Eulogy for Martha Jane Kolman-Davidson
Given by Alice Kolman Webber on October 7, 2007
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I’ve known Martha since I was five days old. Our parents brought me home from the hospital on Martha’s second birthday and told her that I was her birthday present. Needless to say, she took that quite literally. Martha was the oldest of four sisters. I am speaking today on behalf of our Dad and all of her sisters as we all celebrate her life and grieve for her passing.
When a person dies, a lot of people mourn for his or her loss, but in reality, we all miss someone different. I was told that four years ago when our Mom died, also of breast cancer, and I think it is particularly true in Martha’s case. She was a multi-faceted person, and I expect that we all knew different sides of her.
Martha was a precocious child, and her quickness, wit, and intelligence were evident from a very young age. She was particularly keen on numbers, words, and languages. Martha started talking at the age of nine months and never looked back. Our grandmother called her the “speaker of the house.” She was always strong competition when we played word games like Ghost or Jotto, and she was a key member of our high school’s championship French Scrabble team (yes, French scrabble!). She was also a founding member of the Esperanto club and a member of the Math team. She represented Einstein High School on “It’s Academic,” which is a local televised competition of Washington, D.C. area high schools. Although our team lost that year, they took pride in the fact that they did not answer a single question incorrectly. Martha graduated from Swarthmore College with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy and later received a Masters degree in Semitic languages from Yale University. She spent time studying in both France and Germany. She had a working knowledge of at least French, German, Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic. Martha was also an accomplished Scottish Country dancer. Throughout her life, blue was always her favorite color.
Not surprisingly, Martha was a tough act to follow in school. Not only did she always bring home straight A’s (with the exception of gym class), but she also had a strong personality that made her stand out from the other kids. She typically left a lasting impression on those who knew her. Her first grade teacher, Mrs. Gowling, still talked about her thirteen years later when our youngest sister Pauline finished elementary school.
When we were growing up, Mom jokingly called her four daughters “Lovely, Charming, and Delightful.” Martha was “Lovely,” I was “Charming,” Shlomit was “and,” and Pauline was “Delightful.” When we had our first family reunion in 1998, Martha remembered that and made us tee shirts with those names. We will always have special memories and photos of being together at Hershey Park, wearing our shirts, and standing in the appropriate order.
It was second nature for Martha to look for – and often find – special meanings or patterns in dates, names, and numbers. We recently adopted a dog whom we named Zack. It took me a month to figure out that he was named for our Mom, whose initials were ZAK. I could almost hear Martha laughing at me as that would have been the first thing she thought of when she heard his name.
Martha always took great care in picking out gifts. She wanted to give things that would be meaningful or special in some way. She even got the best presents for our dogs. We have a treasured photo of our first dog, Zephyr, curled up in a chair with a teddy bear that Martha sent him. Last year, she gave my husband a Forty-Niners jacket for his 49th birthday. I think it would make her happy to know that my sisters and I always think of her when we use or see one of the gifts she has given to us or our family members over the years.
Martha loved being an aunt and adored her two nieces, Adi and Leeav, and her two nephews, Eliott and Sam. Adi and Leeav will always remember the time spent with Aunt Martha and Uncle Wolf on the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland, shopping and having old-time photos taken. Eliott and Sam will remember rolling around on the floor at the Holiday Inn in Ocean City, and Eliott will remember reading the Phantom Toll Booth with her and riding the train at Wheaton Regional Park. Martha felt a special connection with Adi. Several years ago, she bought them . When they were reunited the following year, she knew that Adi would be wearing the shirt, and of course, she was. To this day, Adi still loves to sleep in that shirt.
Our family was together last August in Monterey to celebrate Martha’s 50th birthday. It was then that we learned she had cancer (she later told me that our finding out was one of her birthday presents). We were fortunate to do some things together on that trip which were particularly special to her. We rode the carousel on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk together, and Martha and Pauline sat side by side, holding hands and swinging their arms back and forth. We all rode the number 7 train, Sonora, here at Roaring Camp & Big Trees, and sat together among the redwoods. We continued our family tradition of celebrating milestone birthdays by giving Martha a multitude of gifts related to her age – packages of 50 pens, paper plates, plastic bags, and wiggle eyes; notebooks with 50 sheets of paper; a CD of 50 children’s songs; a set of DVDs with 50 mystery and crime movies; a book of Unbelievably Good Deals and Great Adventures That You Absolutely Can’t Get Unless You’re Over 50, among many other things. It’s unfortunate that she never had a chance to take advantage of that book.
I saw Martha three times after that – in December and February, when Dad and all of her sisters came together to San Francisco from Maryland, Illinois, Israel, and New York, and again in May when Dad and I came to see her for the last time. We will always remember those visits, especially sitting around Martha’s bed sharing stories. Due to some combination of the pain medication and the illness, Martha started hallucinating shortly before she died. During one of our last conversations together, I asked her if she ever saw Mom. She said sometimes, and that Mom was waiting for her, although there was no time table. I know that our family took comfort in hearing that, and I believe that Mom and Martha are together now, watching out for the rest of us.
Martha was one of the most strong-willed people I’ve ever known. She always danced to the beat of her own drummer. She lived her way, and she died her way, and although I don’t agree with all of the choices she made, I respect her for that. Her legacy will live on through everyone who knew her and loved her, and we all have our own memories of what made her uniquely Martha.
May she rest in peace!
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