Mary Esther O’Brien! I love this name, ever since I heard it in 1988 when I first arrived in America.
I do not know much about Mary Esther, except that I bear a striking resemblance to her. In fact, I most likely am the spitting image of her. Here is the story of our mystery woman, and why she has piqued my interest.
When I first crossed the pond to Elmira, New York in 1988, I worked in a rehabilitation hospital. As a physical therapist, I treated many older folks after surgery or a stroke. Many of my patients suffered from dementia, their worlds a little fuzzy and mixed up, especially after undergoing anaesthesia.
I was assigned as physical therapist for a lovely lady, who had just broken her hip. When I tried to introduce myself, she looked at me, and declared:
“I know you. You’re Mary Esther O’Brien.”
I tried to tell her my real name, but she would hear nothing of it. She was convinced she had once again met Mary Esther.
And so, everyday as we worked together, I transformed into Mary Esther O’Brien. We chatted and laughed, as my patient learned to move and walk again. Her progress was astounding despite her dementia, surprising her doctors. They had informed her daughter it would take many months for her mother to recuperate from surgery.
She proved everyone wrong. In her mind she was racing through the meadows of Corning, New York with her long, lost friend Mary Esther O’Brien. Anything, Mary Esther asked her to do, she did willingly, never complaining of pain or discomfort. Her recovery had nothing to do with my skills as a therapist, but everything to do with reminding her of the happy days of her youth.
Her daughter was delighted to see her mother so happy at physical therapy. Mary Esther was a mystery to her too.
When I tried to inquire a little more about Mary Esther, I did not get much helpful information. My patient would look at me indignantly, admonishing me for not remembering.
“What do you mean, you do not know
where you were born?”
“You’re Irish, of course!!”
“Are you losing your marbles, Mary Esther?”
I loved this response from a lady with severe dementia.
Six weeks after discharge, my patient returned for a follow-up visit. The moment she saw me again, she hugged me, and told me:
“I missed you Mary Esther.”
Mary Esther told her how much she missed her too.
All I know is that Mary Esther O’Brien was probably born between 1910 and 1920, and lived somewhere in the Corning or Elmira region of New York State. She may have been born in Ireland, or at least her parents were, since I was told I spoke just like her. Mary Esther had an Irish, not an American accent. She was not known as Mary O’Brien. Everyone called her by her full name, Mary Esther.
One day recently, I tried to solve my mystery by searching the census records of 1910. Pages of Mary E. O’Briens were listed in New York State.
Unfortunately, I could not tell Mary Ellens apart from Mary Esthers. I did find two entries for a Mary E. O’Brien in Elmira, New York. One was 29, and the other 45 years old, at the time the 1910 census was completed. Neither age matches my tale, since my Mary Esther would have been very young in 1910.
And so, that is the story of my alias, my potential pen name, Mary Esther O’Brien. It really does have a lovely ring to it.
Slán agus beannacht leat!
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom