Her Name Was Irene Helen

Her family helped establish our country. They fought in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the War of 1812 (which Canadians tell us we lost), the Spanish-American War, and World War II. Various family root stocks settled in parts of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania in the 200 years before her birth. They produced a lineage that was strong and resilient. My husband tells me I come from warmongers. I’m proud of them.

After the birth of two brothers, she was a surprise and a great gift to her parents, having been born on their sixth anniversary.

Although some would call her unconventional, she was fun-loving. She and her brothers played ukuleles, sang, and put on skits in the family living room. When wallpaper was stripped to be replaced, they drew cartoons on the plaster walls. I can fondly remember seeing them when I was a young child and the wallpaper was removed again. Those skits used to embarrass me horribly when I was a sophisticated teenager. But I think I know where any creative juices I may possess came from.

Good at math and supremely well-read, most people assumed she had a college degree. She certainly had a life degree and was one of the most articulate people I’ve ever known.

Men’s heads turned when they saw her. She was beautiful as well as personable. And unfailingly pleasant. A positive person when life threw her lemons. And she caught a lot of them.

She made history when she became a Sergeant Major in the US Marine Corps during WWII. Up to this time, the Marines were the last bastion of males only among the services. She was:

  • among the first of eight women to be sworn into the Corps in Philadelphia.;
  • in the first class of Women Marines to be trained at Hunter College;
  • chosen with thirteen other women out of hundreds in her boot camp group to attend the inaugural class of Women Marines in First Sergeant’s school;
  • one of the first Women Marines to appear in uniform in Philadelphia. It caused quite a stir, and was featured in the local newspaper;
  • the first of four women to make First Sergeant;
  • the first woman to replace a male First Sergeant.

She was highly intelligent, even though she never finished high school. One of her greatest accomplishment was to see me do well in school and graduate. Assignments were pored over and she constantly encouraged me to be “better” than she was. She was chest-thumpingly proud when her only child got a B.Sc. in Chemistry and an MBA from The Wharton School. It was perilous for anyone who might have asked how her child was doing during that time.

She was an indefatigable single mom, who took care of me, her invalid mother, her father and ran the household like a Marine. She somehow managed to balance everything while maintaining her equilibrium. And her sense of humor.

Our family lost her in 1985. The world lost an unheralded heroine who paved the way for others. I still miss her and can never thank her enough for the impact she had on my life. Happy Birthday, Mom.

This is only a small part of her story. There is much more in my memoir, “Sibling Revelries – Finding Family After 62 Years.” It can be found on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sibling-Revelries-Finding-Family-After-ebook/dp/B07B7B43WD/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1521120573&sr=8-1&keywords=mary+jo+latham-martin.

Featured

He Was A Very Charming Man

His name was Clarence Everett, a rather elegant-sounding name for a poor boy from Kentucky. My mother would never talk about him. Although he was my father, I never met him, or knew anything about him most of my life. I learned his name from my birth certificate, which later would prove to be an important piece of evidence.

My early life was spent in a single-parent household, with my mom’s parents and frequent visits from large numbers of aunts and uncles, plus first-, second-, third-, and fourth-cousins. They never talked about him either. I was an only child in a fatherless vacuum, wondering if I’d been adopted, or if there was some horrible family secret I wasn’t supposed to know. As it turned out, there was.

When I was much older I was diagnosed with a neurological disease that was supposedly hereditary. I began searching for information about this mystery man. I did DNA testing and genealogy, and was even able to get his US Navy service records. I learned I wasn’t the only child I’d always thought I’d been. Suddenly, I went from being a onester to one of six (so far).

Clarence was one of ten children, born in Louisville, Kentucky. Two of those children didn’t make it past two years old – a common occurrence in the early 1900s. He was the baby and was likely spoiled by all his older siblings. He was smart, but he didn’t like school, so he dropped out to join the Navy. He served on the Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor which was bombed, but he survived due to being off the ship getting supplies when the onslaught hit. He made a career of the Navy, and retired after twenty years.

He also made a career of loving the “girls,” and had children by five of them, hailing from Pennsylvania, Kansas, Kentucky, Texas, and Hawaii. These children and their children are my family now, and I love them dearly.

He also gave me his nose and his curly hair. Traits whose origin I never understood. I am forever grateful he met my beautiful, smart mom, or I wouldn’t be writing this. So, Happy Father’s Day, dad. And thanks for being such a charming man.

If you’d like to know more of this story – and there’s plenty more – go to: https://www.amazon.com/Sibling-Revelries-Finding-Family-After-ebook/dp/B07B7B43WD/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8.

