'Missing Mothers' Prologue - The Letters - 2009 (Part 2)

And what do I learn about this little girl?

That she loved to dress up in the finery her aunt sent every birthday, to carry a blue purse, to pose for photos in her new green jumper.

That she won’t walk outside when presented with her first snowfall, afraid to get her shoes dirty. She insists her mother carry her.

That a favorite pastime is standing on a stool in front of a window, watching for the neighbor’s dog.  Her papa made the stool.

That she likes the pull toy Nancy sent, but that Papa fixed it so it wouldn’t keep getting tangled up.

That, at age four, she can’t carry a tune, despite her musical mother’s best efforts to teach her.

That her parents sometimes leave her with a babysitter named Mrs. Miller when they go to Papa’s family farm in Wisconsin or to a football game in Chicago with their college friends.

That she quickly grows bored with her new baby brother.

That Papa is “still partial to Martha” after brother Tommy arrives.

And what do I learn about my mother?

That she likes to talk about clothes. That she goes “all out” on an Easter outfit, after Tommy is born.

That she boasts good-naturedly about having her way with her husband, talking him into buying a new rug and painting the living room, insisting that she is going to drive the new car.

That she exchanges gossip about the love lives of his four unmarried brothers.

That she fishes for details of Nancy’s love life.

That she has a Singer Featherweight Portable sewing machine and recommends this brand to Nancy.

That Nancy sent her a monogrammed thimble for her birthday. “When I saw that blue box, I couldn’t imagine what I could be getting from Tiffany’s,” she writes. “It was a very thoughtful gift. I have already used it. Martha thinks that the thimble should be hers.”

Most of her writing centers upon her children.

She chronicles their modest achievements. “Everyday she does something new.” “She isn’t as much work as formerly because she eats what we do. She won’t let me feed her anymore, wants to hold her own spoon.” “Martha says quite a few words now.” “Tommy pulls himself up.” “Tommy gets cuter everyday.”

She sees herself as the central figure in their lives. “I’m the only one who understands her tho,” she says of my nascent vocabulary.

About Tommy she says, “Nobody holds him much because he spits up all of the time. Except his mommy.”

She worries about Tommy’s thumbsucking and about me starting school when I am only four, since I have an October birthday.

She goes to a school meeting to learn how to prepare children for kindergarten.

She often refers to me as “Martha Ellen.”

Regarding motherhood, she thinks “the first year is the hardest.”

After Tommy is born, she writes, “I can’t believe I have two children to my name.”

Martha, daughter of Jean