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Episode 2 of Irene’s Story

Irene was good with numbers, and worked in the Comptroller’s department at Sharpe & Dohme (now Merck). Her luck came into play here, too. She loved what she did, and had a wonderful boss, with whom she remained friends for many years. Irene worked at Sharpe & Dohme for fourteen and a half years, and had found her home away from home. She developed a routine: working, and dating some, but nothing serious ever developed. Still no Mr. Right. As both of her older brothers got married and moved out, Irene began to wonder if she’d become a spinster.

            Then the United States got involved in World War II. Because Irene’s family had a long history of military service, all three of the siblings felt the need to do their part. The younger of her two brothers enlisted in the Navy, and the older brother tried to join the Army, but he had a hearing problem that exempted him from service. At that time, the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force all had women’s branches, but none of them appealed to her. The thought of spending endless days on a rocking ship did not sound good, and she didn’t like heights, making the Air Force and planes downright scary. And she just never liked the Army.

            The Marine Corps was the last branch of the services to accept women, and when they did, they created the USMCWR – The United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. Now, that sounded pretty swell. The Marine’s idea was to recruit women they could train to do non-combat jobs which would free up the men to fight. That was just fine with her. So, she set out to become a lady Leatherneck. She barely made it – with one half inch to spare over the 5’1” minimum height requirement.

            The other branches of the services had names for the women’s corps, like the WACs (Women’s Army Corp), the WAVEs (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), and the WAFs (Women’s Air Force). The Marines never gave in to that. They thought a Marine was a Marine. Perhaps they were ahead of the times when it came to gender equality. But the men did have an unofficial name for the female Marines. BAMs, short for Broad-Assed Marines. It was coined by the male Marines, after a female reporter suggested they be called “Beautiful American Marines.” Maybe a bit sexist, but definitely memorable. The official word on their name came from Marine Corps General Thomas Holcomb, who was emphatic that the Women Marine reservists were not to be ascribed any sort of nickname. In a March 1944 issue of Life magazine, he announced, “They are Marines. They don’t have a nickname and they don’t need one. They get their basic training in a Marine atmosphere at a Marine post. They inherit the traditions of Marines. They are Marines.”

            Irene became a BAM in March 1943. Back then, there was no politically correct term for young women, so they referred to them as the “girls.” Those girls also referred to themselves as “Feathernecks” – a portmanteau derived from the two words Female and Leathernecks. The term “Leathernecks” came from the uniform developed in the Continental Marines in 1776, which included a high leather collar to protect against cutlass slashes and to keep a man’s head erect.

            She was an early adopter, one of eight women who were the first from the Philadelphia area to join. She was excited and ecstatic, but sad and worried to leave her mother.

Irene told her oldest brother in the sternest possible way, “You must swear to me that you’ll keep an eye on things and do your best to get and maintain our father on the straight and narrow.”

She also lectured her father vigorously before she left, “Now, Pappy, I know you like your bourbon, but I’m not going to be here to haul you out of that tap room. Don’t you dare put that burden on my mother.”

She was a Marine at heart even before she became one officially – totally fearless and one take-charge woman.

            The Marines are part of the Department of the Navy, and because they had no training facilities for women at that time, they relied heavily on the Navy for basic training for the new female enlistees. They used the U.S. Naval Training School, on the Bronx campus of Hunter College in New York, to get them off on the right foot.

            Starting in early 1943, young women from all over the country did their boot camp training there. A small fraction – 722 of the first group of 95,000 women – arrived in three waves between March 24th and 26th, and were billeted in nearby apartment houses. Irene was in the first wave. On March 26th, 21 platoons, or roughly 600 women Marines, began training. They graduated on April 25th.

