Before Vicky died at age 35, she changed my life.
In 1954, when I was six years old, almost everyone I knew was either a farmer or a Mennonite or both. Then Vicky Martinez blew into my life — all the way from Manhattan! She stayed with us for two weeks.
Vicky was like me. We were both high-spirited girls close to the same age.
But in almost every other way, we were different. Vicky was Catholic. I was Mennonite. Vicky knew about the city. I knew about the country. Vicky had many sisters and one brother older than she. I was the oldest and I had only one brother when we first met.
We played country games such as pinwheels (above) and running through the sprinklers. I was barefoot every chance I got. Vicky liked to keep her shoes on.
Vicky returned every summer to visit us on the farm. She loved our animals, rode on our tractors, enjoyed our growing family (picture above, summer 1960, shows sister Sue holding a puppy and sister Doris trying to catch one in her skirt), and asked me lots of questions about why I was now wearing a prayer covering on my head like my mother.
Most of the children who participated in the Fresh Air Fund that sponsored Vicky’s visit stopped coming to the country after age twelve. The last summer Vicky visited us was in 1961.
After that, all we had was letters. Our mothers corresponded at Christmas and on birthdays.
That’s how we found out that Vicky had developed multiple sclerosis. And that’s how we got this newspaper clipping of Vicky as the poster child for MS, posing with Micky Mantle.
Vicky died on January 10, 1985.
Her father Joseph died in 1987. Her mother Josephine, a remarkable woman we got to know through her letters, died in 2001.
Today would have been Vicky’s 64th birthday. This post is dedicated to her and to her siblings, most of whom also participated in the Fresh Air Program.
When I first started writing childhood memoir, the story of how Vicky changed my life was the first one I wrote and the first one to win a prize and get published. If you want to read the compete essay, “The Fresh Air Girl,” it can be found here. The story will also be included in chapter three of my forthcoming memoir.
Yesterday, out of the blue, I got a letter from Vicky’s youngest sister Irma. She had read the essay above online. We’ve never met in person but have connected online. I hope to see her the next time I visit my mother.
Where does Irma live? Manhattan, where she was born? No. Lancaster County, Penna. I know there’s a story there. Can’t wait to hear it.
Vicky, I wish I had thanked you while you lived for the way you opened up my world. But perhaps it’s not too late. Happy birthday! And thank you!
Is there a “Vicky” in your life? Tell your own story of a person who opened you up to the world below. Be sure to thank him or her while you can!