Ken Martin
credit: Ken Martin

It is her day. No, not Mother’s Day. My mother’s day!

Born May 17, 1922, Vernice E. Martin officially became a mother on

May 15, 1941. Ironically the very reason she began to celebrate her motherhood was what made it years later virtually impossible to enjoy.

As a small child, Mother’s Day was a big deal because she was a mom and her mother — lovingly known as Gram — lived with us.

That meant we hosted visiting aunts, uncles and cousins bearing food, drinks, gifts, including toys for the children, to our house all day long! Then the worst happened.

My mother’s eldest child, my older brother and best friend Donald died unnecessarily in the process of joining the United States Army.

Donald hadn’t even been sworn in yet. For Mom, there was no financial compensation.

Uncle Sam felt a plot in Arlington Cemetary, a 21 gun salute and a folded flag would be adequate compensation for her, and the mothers of 98 other recruits in the fatalities of the November 1961 plane crash.

More irony: the pilot and co-pilot — the only two that had been sworn in — had parachutes, walked away and lived to talk about it.

Had they died, their moms would have at least been spared the fight. You see, the surviving mothers had to file a collective class action suit to get Uncle Sam to pay damages.

A whopping $10,000! I guess in 1962 that was a lot of money for the lives of 99 young adult males, 18 to 26 years old, willing to serve and fight for the good old US of A. The same country that used “they hadn’t been sworn in” as a loophole.

Mom was a feisty warrior. Although lot of her fight was knocked out of her with that one, she was still a tough bird!

Nevertheless the big celebration week of Mother’s Day, Donald’s birthday and my mom’s day was gone. We went from Family Fest to ice cream, cake and tears. She would never the same.

Don’t cry for her though. Mom kept on living although without quite as much gusto.

She maintained membership in two social clubs and a bowling league. My mother battled tuberculosis at a time when the afflicted were isolated from the public and committed to sanitariums.

My mother was institutionalized for 16 months. But she won a victory against TB. 

Back then, you were quarantined in what they then called a Sanitarium. She was away for 16 months. But she won!

Mom watched us grow into adulthood (but not necessarily maturity). And she worked for social change at Common Cause under founder John Gardner,  former Health, Education and Welfare Secretary under President Johnson.

My mother’s example inspired my sister to work for ACTION.org and me to join AmeriCorps VISTA.  

Mom,  had heart disease, as do I.But nothing stopped her, and once she had a heart attack on a Tuesday and bowled 270 twenty-four hours later. But that’s Mom!

She left us August 2, 1984. My dad, David Martin lasted exactly two weeks after Mom’s passing.

I’m very proud to be her youngest, even though mom once jovially commented that, as one of the last born there, I’m one of the reasons they decided to close and tear down Garfield Hospital.

I know that the tenacity, wit, charm, and love for our fellow man that brother Donald frequently displayed in his brief life — which I have been accused of once or twice — came from the girl born in Anacostia 95 years ago today.

Happy Birthday, Mom!