I believe in survival. I believe in survival because my grandmother survived, my father survived, and because I survive. Because my deaf-mute grandmother named Martha left her well-to-do family and got on a train in Illinois, jostled across this vast country and deep into the Southwest to marry an exquisitely poor deaf-mute barber and cobbler whom she had never seen, my father was born. His name is Garth.
Several years after my father was born Martha fell into a terrible psychotic state brought on by childhood spinal meningitis. Because resources were scarce and no one knew what to do with her, their only recourse was to admit her to a state hospital where she survived. After her husband, Franklin Garth, was struck dead by a driver who had no idea that the man he was honking at could not hear the blaring horn, my father was taken in by another survivor—his crippled, elderly Auntie who raised him on little more than beans. Yet he survived.
Many years later he married Norma. He and my mother survived graduate school poverty and raised two little ones, my brother and me, on barely anything more than pancakes and beans.
My grandmother continued to survive in that state hospital where no one knew sign language. Years later her psychosis would burn out, as would her eyes. By the time she lost her vision the doctors and nurses had learned sign language and they continued to help her survive. Blind, deaf and mute she survived.
The first time I remember the terrifying and wonderful experience with this woman, my father signed letters to each word into her long, nimble fingers. When she understood that he was describing me and my brother she erupted with incredible joy and let out guttural cries of bliss from her toothless mouth. She jubilantly embraced her namesake grandchildren. “Garph! Marpha!” Her butterfly fingers flew lightly over the skin of our faces and we were terrified.
As the years went by, and she became acquainted with my two younger sisters Rebecca and Mary, I learned more of the expansive story of her survival. She became one of the most beloved residents of the hospital. She would help wherever she could, and before blindness overcame her, she even happily cleaned beneath the beds of other patients. She lived until she was 78 surviving inside her quiet, small world.
Her survival and the survival of my father have fed my will to survive all my life. When sexual abusers used my body to gain a sense of power and pleasure, I survived. When people told me that I could not succeed unless I looked like them, I survived. When people opposed me simply because I was a woman and a minister, I survived. With “Marpha!” ringing in my ears and the memory of her butterfly fingers, I knew that if she could survive so could I.
My name is Martha ReeAnn Hyde and this I believe.