note by her daughter: Malaika King Albrecht|
My mom was an exercise in extremes. To say that she wasnít ever
lukewarm is to understate her passion for loving someone or
something or for disliking someone or something. Middle of the
road was where she mightíve walked on a real street (even a busy
one) but how she lived, never.
In the early 1960ís, she was a Peace Corps nurse in East Africa.
She and my dad were married in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika
(Tanzania), and she was promptly fired for marrying a staff
doctor. She went on to teach English to the local children and
also worked as a prenatal nurse. They returned to the states and
eventually settled in Virginia.
She was passionate about a variety of causes. Whether it was
taking in unwed mothers, or Romanian asylum seekers, or any
number of homesick East Africans, she made our home a hub of
interesting people. She also integrated the Spouses Medical
Auxiliary and encouraged us to be activists, as well. She wrote
notes to my high school principal to get me out of school for a
variety of causes, from marching with Jessie Jackson to
attending anti-nuclear protests.
My mom was a gifted painter and writer, but she had little sense
of her own talent. Though she did sell a few paintings at art
shows and galleries, she gave away the majority. She hid or
destroyed her poems and was very private about her writing. As a
matter of fact, I just found out that she submitted to a few
literary magazines because I found several rejection notes while
looking for more of her work. Her former college professor and
mentor Sister Bernetta Quinn, a well known poet, was a frequent
visitor to our home and often tried to get my mom to write more.
When I was a teenager, she signed me up for a night class in
poetry at the local university and took the class with me. I
loved that class, and Iím grateful to her for enrolling me. I
vividly remember her encouraging me and how proud she was of my
poems. When I said I wanted to be a writer, she didnít deter me
despite the fact that her own profession had been chosen for her
and being an artist was not an option then.
I believe my mom wouldíve have fared better being born at a
later time. She suffered greatly with depression and like many
female alcoholics in the 1970ís, she was given valium and a host
of other drugs and on several occasions shock treatment. I
cannot read Jane Kenyon's poem 'Having it out with Melancholy'
without thinking of my mom.
How many talented female artists were lost to us because of bad
psychiatric care and generational circumstance? Many names we
know and hundreds more will never be known beyond their family
and friends. Though my mom will never know her work has been
published, Iím moved beyond words. She too would be speechless,
a rarely accomplished feat indeed.
It is impossible to imagine who I would be without her
influence. I speak of her often to my daughters because they
will never have the pleasure of her company. Who else would
paint a neighbor's golden retriever with black paint to make a
tiger for a circus at the mental health center where she worked?
She even decorated my hula hoop with red ribbons, so Rebel the
tiger-dog could jump through a flaming hoop.
When time is no more
Than a memory
And everything for me, over,
I will turn my face
From all of it
And strut away,
"Came with friends
to visit indefinitely in the
arms of God who
made such places
to visit His own sheep."