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Union prof's essays examine illness

Harry Marten remembers his mother as an energetic and exceptionally organized woman.

She was constantly vacuuming and balancing the checkbook, said Marten. "She would never sit at a meal, and she'd take your plate before you'd finished."

A vibrant administrative assistant with a predilection for playing the piano, the woman Marten calls his mother, Ann Marten, married his father a few short years after his biological mother died from cancer.

Marten's memories of Ann Marten's young life are in sharp contrast with the woman she is now " nearly 96 years old and crippled by acute dementia.

Harry Marten, chair of the English Department at Union College, is working on a collection of unpublished personal essays called "Shadowlands: Portraits of Old Age," that describe his mother's gradual slide into the mental diminishments of old age.

More than 40 people attended a reading by Marten entitled "If the Sun's up, It's the Day" at Union College on Thursday, March 6.

The free event was co-sponsored by the Catholic Chaplaincy and the Human Resources Employee Wellness Program.

The program held particular meaning for Tom Boland, the college's Catholic chaplain. His mother suffers from Alzheimer's disease.

"When I first read Professor Marten's work it was like reading about myself," said Boland. "It was a liberating experience. I know it wasn't about me, but it was like someone else was writing about my experience and I didn't feel as alone."

Marten also shared passages from his memoir of family life, "But That Didn't Happen to You: Recollections and Inventions." Marten teaches a class on memoirs at Union.

He called his newest essays as"hard to write," but also found that he "couldn't not write" about his mother's experiences.

Marten's reading focused on his mother's decline, which started shortly after the death of her husband, Abraham.

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