Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In memoriam: Mary Hartman

Tonight I raise a glass to my old friend, Mary Hartman. She died last Friday, alone, which is a shame on us all. Her neighbors took her to the hospital and Mary, independent to the end, ordered them to take her home. They did, and that's where she died, home, alone.

There will be no memorial service. Mary was not religious. Still, her friends need to remember her in some way.

Words will have to suffice. Mary was a writer. Words will have to suffice.

Here is what I know. Mary left her Nebraska home as a teen and took the train to Los Angeles. Stars in her eyes. She was a looker, that Mary. Beautiful voice, too. She sang at the USO during the war years. L.A. was hopping. Here's what the California Military Museum web site says about L.A. during that time:
During World War II, Los Angeles was the boom town of boom towns. The Los Angeles metropolitan area grew faster than any other major metropolitan area in the U.S. and experienced more of the traumas of war while doing so. By 1943 the population of metropolitan L.A. was larger than 37 states, and was home to one in every 40 U.S. citizens. By the end of the war, the L.A. area had produced 17% of all of America's war production.
Pretty heady stuff for a Nebraska kid. Mary sang with a number of lounge singers and someone along the way, met up with a U.S. Marine named Jack Lummus, all-America athlete from Ennis, Texas. Soon they were engaged. He shipped out and was killed on the sands of Iwo Jima and was awarded the Medal of Honor for the sacrifices he made that day. He has a U.S. Navy ship and an intermediate school named after him.

Mary never got over it. She wrote a memoir about it and later a children's book. "Texas Granite: Story of a World War II Hero" (see photo). She was married, briefly, long enough to have a boy whom she raised alone. She was a newspaper reporter and free-lance writer in Nebraska and Arkansas. In the early 1990s, she moved to Cheyenne, Wyo., to be near her son and grandkids. As a writer, she was drawn to other writers, and that's how we met. Mary was the age of my parents, Great Depression and World War II babies. I was drawn to her for that reason and because we both wrote fiction, loved history and Liberal politics.

Mary and I and another writer formed Southeast Wyoming Writers (SEWW)  in 1992. We also were in the same writing critique group for awhile. Mary shepherded a World War II oral history project through budgets through script through filmed interviews. This video is now part of the U.S. Library of Congress World War II collection. On Veteran's Day 2002, barely a year after the beginning of yet another American war,  Mary was interviewed on National Public Radio. It was almost impossible not to be moved by her decades-old memories, still fresh after all of these years.

Mary and I had lunch together fairly often but not often enough. A few years ago, she tumbled down the back steps of her apartment building and broke both of her wrists. I visited her in the hospital. She dearly wanted to get out. She did, not quite healed but ready to move on with her life.

How do you say good-bye to some who has already departed? I'm not sure. I can see Mary, though, singing with a big band in some smoky L.A. club. The world is her oyster. Her life is ahead of her. She is a loving spirit who gets her heart broken in a big way.

Words will have to suffice, Mary. It's all we have in the end.

Farewell, my friend.


Jeran Artery said...

A beautiful tribute Mike! We should all be so lucky to leave this legacy.

jhwygirl said...

Amen to that. What a lovely life and a wonderful person.

I'm sorry for your loss.

Moore Monkeys said...

My husband had the opportunity to know her. Everytime he would visit her on his route he'd come home and talk about his experience. She inspired him to keep writing and hopefully he will continue. I know when he learned of her death he was saddened for a truly great person whose knowledge about writing was gone from this mortal life. I reminded him that one must remember the good things about the person and live a little better because of that person!