Oh once there were three sisters / just like in an old folk tale
and the gentlest one had eyes of blue / and skin so fine and pale
but someone put a spell on her / and we watched her fade away
and no white witch or faerie queen / turned up to save the day
There used to be three of us; now there are two. I am the oldest, Jacqueline is the youngest, Denise was the middle child. She was sweet and gentle and shy; she loved children and doted on her daughter, Lacey. She was also an artist and, for a few years before her untimely death, a teacher, adored by her students and beloved by everyone. Denise’s full name was Elsie Denise, after our grandmother, Elsie, the one I wrote about.
Denise died in 1999 of brain cancer at the age of 47. She would be over the moon to know that Lacey gave birth to a baby girl in December 2010. Her name is Elsie, after, as it turns out, two of her great-grandmothers—one on her father’s side as well as Elsie Kohl Hammond; but especially for her grandmother Elsie Denise.
I recently made a video for my song “Omaha,” which is about losing Denise. You can view it here.
About MLH and The Accident
On August 26, 2006, at a small horse show, my usually quiet horse, Beau, suddenly and inexplicably began to buck – most likely because of a wasp sting. (He’d never done anything like that before, and hasn’t since.) I was thrown and knocked unconscious and sustained various broken bones and concussion, bleeding in the brain and damage to one of my cranial nerves.
As a result my right eye and eyelid were temporarily paralyzed – the eyelid shut and the eyeball frozen in its socket. Doctors told me there was nothing they could do to fix it: nerves had to heal on their own – if they healed at all. So as soon as I was able, I began various alternative treatments such as cranio-sacral therapy and acupuncture. Shortly after, my right eyelid opened a quarter of the way. Over the next few months, it opened almost completely and I slowly regained some movement with the eyeball, but I had to wear an eye patch because I was seeing double.
However, the progress eventually stopped and I was left with double vision whenever I move my head or eyes out of a very narrow range, because the injured eye has never regained its full range of motion and so doesn’t track in sync with the good eye.
THE BENEFIT CONCERT
Not long after the accident, my good friend and partner from Stringband, Bob Bossin, began to organize a benefit concert for me. There was a special irony in that, because Stringband and I, solo, have performed at countless benefits for worthy causes. Hell, I’d even written a tongue-in-cheek song called “Not Another Benefit.”
While my immediate hospital and medical expenses were covered – thank God and Tommy Douglas for universal health care – Ontario Health Insurance doesn’t cover the alternative therapies I was pursuing or vision care. And I couldn’t drive for a long while, so I had to buy many GO bus passes to get to appointments in the city (I still won’t drive in the city, or on the big highways.) And of course I couldn’t work: as a freelance editor and proofreader – my day job – my eyesight is crucial.
The concert, slated for Hugh’s Room January 28, 2007, sold out in 10 days. A second evening was added; it too quickly sold out. Meanwhile the benefit organizers added a silent auction.
The two evenings had slightly different line ups and the music ranged from virtuosic to hilarious to glorious. People said nice things about me that made me blush; it was kind of like being at your own funeral, except I didn’t have to die. Cardboard eye patches were distributed so audience members could stumble about and empathize with me. When the dust had settled, many thousands had been raised, which helped me get through the period following the accident.
BENEFIT PERFORMERS & SPEAKERS
Batsheva, Joan Besen, Bob Bossin, Madelyn Bossin, Al Cross, Aaron Davis, Jane Fair, Mike Ford, Jian Ghomeshi, Peter Froehlich, Marianne Girard, Eve Goldberg, Jacqueline Hammond, Bob Johnston, Connie Kaldor, Terry King, Tom Leighton, Marilyn Lerner, Stuart McLean, Dennis Nichol, Ron Nigrini, Garnet Rogers, Don Ross, Rick Salutin, John Sheard, Allan Soberman, Stringband, Sylvia Tyson, Nancy White, Chris Whiteley, David Woodhead
- Bob Bossin singer, songwriter, activist, environmentalist and Marie-Lynn’s partner in Stringband since 1973
- Jacqueline Hammond sister and force of nature
- Joanne Harrop long-time friend
- Murray McGregor long-time friend, editor and writer
- Carol Noel long-time friend, graphic artist
- Howard Kaplan long-time friend, Canada’s most prolific composer of frog-related songs
- Richard Hess audio engineer, tape restorer – Richard released four CDs of Marie-Lynn’s music on his label and is also the person behind Marie-Lynn’s web presence
- And many other friends, too numerous to mention!
CURRENT SITUATION (2011)
My eyesight is still wonky. They say it always will be. As long as I look straight ahead at a fixed point I see normally. But it’s rare in life that you can stare at a fixed point for long. As soon as I move my head or eyes even a fraction, I see double. The farther I look to the right or up, the worse it gets: the two images become farther apart. But in the past three years I’ve learned strategies to cope better – how to move my head to minimize the problem, etc.
Apart from the vision problems, I also dealt with the general aftermath of a brain injury, including dizziness, nausea, poor memory, fatigue, balance problems, insomnia and depression. I still experience some of all those things, but not as much depression – because, frankly, I’m grateful. The outcome could have been so much worse!
And I’m working again – not as much as I used to, and I probably won’t proofread complicated materials full of teeny footnotes, tables and graphs again. But straight text, slightly enlarged, is no problem to proof. And I’m happily, and efficiently, copyediting once more.
BACK IN THE SADDLE!
The best news (from my point of view; some of my family and friends were horrified) is that eight months after the accident I started riding again once a week at a stable that accommodates riders with disabilities. I can’t live without horses, and sadly, I had to sell Beau not long after the accident, as I couldn’t afford to keep paying his boarding fees and had no idea then what the future held.
I now ride a black Morgan who’s very much like Beau in looks and temperament, which was bittersweet at first, but I’ve come to appreciate my new mount, who’s very willing and pretty much bombproof, for himself. We do low-level dressage, and when I ride, I’m so busy concentrating that I barely notice the double vision. And that alone is worth it!
Marie-Lynn’s Thank-You in the Benefit Programme
“Oh no it’s a benefit, not another benefit, and when are they gonna benefit me?”
– M.-L.Hammond, “Not Another Benefit”
“Be careful what you wish for, it might come true.” – Anonymous
I always knew folkies and their fans were a good bunch, but your response to my plight has been overwhelming. So much so that, as a recovering Catholic, I’m battling feelings of epic unworthiness and an urge to refuse your generosity so I can suffer more and longer. Luckily, my long-time musical partner and the prime mover behind these extraordinary evenings, Bob Bossin, keeps reminding me that you wouldn’t be helping if you didn’t want to.
My deepest gratitude to all the committee members, musicians, sponsors, auction donors and others too numerous to list who lent a hand. And especially to my sister, Jacq. She was a rock while I was in hospital, then took me in and cared for me for two months, even allowing me to bring four cats into her pristine home, and tofu into her gourmet kitchen. (She’s recovered from the cats, but the tofu may take longer.)
To all of you here tonight—my eternal, heartfelt thanks!