Dear Ole Mom, as she was to seven of us. Or Moss, as she liked to pen herself. Or simply Martha to the rest of her family and universe of friends, died this past Thursday, July 8, 2014. She was mid-way through her 83’rd year. Her death wasn’t entirely unexpected, but the rate of her decline was. In less than a week, mantle-cell lymphoma took its two-year toll. The dimmer controlling her effervescence was rapidly switched off.
The sparkle of that effervescence was stimulating and diverse. Her presence felt wherever she was. She was interesting and interested, but most of all stimulating. She excelled at engaging and communicating. She made it a point to connect with anyone (lucky enough to be) in her path, whether next to her in a supermarket check-out, passing on the sidewalk, or in the public library. Spontaneous nuggets from her burst forth like bubbles popping from the top of a full champagne flute. She was a communicator c’etait extraordinaire!
Martha Caroline Wood was born in Baltimore, Maryland, January 24, 1932 into a large, devout Catholic family. She was the youngest of eight, to parents who had, by then, a clear understanding of how children should be raised. They were lovingly firm. It was a family, an age, and a society where one was taught and followed “proper” etiquette. At 20 years old, she met the man of her dreams, DOD, “a handsome marine.” They married and promptly started a family of their own.
Large families are born out of large families. Several of her seven children had broods of five or more. Within two generations she was a confirmed matriarch, leaving behind not just her seven children, but 26 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren. She kept track of them all. She is also survived by an elder sister Regina, still living in Baltimore, now in her 97th year.
DOM was selfless and generous, almost to a fault. She would do without if it meant she was enriching someone she cared about.
Somehow throughout the course of raising her family, she found time to play the piano. Reading Classical or Romantic music, she played not uncomplicated pieces, most often while singing. (If only her innate musical talent would have rubbed off on her children.)
Her artistic dexterity wasn’t only playing piano and singing. She was an author of several essays, such as Courage, which she wrote when she was 58. She thought and wrote poetically, and lived romantically. She was independent, living alone and managing her own affairs until just last week.
She was adventurous, always scouring for new experiences. As a senior, she traversed the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in San Francisco never having been in a metro alone. During the snowy winter, she drove across the mountains of Pennsylvania alone in a car most of us might not have taken across town. And at 72, she joined the Peace Corps and moved to Thailand. At 80, unlike most of her generation, she started a blog, Petite Plume.
Dear Ole Mom was a force, and at times excitable and difficult, especially for those she loved the most. Many highly sparkling individuals are. But she was merely pushing the boundaries, helping those she cared about stretch theirs. If the effervescence was overly active, as a cousin put it, “you learned to walk around those ways, not (head-on) into them.” If you could tolerate a few spatters of overflowing bubbles, the experience might just have expanded your perspective.
She seemed to always know the right thing to do and wasn’t afraid to share those opinions. Those willing to engage, would find she also listened, contemplated opposing views, and offered positive, stimulating discourse.
She was an extrovert, which made her error on the side of being active, never passive. She was involved with those she cared about, and she cared ‘all-in.’ Her tendency was to fiercely defend those she cared for from what she determined was even remotely detrimental.
Moss Wood was kind, gentle, warm, a gracious hostess and entertainer. In a room full of people, she instinctively knew how to strike up stimulating conversations — with anyone, and it wasn’t about the weather, unless the weather was newsworthy. Until the end, one of her delights was hosting weekly movie nights with ‘her lady friends.’
For many of her later years, she thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of golf, always eager for a trip through a nine-hole executive course. As she slowed down, her diversion switched to regular games of bridge with a select group of friends. And as her email fan-base discovered recently, she was even taken to following the World Cup.
She was an intellectual, a voracious reader, and loved learning. Left in her home on the day of her death were three books recently checked out of the public library and a French language CD. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that her vocabulary was wider than all of her kids combined.
As proper as she liked to appear, she was not without the spontaneity to play the role of clown, if it meant bringing brightness to those who needed cheering.
She was a friend to many.
She was “once a mother always a mother.” Towards the end she became lonely, craving engagement from many in her family who had their own lives to live.
From Martha Caroline there was never a lack of sparkle. Those sparkles were finally extinguished this past week. We’ll miss you dear ole mom. Mother and friend.