There Are Best-Sellers, and Then There Are Stories Which are Really True

I recently ran across this very long, but very interesting look into the world of traditional publishing: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/02/11/a-suspense-novelists-trail-of-deceptions?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosam&stream=top.

After going through the process of trying to get my memoir published by a traditional press, I’m happy that I self-published. At least I know that I didn’t lie and cheat people to get my story out there. And, although there are two chapters that are fictional (to protect people in one case, and because we simply didn’t know the story of one of the mothers), I know this story is true.

I’ve been missing for a while due to some health problems, but, hopefully, I’m back again.

Check out the book that is true: https://www.amazon.com/Sibling-Revelries-Finding-Family-After-ebook/dp/B07B7B43WD/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8.

#memoir #marinecorps #wwiistories #independentpublishing

Life Interrupts

“Now there is nothing in this world I abominate worse, than to be interrupted in a story…”
― Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

This has been a crazy year for me. From self-publishing my memoir to travel – which was good – and health issues – which fortunately were more annoying than horrific – I got off the track of blogging and posting. Not good for book sales.IMG_0205

So now I’m back. Inspired by Iceland, I wrote a poem. This is the first time in my life I’ve ever attempted this, so keep this in mind as you’re reading it.

Can you guess – or do you know – what the image is? 

Land of Fire and Ice

Vast expanses of wilderness.

People cling tenaciously to the coastlines.

No one dares live in the interior.

Unending lava fields. 

Softened by lichens and moss, they have a solid underpinning,
except for treacherous holes that trap the unwary. 
This is not our home world.

Lava formations, grotesque in their beauty.

Fields of freshly-cut hay, wrapped in colors of green, pink, and white,
ready to be stored for winter.

Horses, dairy cows, chickens, and sheep.
Sheep everywhere. More sheep than people.
All are allowed to roam free.

Until fall, when they must come home.
For slaughter or simply to be sheltered from the elements.

Beyond the lava fields and the farms, vast expanses of geothermal fields,
with geysirs, mud pots, and boiling cauldrons in the earth
waiting to cook the unwary.

Smelly and dangerous, but ever so useful.
For heating homes and producing electricity. Clean and economical. Power for all.

Hydrothermal lón (lagoons), like the famous Blue Lagoon,
filled with minerals, provide respite from life’s aches and pains.

Volcanoes erupt on a regular basis, sometimesdisrupting air traffic, 
making life difficult for anyone in their paths.

Those affected escape for a while, go back,
remove six feet of ash, and return to their lives.

Hecla is the next likely to blow, spewing ash and creating new lava fields
which will cool and await the arrival of lichens and moss to soften their jagged outlines.

Snjór (snow) fields and jöklar (glaciers) dominate all year on the mountains.
They produce spectacular fosses (waterfalls) that take your breath away.
The water in these too is harnessed for power. Clean power captured from nature.

People who live here are descended from Vikings.
Tough, resilient, ready to take on any challenge.
Environmentally-conscious, they care deeply for their land.

Beliefs are designed to keep their children from wandering off and keep them safe.

There are tales of huldufólk (fairies), who live in the rocks.
Highways are still rerouted to avoid disturbing them.
If they are bothered, bad things happen.

Trolls come out only at night. If they stay out in the sunrise, they turn to stone.
It’s easy to spot those who were foolish enough to do that.

Stories are told of people who drown their children in the waterfalls,
to spare them hardships they can’t endure.
These are turned into lullabies.

Food is simple but delicious. Fiskur (fish) like Arctic Char is a mainstay.
What can’t be eaten immediately is dried – Hardfiskur, tough fish jerky.
Lamb is sublime. Mild-flavored, tender, juicy. Cooked in every way imaginable.

There are the “tourist foods” like puffin, minke whale, horsemeat, and fermented shark.
They must be tried. Minke whale is the best.
But engenders guilt over eating a cousin.

Dairy products abound. Skyre, a cheese that’s like Greek yogurt, delicious ice cream.

Baked goods are amazing. Donuts the size of a man’s hand, rye bread bursting with grains, cinnamon rolls that likely add pounds.

A sound rudely interrupts my reverie.

A lawn mower.
I want to go back.

Teaser #4 – Now It’s Getting Interesting

When presenting those research results, or meeting with prospective new clients, I gradually became aware that my voice was sounding different. It cracked and was slightly shaky. It resembled Katharine Hepburn’s. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember her. She was a very famous actor with a career that began in the 1930s and lasted seven decades. I used to watch old movies late at night with my mom and grandmother when I was a kid on our twelve-inch black and white TV. The African Queen, starring Katharine and Humphrey Bogart, was one of our favorites. She, along with Lauren Bacall, were two of my idols. My goal was to grow up to be as sophisticated and glamorous as they were in those films from years gone by. Although Hepburn was one of my much-loved actors, I most certainly did not want to sound like her. Lauren Bacall, by comparison, sounded much better, with a deep, sultry voice. Unfortunately, I never had a sultry voice, and alas, I wound up sounding like Katharine did in her later years.

