My mother was brilliant, accomplished, compassionate, courageous, and beautiful. She was a world traveler; a gifted writer of novels, short stories, and poems; an accomplished singer; an artist; a passionate progressive; a rescuer of insects; a member of societies for vanishingly high IQs; and a lover of science fact and fiction.
Her parents, a classical pianist and an architect, met at choir practice and ran away together, leaving marriages and young children in the dust. Born in New York City in 1934, Marjorie Bailey Malcolm was promptly spirited away to spend her early childhood in China, Japan, and the Philippines, followed by a sortie through Alaska, New Jersey, and boarding school. Marjorie entered Bard College at 16 and then attended Columbia University, where she plunged headfirst into New York’s heady mix of bohemia and glamor, dating movie stars and Beat era novelists, sharing a voice teacher with Eartha Kitt, and launching a long career in academic editing and a short marriage. The latter changed her name to Marjorie Malcolm Streeter, gave her a difficult daughter (with two amazingly kind and tolerant half-siblings), and convinced her to flee with her elderly mother and me to “Kansas,” which was actually Australia. From there, my mother steered the three of us around the world, with stops in Singapore, Thailand, India, Nepal, Switzerland, Great Britain, Italy, France, and Morocco. She moved us from Geneva to Casablanca by pulling a trailer across the Alps with a Volkswagen in a snowstorm. She showed me the Taj Mahal, Arthurian castles in Cornwall, tree-climbing goats in Marrakech, the pubescent Living Goddess in Kathmandu (whom I ignored for newborn puppies), and the grainy shuddering images of Apollo HDaash (11أبولو), aka Apollo 11, on TV in a Rabat expatriate club.
Everything about space excited my mother. I disappointed her deeply by not becoming an astrophysicist. She devoured Fred Hoyle and Michio Kaku and kept a bookcase filled with crumbling science fiction paperbacks and magazines. She contributed her PC processor power to the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence)@home project. In the last year of her life, she eagerly awaited each issue of the Planetary Report and was excited to share articles on dark energy and dark matter, just as she had shared solar system maps and star charts, texts on astronomy and astrophysics, and science fiction ranging from epiphany to dreck with me since my early childhood. We held tickets for the first Pan Am passenger space shuttle. And starting when I was six, my mother would put me to bed and then get me up again to watch a television show not only about space and science, but also about friendship, hope, and the unapologetic condemnation of war, bigotry, and hate. We relished every starship, technology, philosophy, allegory, impassioned speech, and emotional outburst together for the next 56 years.
My mother had several novels in progress when she died, with themes ranging from Merlin to genetics to chaos theory. She was a classically-trained soprano; one of my earliest memories is of hearing her sing “Ain’t It A Pretty Night” from Carlisle Floyd’s opera Susannah, accompanied by my grandmother. She loathed injustice, intolerance, and cruelty. She rescued spiders of horrifying size and spoke gently to machines. Later in her life, she declared herself an atheist, repudiating the concept of a God who would allow suffering in the world. But while she eschewed that comfort for herself, she provided every solace she could to others, giving to anyone in need, whether or not she could afford it, and showing unfailing kindness and cheerfulness to all.
She was the love of my life. I had 62 years with her. It wasn’t enough.