Reprinted from July 1999
When I was very young, I’m sure people cooed at me and admired my smile although I don’t remember this. Then as a little child, my parents still coed and played games, but also spoke sometimes sharply to me if I was not being absolutely good. Then I got into preschool and the teacher spoke to me more like an adult human, not much tolerance for my misdeeds. Higher grades in school produced teachers who spoke to me often with exasperation and a rather harsh note. This was a new era. My parents must have been growing old because I noticed the same tones from them about my friends and school activities and general methods of dress and manner.
One of my most vivid memories was when friends or relatives would visit us. It seemed like they always looked at me but addressed themselves to my mother or father.
“My, Martha has grown, how old is she now?” This was insulting as I saw it. I knew how old I was and all about me. Why they directed their questions to someone else was beyond me.
As I grew older, I dated. I can remember my father talking past me to my date about when to get me home and what to allow to happen or not to happen. It was a wonder I did not grow up an old maid.
High school teachers always seemed annoyed. They spoke to me in perfect English and said I mumbled. Certainly, there was no indication of speaking to me as a child.
Now, into womanhood, my dates addressed me with pet names or cutesy words, etc. I had a few of those for them, too, and when I see those same guys, now prominent in the community as lawyers, judges and business people, I cringe.
The next step in life was marriage. At first, I was “Honey.” Everything was so blissful, and conversations were satisfactory, and I had to wonder why anyone would ever become unhappy or get a divorce.
Children came along. New conversations abounded. I was now starting to shout more and enjoy conversation less, as the children were constantly wanting this or that, mostly out of our reach. The kids shouted at RB and me and with each other. It was along about then when I started thinking that conversation was not so great.
RB and I always had conversations. We have not always reached an agreement. During these times, the temper of the conversation built until I’m sure the neighbors wondered if we’d live through it. By then, I was no longer “Honey,” I had become “MARTHA.” It didn’t help any that Martha Mitchell was also a Martha and people, meaning to be funny, addressed me as that for a couple of years.
When I became widowed, people spoke very softly and reassuring to me. This was a change from the heated conversations I’d had with RB. It was kind of nice to have attention without finding any fault. This type of conversation was really soothing, and I enjoyed the sympathy.
The next step along the way was when I let my hair grow out to reveal a silver grey. People started talking louder to me than necessary, I guess because they thought I was older than I was and figured with age comes deafness. Several times I had to tell customers or people in general I was not hearing impaired.
Now, I notice there are many people out there who equate silver with being less than astute in matters of daily business. I have strangers come up to me and say (in a high pitched voice, as if addressing a puppy or child), “Are we having problems getting the groceries in the trunk? There, now; I’m going to help you, so you just let me do the lifting.” My reaction depends on my mood for the day. If I need help, I hunch over a little and limp pathetically and accept their method of communication and assistance. If I am in a stubborn mood, I just pull myself up and say, “No thanks.”
When I think back to when I was a child, and I recall how people talked around me, I never thought I would have that problem again in life. There have been two times in the last six months where I was having dinner with my nephew and the waitperson turned to my nephew and asked, “What would she like for dinner?” So the entire process has taken a 360-degree circle to end where it started. God forbid if I do not age gracefully and I end up looking starry eyed and offer baby gibberish as a form of conversation!