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Mom is, has been and always will be, hell bent and determined to do it her way, to follow the strength of her convictions and I pity the fool who stands in her way.

Her role model and father, Dr. Berkley Hancock Martin, was like that, too.

My grandfather would summons me by issuing his usual three word command, “Come here, boy.”  And, believe you me, I would come running.

He would grab me in arms that could hold the universe, lift me high in the air, then bring me back to earth, plop me on his knee and say, “Boy, always look someone right in the eyes. If that person doesn’t look back into yours, forget them … don’t trust them … they aren’t worth it.”

He sounded like what I think God must sound like. Powerful, all knowing and sure.

“Yes sir, PaPa,” I would say … while making sure my eyes were fixed on his. I didn’t even dare blink.

He frightened my younger sister, Nel.

He gave me comfort.

My mother has always had that same strong, assuring voice as her father’s … and it has always brought me comfort, too. The tone was firm, swift and sure, but there is love and admiration in it if you listen well enough … and don’t blink.

High assertive doesn’t come close to describing this trait. Hell bent and determined or damn the torpedoes … full steam ahead, comes closer!

So, like her father, whatever mom thinks is right is right. And you know what, most of the time it really is. She has always been a bold, fearless leader and has lead with passion, courage, inspiration and conviction. She credits her father as to why she is who she is. She refers to him as daddy or Dr. B. H. Martin. She always adds, “He was something. Powerful. The most powerful man on this earth.”

Mom’s mother, Neville, passed away when mom was only six. She left four children, mom being the youngest, to be raised by a very focused, dedicated,  horse and buggy doctor, my grandfather, Dr. B. H. Martin.  He loved his children and was a steady, steadfast provider for them and left them a legacy that still benefits the generations that followed. Dr. Martin also loved his calling and left a legacy of compassion for the rich and poor alike, healing and faith and dedication to his Lord.

We grand kids called him PaPa. Since I was the first, I may have started that. I will surely lay claim to it until someone (and I don’t know who that would be) begs to differ.

Pa Pa didn’t have what you would call soft bedside manners with his patients, children or grand kids for that matter, and he could care less. He was direct, no, blunt. If he thought you were going to die, he would mince no words, he would just say, you are going to die.

Penicillin was his sword and the enemy was disease. He would fight mightily and that demanded his full attention, with no time for emotion or idle git chat. He fought to beat disease, not to win your approval or accolades. And, if you did what he said, more times than not, you would live to see another day.

Mom still says as if it were gospel, “My daddy was the greatest man in the world because he made everyone well.”

As the luck of the draw would have it, we were mom’s dad’s first grandchildren. And, as a result, he would give my sister, Nel, and me his undivided attention. He loved us with all his heart and soul and would parade us around as if we were trophies representing his finest of a long list of accomplishments. After all, if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be on this earth. To him, that was as much a fact as it was his reward.

He didn’t have to tell us he loved us. You could feel it. You would yearn for it. You knew your visits to Richmond would always be extra special because it was PaPa’s kingdom. And Nel and I would be the princess and prince. The power of his hugs. The pride his steady eyes communicated was all we needed to know how totally he cared about us. He was constantly lifting us off the ground, high above his head, into the heavens where we knew he must live and be in charge of.

PaPa was a mighty man, and we knew he loved all of us … and yet, I always knew I was special. I was the first and I was the only one who could look him straight in the eyes and not blink. I knew I was special and it instilled a confidence early on that is at the core of who I am.

Being a doctor, he delivered my sister and me. He assisted in the operating room in both of my hernia operations as a kid. He sewed two finger back on my left hand with a plain old sewing needle and thread after I stuck it in a washing machine wringer just to see if the wringer really worked. It worked all right. And Pa Pa gave me a piece of his mind for being so dumb while putting me back together again.

He loved me passionately. And I know how my mom felt about him, because I felt that way, too. And in so many ways, PaPa was why we, mom and me, turned out to be who we are.

Whenever I face a major challenge, I hear my grandfather say, “Come here, boy”, as he lifts me high into the heavens. “You have got what it takes, boy. Just look ’em in he eye and do what’s right.”

However … there are sometimes this idea of what’s right is just not always right! And … you knew this was coming … bathing and changing clothes at 91 is not mom’s idea of what is right by a long shot.

When the professionals at mom’s day care threw in the towel when it came to bathing mom, I knew that Mr. Clean (my adopted Super Hero personification) had probably met his/my match. But, PaPa kept whispering, well more like roaring like a freight train, “You get your mom fixed up, boy. That’ is your duty. We Martins always dress to reflect who we are. And, tell her to hold her head high and …”

“I know, PaPa, look her straight in the eyes”” I heard myself saying out loud as I looked toward the heavens, not blinking.

