(Editor’s note: In September 2018, Sofie Mathiassen, a student from Denmark, was assigned a feature profile of someone local in the Bowling Green, Kentucky area. Her search for ideas led her to a local consignment store where she read through baskets of paper ephemera. There she found a series of postcards addressed to a woman named “Martha.”What followed was Sofie’s quest to find Martha and reconstruct how her correspondence had landed in a store. Sofie’s story reveals a life lived in full and memories claimed and unclaimed by dementia.)
Photos and story
by Sofie Mathiassen
I found your postcards in a consignment store on the corner of Scottsville and Bypass roads in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I don’t know how they got there, and I wonder if you do? So, I bought them. $1 each. One is from Mexico. It’s got horses riding on the beach on the picture. Looks really nice. Another one is from the Smoky Mountains, and there is an image of a very blue waterfall. There’s even one from Hollywood. It’s got a picture of different colorful seashells. I got six postcards that are are all addressed to Ms. Martha Ann Wood, Bee Spring, Kentucky. No postbox or street address. Except from one that’s addressed to Ms. Martha Ann Kinser. So maybe you got married?
Hope to find you
- Best, Sofie, Bowling Green, Kentucky
I tried to find you. I was curious how you got all these different postcards. It seems like you know a lot of people. I tried to go online and search for you, but that wasn’t any good. The oldest postcard is stamped in 1956. So, I went to the old library and a friendly man named Stephen helped me, said he used to live near Bee Spring. He called another guy, an old man, who still lived near Bee Spring, and he gave Stephen a number that supposedly should belong to a Ms. Martha Ann Wood. I called the number, but an electronic voice said that the number was no longer in service. Until that point I hadn’t even thought that you could be gone now. That could be the reason. Your postcards were in a basket full of pictures and brochures in the consignment store in Bowling Green. Stephen told me “Maybe she’s in Brownsville nursing home. That’s the only option I can think of, if she’s not answering her phone.” I headed off to Brownsville. To look for you.
- Sofie, Bowling Green
After several directions from people in the area I found it, the nursing home in Brownsville. It was raining that day. “Welcome”it said on the door, and a young girl at the desk told me your room number.“You go down that hallway, turn right and keep walking all the way down,”she said. I walked down the hallway, not nervous but thinking about what you would say to me, what you looked like, if this was even okay for you, that I tried to find you. The hallway was a dusty old pink color. On the wall were pictures of the residents and former residents. It smelled clinical and moist but mixed with a strong scent of flowers, though the flowers in the pots outside every door I passed were made of plastic. Quite a few times on my walk down to your room, I politely greeted some people. Some of them greeted me back. Your door was open.
You have lived in Bee Spring your whole life, until October last year. You told me you had two houses next to each other, one for you and your daughters, Kristie and Kim to live in and one for your parents. I can imagine the light-blue painted walls in your wall-to-wall carpeted house with no central heat, so the pipes would freeze during winter, and the windows would be open all the time during summer. But there were two bedrooms, one for you and one for Kristie and Kim to share. And a big front porch, from which you would wave to the people driving by who would blow their horn, so the kittens would get scared and run inside. You fell in love with Jimmy when you were 24. He just casually swung by your house and he swept you off your feet, you told me. I know you were surprised, because you’ve known Jimmy since you were kids, just never thought of him like that. The two of you married and you took his name, Kinser. Your marriage didn’t last. You said he was too conservative, and you were too free for him. So you were a single mom for most of your life. Determined to raise your daughters to be smart and independent. You wanted them to grow up and pick the right guys and get the good jobs. When your oldest daughter, Kristie, was 7 or 8 years old you, would teach her how to drive. She would sit on your lap and you would drive around the smaller roads around Bee Spring. Later, when she and her sister got older, you would teach them about how they should not be taken advantage of, just because they were girls. It was a man’s world. I talked to Kristie. She told me that you weren’t too fond of men after Jimmy, so you did most stuff on your own. When the old car needed to be fixed, you would do it. Sometimes it was tough being you, because you were perhaps the only Democrat in Bee Spring. Like you said, you were quite liberal for your time. Everyone else would wear Sunday dresses to church, but absolutely not you. You always wore jeans and a top. You had short dark hair, almost black, but you would always curl it or put a perm in it. You were conservative about your hair, you still are, only now it’s silver grey and you are 73 years old.
- Thank you. Talk to you soon, Sofie
Now you’re lying in your bed most of the day. In your room, at the end of the light pink hallway. The door is still open. You always keep it open, and when people pass by, you ask them how their day was, or how they are doing. Like you used to wave at your neighbors from your front porch in Bee Spring. I know you want to go home and live in the house, and that is why you keep the walls in your room empty. No pictures, no nothing. You miss Bee Spring, don’t you?
I talked to Kristie, your oldest daughter and she told me about your strokes. You had three strokes. One in February 2013. One last year in May and one July 1of this year. The last stroke hit you really hard and that’s why you are in Brownsville now. Your daughters thought it was best for you to live in the nursing home, so you can be taken care of. I know you don’t like it too much, but you would get too confused living on your own. And the nurses here are taking good care of you, and getting you toast with cheese and ham, your favorite, for lunch most days. Sometimes they give you a slice of lemon pie. Sometimes you don’t remember what just happened, but you aren’t aware of it. Maybe it’s because of the strokes. The nurses told me it’s dementia. I know you remember the old days – like that one time on Christmas Day where you locked yourself and the girls out of the house, and left their Christmas presents inside. So, you broke into the house through a window, to get the presents for the girls. Because you were stubborn, and you still are. And who knows, maybe you will return to your house one day?
For now, I hope you get better. Take care.
You remember the postcards I showed you the first time I met you? I know you recognize the handwriting on the one from Murle and Donna. They broke from their traditional Thanksgiving holiday in 1993 and decided to take a cruise to Mexico. Rode horses on the beach. And also Naomi’s greeting made you recall stories of you and her in high school. How the two of you used to laugh a lot about boys. And though you don’t remember anything about Frida, I can tell she liked you, from what she wrote. I think a lot of people liked you and remembered you.
You might not remember me, but I will remember you.
- Thank you, Sofie, Bowling Green