat round breast; Colors often visually tease senses other than sight. It fluffed its feathers, a fine adjustment to body temperature. The downy softness mimicked the texture of a Zen watercolor.

It’s exquisite, I thought, so perfectly beautiful! A small tiara of charcoal brown topped the bird’s head, the high chroma flowing down its face, capitulating as a sharp, perfectly sculpted beak. The contrast of textures, colors and shapes spoke to whatever it is in humans that transmogrifies perception of beauty into awe. My exhale breathed a thank you, for an incarnate world so ready to express spirit as joy.

Birdie hopped and pecked, playing with the shards of ice filming the puddles. It approached my window, and in one bold flutter, lit on my windowsill, luminous eyes meeting my gaze. Then, with a cock of its head and a flurry of feathers, it was gone. Is it possible that even such a small creature might recognize and appreciate admiration? The delight of this experience was all over me, a prickling shimmer of gooseflesh. Life often serves up feasts of beauty and then, in fits of bliss and blessing, gives us vision to see and honor them.

I once witnessed such a gift at the Ohio State Fair – a botanical exhibit. It was simply a single perfect white orchid, at the apogee of its bloom, displayed against black velvet. A halogen spot coaxed the flower’s natural luminescence into a glow impossible to summon from any but a living thing. I listened: that flower enunciated purity to me with an unvoiced clarity. This beauty was too great for the sense of sight alone to perceive. I needed to hear, smell and touch it as well. This manifestation I named, “The Beauty that Teaches Love.” It was welcome to my tears – my gift.

Once I witnessed another kind of beauty through the glass wall of a hospital maternity ward. Naked under a yellow lamp, prophylactic against jaundice, the new baby boy lay sleeping on his back, confident of his place in the world, arms thrown back, legs akimbo. My son stood staring at this, his first son, his promise of forever come for a meet and greet. A big red-haired man, tall and well-muscled, with a growing-up history as a star running back, he commanded the scene. His maturation dwarfed what was actually a big newborn. The nurses had hastily draped a hospital gown over Dad’s clothing so he might enter the ward. His shoulders sloped, arms hung flaccid with awe and acceptance that such grace had touched him. He watched a long while, prayers of pride and love unspoken but written on his face. Then he turned and grinned at me through the glass, his eyes a-twinkle but liquid with unshed tears. He mouthed, “Look Mom!” I did indeed look and delighted in what I saw. I loved them both, father and son, completely.

Grief, like love, must be learned. I was getting acquainted with loss when as a five year old, enchanted with the possibilities of drama, I made a casket for my very dead pet turtle and held a reptilian funeral. Mother and I buried him under the willow sapling in our yard so he could live again someday in the life of a great weeping tree. Perhaps we are given small gifts of loss so we can learn to give way to the Great Death, when what is taken from us is what we cannot bear to lose.

Perhaps the only true measure of faith is the grace with which we accept loss, in celebration that we have lived and loved and experienced beauty. In the energy-matter push-pull that creates metaphor from the mystery of the universe, how grand that we are players in this dance of the cosmos! Occasionally we glimpse how incredibly beautiful we are! The far-flung nebulae, that make of the night sky a field of diamonds, are mirrored in infinite microcosm of ever smaller worlds that inhabit the universes of infinite diminution. “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of Glory, Lord of Love!” Beethoven heard, not with his ears full of silence, but with the music of his mind and heart. As a gift to the ages, he captured a stray string of notes and shaped it into the enchantment of his Ninth Symphony. Perhaps the silence was necessary so he could sense the music of the spirit.

With sensing ears, but lacking the deaf master’s musical facility, I heard a melody so lovely that it made all of Heaven’s angels weep. She was my daughter, God’s gifts of life, of love, and then all too soon, of death. Her small life was only a breath in, and a breath out, a single blossom buoyed on the inscrutable tides of Wisdom, which gives and takes but never fails to cherish and fulfill.

Remembering and celebrating
Melanie Ray Taylor
Born October 2, 1960
Died April 11, 1963

Buried Treasure

The two ancient cedar trees have grown together, meeting over the front porch steps of the old house. I part them just enough to slip through. The porch floor is iffy, many of the boards rotting, some even having crumbled and fallen into the dark abyss. Who knows what waits there? Copperheads? Spiders. It’s safer keeping to the periphy where weight is supported by much overbuilt footings Grandpa had fashioned out of his collection of fossils and fascinating rocks appropriated on his travels.

The front door is unlocked. Local rowdies have long ago broken in and helped themselves to all the old furniture. Even Grandma’s rocking chair, worth nothing on the local “We buy junk; We sell antiques” market, had been carted off to who knows what oblivion. It would have at best been good for kindling, but I would love to have it just to remember her sitting and rocking, rubbing swollen knuckles on her old hurting hands, and murmuring “I wish I had everythin’ done”. One arm of the rocker, broken beyond aesthetic repair had been salvaged with a bolt, an oversized flat washer, and a length of baling wire.