Around the same time, I noticed the vocal crack and hand shaking, I also perceived a change in my handwriting. It just didn’t look as good as it had, with the letters appearing somewhat shaky. When I first started to write something, it was really bad; fortunately, it diminished a bit as I wrote more. When I signed my name, either on a check or a charge slip, the Ms (and I had two of them—Mary and Martin) would be particularly squiggly. I’d always written well in longhand, although it was not as beautiful as my mother’s. She learned to write in the heyday of gorgeous penmanship. As a kid in the 1950s, sitting at our little flip-top desks, we learned The Palmer Method for cursive writing. Woe unto you if you did not reproduce those letters correctly. Worse, if you were unlucky enough to go to Catholic school, the nuns would crack your knuckles with a ruler for that infraction. Kids now have no idea what cursive is, and even our teenaged grandchildren struggle with trying to write anything in longhand. It makes you wonder how their signatures for legal purposes will be handled in the future. Like hieroglyphics, our cursive writing will someday be studied by archeologists attempting to understand
our civilization.

Finally, I began to have problems holding drinking containers like coffee cups or glasses. When I attempted to hold something with one hand, a very obvious tremor would start. This was worse in my left hand, so whatever was in the glass or cup would spill. This is not good in business situations when you’re juggling a cup of coffee or an adult beverage in your left hand, keeping your right hand free to shake hands (in a good way) with clients or prospects.

People would see this and say, “Are you OK?”

I’d smile and say, “Of course. I’ve probably just had too much caffeine (or had a rough day, if I was holding a glass of wine).”

I found it horribly embarrassing. In addition, the more it was brought to my attention, or the more stressed I was, the worse it got. Since I was a kid, I never liked to draw attention to myself, particularly if I felt I was being different or weird in some way. Those tremors were most definitely different. The only people I’d seen with anything remotely resembling them were old people or people with something horrible like Parkinson’s disease. I certainly did not consider myself old and hoped with all my heart that I did not have Parkinson’s.

Taking a Break from the Teasers for a Review

The following is an unsolicited review from a former business colleague who also served as a beta reader for my memoir. I am pleased and humbled by this. Ron Bitto is himself an author (here’s his author page on Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Ron-Bitto/e/B009HB4400/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1527949219&sr=1-2-ent.)

“Mary Jo Latham-Martin’s book Sibling Revelries is an unusual memoir, which starts in 2003 with the author learning – at age 57 –that she has a neurological condition which may be genetic. Raised by a single mother, she never knew her biological father. Could he have passed this condition on to her? She begins a journey to track him down, or at least find his medical records. Along the way, she finds out that her father, Clarence, had another five children with three other women. With detective work, curiosity and an open heart, Mary Jo finds all her siblings and forges relationships with all of them. After being raised as an only child and having a successful career in business, she was thrilled to discover that she was one of six brothers and sisters, hence the book’s title.

The book also reconstructs her father’s path through life, and tells the story of each of the four mothers whom Clarence met in Los Angeles, Honolulu and San Diego while serving in the U.S. Navy. Of all the women, Mary Jo’s mother Irene is the most impressive; she served as a Marine during World War II and raised Mary Jo in Philadelphia with her own mother’s help. The other four mothers’ stories are presented with sensitivity and respect.

In addition to telling Mary Jo’s story, the memoir includes many details and memories of the youth of an early baby-boomer, including details of what it was like to grow up in Philadelphia in the 1950s. After reading the book, I felt I’d had a conversation with a close friend. If I had been in her position, I would have been angry with Clarence for his irresponsible behavior and shoddy treatment of his wives and lovers. But Mary Jo Latham-Martin’s generous and forgiving spirit enables her to tell this complex story without judging him too harshly.”

Teaser #3

To continue the saga of my discoveries, I’ve decided to do more than one paragraph at a time. I’m not sure I’d live long enough to get to the end of the book if I keep going at that rate.

So, here’s the next installment (continuing the story of doing market research at a small ad agency):

We also frequently unearthed some tidbits that could have major financial consequences, and it was wonderful to be able to tell clients how much money they could save or gain in additional revenues. We did a number of projects where clients had double-digit returns on the money they spent on research. That turned a research spend into an investment, something any decent businessperson would appreciate. Those were the best assignments we had, and they usually led to repeat business for us.

