I haven't blogged for a while, sad to say. It has been a pretty challenging semester, with my 48 "wild" freshmen, teaching "The Unity of Life" (in other words, introductory cell and molecular biology) here at the University of Puget Sound. My students are smart and capable young women and men, and it's my job to get them thinking like biologists, and to become used to the work ethic and philosophy of science courses---and more specifically, prepare them for the kinds of future courses they will encounter in our department. To set the stage, as it were. Gulp.
So things have been pretty busy.
At the same time, I couldn't let a particular date pass without comment. Yes, I am supposed to mostly write about microbiology and education, but since it is my blog, I get to write about personal things from time to time. A friend and colleague recently wrote to me about my mother, and I realized that I had not mentioned an important date here on this blog. I edited this essay from a Facebook post I wrote on April 2nd and decided to share it here.
The second of April is my mother's birthday. Wanda Jean (Burton) Martin passed away on October 7th, 2012, after her long, long battle with ovarian cancer. She leaves quite a hole in my life, especially for someone who was as humble and understated as she was for as long as I knew her. I used to say that my mother was "psychologically Amish" because of her aversion to saying or doing anything that smacked (to her) of anything even remotely related to bragging. Thus, there were many kind acts by my mother that people will only know through family members; she took no credit, ever.
It was very important to my mother that I recognize her birthday, so I continue to do so after her passing. Below is a photograph from November of 2007 (look at how small my youngest son Zachary appears, and how beautiful my wife!) that is a truly lovely portrait of my mother. She never smiled very much, and seldom laughed. But how she loved little children! This is how I like to remember her.
I also wrote on this blog about my mother last year on Mother's Day here.
My mother taught me that libraries were places to be honored. She never attended church, nor spoke much about religion to me. But clearly she felt that libraries were sacred places. So I came to see them as such, myself. I well remember my mother introducing me in hushed tones to the "Children's Librarian" in Long Beach at our local library, Mrs. Lorna Kugler.
"My son Mark likes to read, and the books he is assigned in his classes aren't exciting him," my mother told Mrs. Kugler. Mrs. Kugler took care of that problem, immediately. We quickly became friends, and it was wonderful to see my mother beam as she drove me to and picked me up from the local library. A whole new world---a series of worlds---opened up to me. Growing up is challenging for anyone, but I certainly felt like an outsider more than most. Fortunately, I had "book friends" who gave great advice from the printed page.
Mrs. Kugler would let me check out anything from the library, so long as I checked with her and discussed my choices. Thus, I met Melville and Dickens and Jung and Shakespeare. Huxley and Orwell. Enough with "Spaceship Under the Apple Tree"! Mrs. Kugler was the person who suggested Madeleine L'Engle's "The Arm of the Starfish," that linked my burgeoning love of biology to growing up with an exciting tale that also had good lessons.
My mother encouraged me to read more and deeper---particularly of things that didn't interest her. I know that she didn't care for science fiction, but she encouraged me to read it. My mother, my brother Jack, and Mrs. Kugler were my co-conspirators in learning to love reading. Sure, there were many people who fed my hunger for the written word. But it was my mother who first fed that flame.
I owe you a lot for that, Mom, and I need to say it often. You always, always supported my learning.
In this photograph, from Thanksgiving of 2011, my son Zachary reads to my mother. Oh, how she savored that.
The above photograph was taken during that last Thanksgiving in 2011 before the ovarian cancer finally started to have its way with my mother. And here, from the same period, is the last photograph I have of my children and my parents together (well, and with me, too).
It's wonderful to see my mother try to smile in this photograph. My father still strong and hearty. Zachary "working" his "Gma" as usual. And Anson the current teenager looking so very young! Just two and a half years ago... Like the Delmore Schwartz poem reads, "Time is the fire in which we burn," but goes on to also state that "Time is the school in which we learn."
Mom, I miss you. I hope that you are resting peacefully. I am glad you are no longer in pain. Ovarian cancer is usually brutal and undignified. You were inspirational in how long you fought, and maintained your dignity. Thank you for encouraging me to love books and honor learning. I like to think that, in the afterlife, you sit and read out loud to small children all day; I know that you loved that the best.
And wherever you are, I know that there are plenty of books. I miss you. And Happy Birthday.