The ancient bed where several generations of Reynolds and then Martins, had been conceived and ultimately delivered, is gone, leaving a large unworn rectangle in the corner. Even the old wood stove is conspicuous in its absence, leaving only the gaping maw of an old stovepipe protruding from the wall. Nothing interests me in the old front bedroom, so I approach the door that leads to the parlor.

It resists my pressure, hip shoves, and even a hard kick, but finally I’m in. Stacked up behind are boxes and boxes of Electronics magazines, and piles of more magazines that have been dumped out by the scallywags in their joyous creation of this monumental mess. My Dad, who never discarded an Electronics reference source had long before he died stored his precious hoard in the old parlor. Now his neatly packed and stacked boxes are a metaphor for chaos. My stomach sinks. I am glad, so very glad, that he didn’t have to see this desecration of what he had so valued.

I want to find something of personal meaning to keep and treasure. But how? Where? I can’t ever dig through it all. I make my way across the room to the fireplace and sit on the hearth, closing my eyes and retreating to a place of no thought, just being. Suddenly I’m up, slipping and staggering to a spot that seems to be calling to me. I kneel and begin to dig, tossing aside volume after volume of out of date material that had once represented state-of-the-art. I dig down to the linoleum, uncovering a small box. It’s a standard package for top-tear bank checks. I reach for it with both hands and tear off the lid. It’s mine, left from years ago when my Dad and I had collaborated on a wound suction pump and I had developed an improved mammary implant using silicone gel and Emerson & Cuming Eco-Spheres. The memories came flooding back. Inside the box is a Polaroid snapshot of one of my drawings sprinkled with red sticky dots. Each dot had called attention to a small correction that was needed before the drawing could be declared finalized, ready to publish. Under the photo is a head of matured wheat that my sister had tucked behind my favorite piece of art that had given me pleasure while at my desk, working side by side with my Dad, dreaming up wild and wacky widgets. A lifetime dream at last fulfilled.

There is no need to look further. I slip out the back door clutching my box and wondering how it was that I could have been drawn almost magically through a roomful of detritus to that small precious buried box of memories. There is surely more to living than can be elucidated by rational thought.

__Dorothy Jeanette Martin 10/9/2012


My cat is an essay in perversion. It’s not all my fault. I had help raising him. It was my Collie, Maggie, who nursed and nurtured him in everything maternal but milk. Maggie and I share a tendency toward bountiful hair. She, born to romp the icy plain of Prince Edward Island, rolling in the many names of snow that define that bleak coastal expanse, and I, who thanks to some wild wooly gene, grow hair fast as a naughty weed. She and her siblings brought life to that frozen Canadian shore as sure as she brought life to me a good bit farther south.  When she arrived in her air transport crate at the relatively tropical latitude of Roanoke, Virginia, her undercoat was so thick it couldn’t be parted to reveal skin. She looked like the promise of some arctic sled puppy waiting to grow into her harness and head for Nome.

Soon the intelligence of her physiology arranged a molt, and she dropped an amazing excess of that glorious load. Even in the most challenging of Roanoke Valley winters, she never regained her puppy coat grandeur. But it was more than enough to satisfy the psychic longings of the five week old rescue kitten I acquired one spring, having spent a long dark winter needing someone, something, some living anything soft and cuddly to love.

I named him Espresso after his rich black glossy full-bodied coat and his whole-bodied, whole-psyche willingness to give himself up to his yearnings. Maggie sniffed and goosed his little round exit sphincter with her cold intelligent nose and straightaway recognized a baby in need of mothering, while Espresso, recognizing a good thing when he found it, dug in and began a long frustrating search for milk and Mom. Finding instead a delicious warmth amid a lush jungle of dog hair, he accepted a warm, full belly, compliments of a plain old standard cat bowl, and settled for the love of a Collie-dog nanny.

Of course with all that canine mothering he thought he was a dog. He went for walks with the family, the two humans, the Collie and the Bichon Frize. We presented a strange assortment of animalia to the natural fauna of the Roanoke countryside. Maggie, ever mother, stood patiently while Espresso wound in and out about her legs, spinning a happy abstraction of good will.

In the course of things, Maggie went away, her absence mourned by cat and human alike. Espresso and I, truly an odd couple, grew even closer, making of an old friendship, a newly awakened need, a raging mutual desire for comfort and solace. Dog gone, now it was the cat that usurped that “doggone” cold place in the bed, making of it a warm island of happiness, small but mighty.

Snuggling the feline body against the isolation of a cold winter night, clever mechanical thermostat adjusted down to stretch resources  in favor of eggs and peanut butter, milk and bread, gasoline and medicine, a new feeling makes an entrance on little cat feet. A living creature pressed against tautness of breast and body speaks of givingness as need. Memory of milk, long dry, lets down as virtual hormonal angst, wanting__wanting to be given. Glands activate. Oxitocin pours into streams of coursing blood. Brain tastes and translates primal need. Memory wakens, recalling nights of hard young bodies twined in silent satisfaction, floating islands of fulfillment on an ocean of animal intent. Now I know why spinsters and little old ladies keep cats.