But looking my mom straight in the eyes is easier said than done when she has her mind fixed on something. I call it the Martin Way. And when I say it, it comes out sounding like a disease that PaPa could only cure with penicillin.

I wish I could say Mr. Clean swooped down and saved the day, but I did, without even knowing it, what turned out to be the next best thing … I flew alright, but it was out of town!

Melissa and I had a consulting assignment in Orlando so the big face-off between Super Heroes (My mom is the real deal in so many ways and I am just a pretender compared to her) would have to be put on hold.

Now I don’t like excuses, but I made this one sound noble indeed. When a client calls, you come running or in this case flying. In other words, I got out of town while the getting was good!

Somehow the Beatles’ song, HELP!, couldn’t stop playing in my head.

HELP! I need somebody. HELP! Not just anybody. HELP! You know I need someone. HELP!

And, HELP, in all caps, was on the way and it came from both expected and unexpected sources. The expected one came from Tovi, my oldest daughter. She gave me four of the coolest grand kids the world has ever known. That team, plus my youngest daughter Lissi’s oldest daughter, Kenzie (are you following all of this?) decided to take on the dirty work together! (UNEXPECTED)

So, this team lead by Tovi and my grand kids, ages 6 to 13, headed to Richmond under the auspices of staying with mom while Melissa and I were gone, but they had bigger things in mind. The were going to bathe mom, change her clothes and cut her toenails to boot!

Another song is playing in my head as I write this, The Impossible Dream, from Man from La Mancha!

But, you know what, as it turned out, it wasn’t the epic battle as I imagined it would be. It wasn’t even a challenge match or a fight of wills at all!

That was Tovi and the grandkids’ genius. They made it play!

Tovi would ask who wanted their nails clipped and all the kids would laugh and say, “me, me first … do me!” And, one by one, as they sat on mom’s bed with her, they had their fingernails and toenails clipped and you know who wasn’t going to miss out on the fun … mom!

There was so much laughter going on that she missed Thomas’s (great name for my oldest grandson) comment to Tovi. “Mom, Helen has toenails that could go in the Guinness Book of Records!”

Next came hair and clean clothes and … before you knew it … there was one beautiful group of humans, all spic and span and feeling great about themselves. It was a fashion show, a Disney movie, an extravaganza. It was Sound of Music, The King and I and Mary Poppins  all rolled into one. It was fun and they all had a ball!

It’s a great reminder that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down … even for Super Heroes hell bent and determined to do it their way!

The HELP! Team took the fight out of the match up. It was like Tom Sawyer painting the fence! Who wouldn’t want to join in!

So, when I yelled HELP! I didn’t need just anybody. I didn’t need the Clean Helen Team pros at mom’s day care. I didn’t need my Mr. Clean outfit, all I needed was the Joyful Team. And they did it!

It was just what the Doctor ordered … PaPa that is!

They brought joy and good clean fun to the world and mom couldn’t get enough of that wonderful stuff.

And when they looked mom in the eyes, they didn’t even worry about blinking … they just did a lot of winking. And, my mom winked back!

About Tom Laughon

Tom Laughon (Pronounced Lawn) is President of Catch Your Limit, an organization whose sole purpose is to guide and grow leaders. His journey from lead singer in a rock-n-roll band, to a successful career in marketing & advertising to consultant, strategist, keynote speaker, facilitator, professor and writer is a fascinating one. Headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, Tom and his team guide organizations, from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies to national associations, to "catch their limit" in areas such as leadership development, creativity, innovation, teaming and transformational change. His commitment to "practice what he preaches" has made Catch Your Limit a petri dish for round-the-clock discovery and learning. The firm's brand reflects Tom's personal brand: Fun, Inspirational, Strategic & Hot!

2 responses »

  1. I want to be on the joyful team!!! I love it and I am sorry not to be a part of the fun. It all sounded like Nel and Helen and how they would tackle the problem. Thank you Tovi and all the grandchildren. Good job!


  2. This is such a great story! I found myself both laughing and tearing up a bit because having a daughter of my own I fully understand what it means to approach things with joyfulness. I am happy to hear that your mother was able to play along without a fight and you received the help you needed. Maybe Mr. Clean can go into retirement and you can transform into a different pseudo character like mighty mouse or something as equally as fun. BTW – Your Pa Pa sounds like he was an incredibly wise and loving man who I am sure made life interesting. Terrific post and I look forward to reading more =)



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