The Writing Disorder




New Nonfiction


by Teddie-Joy Remhild


I was the first child to be birthed by Isabella. She was an 18-year-old girl, beautiful and loving but needing to be loved more than able to give love. It was the deepest time of the Great Depression and she struggled for survival, both materially and spiritually. Her own childhood was one of abuse, abandonment and tumult. She was ill prepared to mother, but twenty months later, a second daughter was birthed and I was now the older sister, expected to accept the deprivations of those times with stoicism. The love and nurturing I needed was not available, it had not been available for Isabella. I was a babe birthed by a babe. Her husband was my father only in the sense that he contributed his sperm. His name was Mark Engelman, and he disappeared early on and is unknown to my sister and myself. He was American of German descent, belonged to German clubs and there were rumors that before World War II he went to Germany and became a Nazi.

Isabella was born Georgina Isabella McMartin on February 22, 1915. She became known as Georgie and was raised by her father and grandmother, her mother having left when she was quite young. Her mother, Aimee Estella, escaped an abusive marriage and having no means of support, left her child in the care of her husband, Clifford McMartin and his mother, Dona Isabella, born in the Canary Islands.

Georgie’s mother, Aimee, eventually became a well-known dancer on the vaudeville circuit in a sister act known as the McMartin Sisters. She was beautiful and glamorous and was written about in many newspaper articles. Her philandering father was harshly abusive, beating her and berating her continually. She attributed a hearing impairment to one of his beatings. Georgie longed for her beautiful mother and dreamed of her returning to take her away from her father and his mentally ill second and third wives. That dream did not come true until much damage had been done.

Georgie began associating with an undesirable crowd and drinking at the age of thirteen. She found this to be a way to sedate her pain and feelings of loss and unlovable-ness. By the time her mother came back into her life, the die had been cast. She was no longer amenable to parental support or guidance. She was on her life path of self-destruction, unable to nurture her own babies, unable to love herself.

As Georgie proceeded down her chosen life path, she made many bad choices beginning with her first husband and father of her two baby girls. Her second husband, Bob Alvarado, led her into a life of crime and eventually jail. Unbeknownst to Georgie, her husband was part of a notorious family of bank robbers called the Alvarado Gang. They robbed banks and held up stores during the Depression in Los Angeles. But once Georgie discovered the truth, she stood by her man and became part of the gang herself, participating in hold-ups and robberies around town. Unfortunately, it wasn’t too long before they were caught, this time holding up a drug store. A headline in the local newspaper labeled Georgie “Two-Gun Gussie.”

At this time her children, two and four, were being cared for by their grandmother who eventually was awarded guardianship and ultimately legal adoption. Georgie attempted a reunion with the girls after serving two years in prison, but another man, another marriage, led her to another life in another location. It was Spokane, Washington, and the time was during the early 1940s. Her new husband went off to war and Georgie soon became a war widow. She was alone again, still searching for the love denied her in early life, and still soothing her pain with booze.

Things began looking up in her fourth marriage and two more children followed. She was writing and had a job at a local radio station, where she became one of the first female disc jockeys. She interviewed Elvis Presley. She was trying to become a successful member of her family and community. The drinking continued though and her marriage ended in divorce when her husband found comfort with another woman and left her.

By the time she married a fifth time, the drinking was a serious threat to the stability of her family and the children were often sent to live with other relatives or placed in foster care. Their stepfather was a committed participant in their partying way of life and the children, once again, were victims of her poor choices and dedication to self-destruction. Once more she became a widow and soon fell into her sixth marriage with a man who shared her alcoholic pursuits. Somehow, through these tumultuous years, she managed to have a home and a means of support even though the children were raised here and there and finally were on their own at early ages. She hit bottom in her sixth marriage, going to prison again at the age of 55 for holding up a cocktail lounge.

This proved to be a blessing for her survival. It was during this stint in prison that she finally got clean. She sobered up and began making decisions for a successful recovery and productive life. She pursued an education, obtaining her GED, a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree, and a doctorate in theology. Now into her sixties, she moved to Alaska to begin a new life as Isabella, to assist others in rehabilitation from drug addiction and alcoholism.

She began to write more poetry and attended poetry conventions and AA conventions around the world. She was recognized and rewarded and spent the last 15 years of he life making a positive contribution to the lives of many others like herself, who had chosen paths of self-destruction. She brought hope and inspiration to the lives she touched. Most of all, she learned to love herself. She had lost contact with three of the four children she had birthed. They had chosen to eliminate her from their lives in order to soothe the pain of her inability to love. But there was yet another chapter to be played out for this new woman now known as Isabella.

Aimee, her mother, died at the age of 94, when Isabella was 73 and I was 54. Isabella and her mother Aimee had had no contact during the last 34 years of their lives. Isabella was Aimee’s only child and Aimee was my only true parent, but I felt obligated to call Isabella and tell her of her mother’s passing.

I found her in Fairbanks, Alaska, still doing her rehabilitation work and apparently very delighted to hear from me after all those many years. As it turned out she was planning a trip to the Los Angeles area the very next week and asked to see me. She was coming to attend a poetry convention, but would take the time to come by taxi from Anaheim to Burbank for a visit. My son was also interested in coming to meet her.

And so we reunited. It was not the reunion of a mother and daughter, but of two compatriots who met to share their joys and sorrows and knowledge of their tested strength. She came to Southern California twice after that, and phoned and sent audio taped letters. I went to Alaska twice in 1991. We came to know and appreciate one another. For me, the gift was to forgive. For her, the gift was my forgiveness.

She was diagnosed with cancer in 1990, as she turned 75. In the spring of 1991 I received a call from a friend who told me Isabella had taken a turn for the worse, and I should come as soon as possible. I spent my 58th birthday with her in Fairbanks. I contacted her two younger children, a daughter in San Francisco and a son in Seattle, whom I had never met. They visited her soon after I did thus reuniting her with all her children after so many years. She commented that it took this illness to bring her children back into her life and it was worth it.

I was so glad that I had finally come to know her softer, more sensitive side through her poetry. She died in July 1991. Together, I the oldest of her children and Saidee, the youngest, buried her and the circle came to closure.

I am thankful I had the opportunity of knowing Isabella who was an inspiration to me. I truly admired the way she managed to overcome tremendous obstacles. The genetic strain from my grandmother to my mother to myself seems to carry the seeds of resilience and success.

Teddie-Joy Remhild has lived independently as a blind woman for the last 42 years and has an education in Gerontology. She is both an educator and an advocate. She strives to be a positive role model for people with disabilities. Like her mother, she also writes poetry. Teddie-Joy believes that her disability has been the blessing that has allowed her to develop her potential, her skills, and her commitment to independence. For more information: Disability and Aging Advocacy.




by Paul Garson

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