All this is unremarkable until Espresso equates my thick messy head of hair with his memories of Maggie. He buries his happy nose into the graying blonde tangle and kneads bread lustily while his thoughts drift back to being a kitten at Maggie’s hairy teat. He becomes relentless in his expression of adoration and need. It demonstrates how strange and wonderful is this world of living, loving creatures. My cat is most assuredly a pervert, but he loves me. I might as well relax and enjoy it.

2012 Glee

2012 Glee

I can thank my mother, Mary Opal, for teaching me to love music. She demonstrated for me the possibility of spirit as a vehicle of expression. I saw her as a living goddess of music, of beauty, of art, of everything filled with light and life.

When I was still a toddler, she began directing a community chorus called the Glad Girls Glee Club.  It was a gaggle of neighborhood urchins who agreed to meet at our house, learn to sing as a harmonious group, and perform at public venues throughout the Ft. Worth, Texas area. The girls experienced the excitement of choral art, doing the hard work of learning, practicing, and disciplining their little-girl selves into a veritable choir.

They learned the fun of authentic formal dress-up, wearing “little ladies” white gloves and pearls to set off their long gowns. The whole endeavor was a celebration of spirit, and Mary’s personality breathed it into life. It was an authentic example of 1940’s post depression glee. At that time, I had passed birthday number two and was full of myself as I headed for number three. Mother installed me as Official Mascot for the group. I was handed from lap to lap, soaking up more than my fair share of the happiness. Every group photo shows me in matching dress and hair-ribbons, situated in one of the many singer’s arms.

That was the start of my career as amateur musician, and it continued without pause until 2005 when the last curtain fell, ending a lifetime of song; A cervical fusion, accessed from the front, stopped the melody. Suddenly when I opened my mouth, all I could do was croak.  For sixty-plus years I had sung for the pure joy of it, confident that God created me for song in praise of creation. At five I had been plunked onto a Sunday school platform and told to “sing it like you feel it”. I did, loving the attention earned by belting out a solo that told the world how happy I was to be a cool kid, all dressed up with bows and pigtails and a voice to match.

I joined every school chorus, every church choir, even New York All-State High School Choir. In high school, I cleaned houses to pay for voice lessons.  I was a high lyric soprano with big plans for playing at coloratura and someday singing the “Queen of the Night’s Aria”, but  as an adult, I had to get real.  The anxiety of a pubescent perfectionistic streak kept me from being solo material, and I settled instead into the steady pull of a workhorse chorister. I reveled in community light opera, civic choruses, university choral groups, and then in Virginia for nine wonderful years, with the Roanoke Choral Society, St. Andrews Cathedral Chancel Choir, and Roanoke Symphony Chorus. Truthfully, one big reason that I left Virginia was because after the surgery I couldn’t bear to live there and not sing with the Symphony. I kept running into choir buddies in Kroger and making up excuses for not showing up at rehearsal.

Two auditions with directors familiar with my previous work were pitiful attempts, netting me only referrals to remedial vocal coaches whom I couldn’t afford. Finally it was Cincinnati’s Dr. Catherine Roma who let me sing in her St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church Choir as a provisional Alto hoping I might progress from sounding like a frog. Her face said that I must be a very strange person to not know when to give up, but bless her, she let me try. Singing Alto made my throat hurt, but it got the vocal apparratus moving again. Soon I progressed to 2nd Soprano where my squawks were gracefully endured by other better singers. Finally the top notes began to come, first as a pianissimo whisper, then full-throated, as I practiced under Bishop Todd O’Neil with the Martin Luther King Chorale at College Hill’s House of Joy. The free and open style of their Black women singers were role models for my attempt to free up my larynx and vocal cords. Soon I was singing 1st Soprano with a vengeance, getting occasional quizzical looks from my sister singers, but insisting on not giving up.

Well, I’m back to singing, not well, but valiantly. Dr. Roma, who is dedicated to excellence in vocal production, will forever be my hero for putting up with my seemingly weird antics in the choir room, as I bounced from seat to seat trying to make peace with my surgically traumatized and aging voice. I had to make the most of my assets, an ability to sight sing and a near-insane willingness to pay attention. While other less motivated singers chattered and lollygagged, my attention never wavered, following Dr. Roma’s every gesture, tuned to her every word and grimace.

I really do have faith that when God closes a door He opens a window. For me that window has been Catherine Roma, her welcoming St. John’s Choir, and Cincinnati’s Martin Luther King Coalition Chorale. This week MLK is competing in the Cincinnati 2012 Choir Games, and I am singing 1st Soprano, not perfectly, but gamely and gleefully. When in your life a door closes, think of me and remember the glorious possibility of windows.

                     __Dorothy Jeanette Martin, July 7, 2012                   


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