Opening of the U.S. Navy recruit camp for WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) at Hunter College (Bronx Campus), New York City (USA), in 1943. At one time in 1944, 5,000 women were training at Hunter College, and a total of 95,000 women volunteers were trained for military service there. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

            Since the school was designed for WAVE indoctrination, the curriculum was largely geared for the Navy. Some subjects were not pertinent for Marines, so modifications were made and reluctant male Marines were pulled from Parris Island to be instructors. Training sessions varied from three and a half to five weeks, and besides the dreaded physical examinations, time was allotted for uniforming, drilling, and physical training. They had lectures on customs and courtesies, history and organization, administration, naval law, map reading, interior guard, defense against chemical attack, defense against air attack, identification of aircraft, and safeguarding military information. It was a lot to cover in such a short time.

            Their training was intense. Those “boots,” as they called them, worked their buns off from 0530 (5:30 AM) to lights out at 2230 (10:30 PM) every day, with only short breaks for lunch and dinner. For Irene, it was like going to college. And, in fact, she was on a college campus. She had always loved school, and having to drop out of high school was painful for her. This training put her right back where she belonged, learning and absorbing like a sponge. She sat on the front row every chance she got, and became a favorite of her instructors.

Irene, The Woman Who Never Found Mr. Right,but Eventually Found Mr. Wrong

Finding the right guy for me gets harder & harder, guess that’s why I just stopped trying.

– Unknown

            Irene was born on August 17, 1912, in Philadelphia, on her parents’ wedding anniversary. Unlike Evelyn and Maria – the first two mothers – she was a big city girl. Like a lot of people from the northeastern part of the country, her family had deep Colonial American ancestry that stretched back to the 1600s, when Thomas Clifton emigrated from England to settle in Delaware. Also, unlike Ethel and Maria, her family had lived in either Philadelphia or nearby New Jersey for at least 100 years. Her family near in time were not adventurers as Ethel’s and Maria’s had been.

            Those early ancestors eventually made their way from Delaware to New Jersey, and then across the Delaware River to Philadelphia.  They included a Revolutionary War Patriot and some seafaring men, including Daniel Baker, who was a river pilot and has a shoal in the Delaware River named after him. 

            Irene had what to outside appearances seemed to be a good family life, with two loving older brothers, and a mother who adored her, since she was the only girl. Her father and both brothers were members of the Masonic Lodge, and she and her mother belonged to the Order of the Eastern Star, the women’s branch of the Masons. As a young girl, she dated young men who belonged to the DeMolay, the youth group of Freemasonry. But nothing clicked with any of them. She looked, but she never found Mr. Right in this group.

            Irene’s upbringing was very different than Ethel’s and Maria’s. She came from what was considered a “good” family. Class distinctions divided society then much more than they do now.  Her ancestors several generations back traveled in the right social circles, were written up in the New York Times, and although not rich, were far more financially comfortable than most people, especially Irene’s immediate family. Having Revolutionary War Patriots and leading citizens in your ancestry was important in Philadelphia, which was extremely class-conscious. Membership in the Masonic Order and the Eastern Star was part and parcel of this.

            The only fly in this idyllic ointment was that her father was an alcoholic. Worse, he was an ugly drunk. This led to some bad situations for Irene, especially when she had dates that came to her home to pick her up. Back then, this was the only way that nice girls dated young men. Her “Pappy” as she sometimes called him, would confront those young men, and in a slurred voice, demand to know what intentions they had regarding his little girl. She was mortified. The young men were scared off and horribly embarrassed. As a result, there were very few repeat dates.

            Despite this, she loved her father dearly. She was his only daughter, and when he wasn’t drinking, he doted on her. But she couldn’t stand his binges. She was constantly tasked with dragging him out of the neighborhood Tap Room to bring him back home. As time went on, it began to get very old.

            She considered getting out, but, like Ethel and Maria, Irene’s family was affected by the Depression. She couldn’t bear to think about leaving her mother alone to deal with an alcoholic. Then her father lost his job as a printer, and began drinking more than ever. She dropped out of school after the 10th grade to get a job to support the family. Now she began to have some luck, although it wasn’t in the romance department. Because she was smart, she managed to land a job at a company called Sharp & Dohme – now Merck, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

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.

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.”