One of our most memorable projects involved a commercial feasibility test for an engineering firm. During the presentation of the results, the president of the client company jumped up, banged his fist on the table, and shouted, “Holy shit! I knew it!”

He was a large, florid man, who looked like he might have a bad temper, and I wasn’t sure if he was pleased or planned to hit me. Fortunately, as it turned out, he was extremely pleased. His company of left-brained engineers had convinced him that a new idea they had would make them all rich and famous. Our research showed that interest in it among companies that might be likely to buy it was lukewarm at best.

The results of the research saved his company at least a million dollars in development costs. That man was one happy client. This is the kind of
experience market researchers live for.

His project and others provided extraordinary case histories when we prospected for new business, and we loved telling those stories. Although the work was a passion for me, I did not initially enjoy sharing the results with clients. Eventually, after years of practice, my skills improved, and those presentations even became somewhat pleasurable. Like many ad agencies, ours was a culture of being somewhat intimidated by our clients—since in their minds they were always right. Of course, they pay the bills. As someone with a less than robust dose of self-confidence, I fit into that culture easily, so it took some time for me to relax enough to enjoy what I did well. I liked the prospecting even less until I learned to let the prospects talk first and then explain to them how we could help them. It was like telling a story. Then it became fun.

Perhaps this was a hint that I might be good at telling stories?

Teaser #2

About a month ago, I posted the first paragraph of the first chapter of my newly-published memoir. For those of you who haven’t read it yet, Here’s the quote which foretells the story:

“Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head; And this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in every thing.”
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

Without further ado, here’s the next paragraph (see Teaser for the first):

I was working at a small business-to-business ad agency, running the Research and Database Marketing group. My job was to manage the efforts of this team, ensure the studies were done correctly and on time, then present the results to our clients. Being a left-brained, analytical, by-nature curious type, helping our clients solve their business challenges was a great deal of fun for me. After years of holding down marketing communications roles, I’d finally found my specialty, and I loved the work. Although their dilemmas might not have been as compelling as a good murder whodunit, we usually uncovered some surprises.

Hopefully, this will pique your interest enough to make you visit Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sibling-Revelries-Finding-Family-After-ebook/dp/B07B7B43WD/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1521120573&sr=8-1&keywords=mary+jo+latham-martin.

#memoir #family #findingfamily #Marinecorps #strongwomen #onlychild#USNavy #WWII

 

Blame it on the Martinis

pexels-photo-700972.jpegIt was the Martinis that caused it. Once I began my discoveries of my new family, I had to share the story. It was just too good to keep to myself. Other than family, who heard agonizing blow-by-blow descriptions of the breakthroughs, my client @MyraJolivet, also a writer, was the first to learn about it. We had drinks after work one night and following a few sips to loosen me up, I began to relate the story which subsequently became Sibling Revelries. This was back in 2012 or so. I was still working, so didn’t have as much spare time as I do now.

The first words out of Myra’s mouth, which opened in surprise with every new tidbit, were, “You have to write this! What’s more, it would make a fantastic screenplay.”

I just laughed and said, “Sure, in my spare time. Maybe when I retire.”

Time passed, and I began to divert my clients to a fellow market researcher. This freed me up for doing other things – like writing a book. It began as the stories of the common father and the mothers. Then Myra stepped in again and connected me to a writing coach with whom she’d worked.

@MaxRegan and I had several telephone conversations, after which he looked at my first feeble efforts and said, “No, this has to be a memoir – the whole story of you and how you found your siblings. And the impact it had on all of you. But especially you. It is your memoir. It can’t be just about the parents.”

Thus, in January 2013, I began my education as an author. From a background of creating market research reports and doing business writing, I had a lot to learn. Like what a memoir is. There have been many people who helped me along the way. They are blamed in the acknowledgments.

After much introspection, the manuscript grew to 26,000 words. I was thrilled. Until someone with much more knowledge than I told me, “You need many more words – at least 40,000.”

I hit that goal, then pitched to an agent, @JohnnieBernhard. She told me, “You need many more words – at least 60,000.”

So, I wrote and wrote and wrote to achieve that elusive goal. Thanks to my Critique Circle, my writing actually got better – and longer. I even spent some time writing some short stories, one of which was published! That gave me more self-confidence than I deserved. But it felt good.

After numerous agent rejections, I decided to self-publish. This started an entirely new education. Thanks to @FernBrady, @ManonLavoie, and @Dylan Drake, the masterpiece was formatted, and a cover designed.

The next steps are to market it. So, tell all your friends!