I RECENTLY saw Martha Martyr in Cleveland. You may know her. Everyone knows someone like her.
Because Martha is a relative, we listen to her and try to love her.
I've known her for 60 years, and for 60 years family members have called her ''poor-dear-Martha'' behind her back -- it's been kind of a handle.
Even her mother called her that. Her mother, for reasons only known to mothers, felt sorry for Martha. Martha wasn't as pretty as her sisters, and she was a little overweight. But she was a fine pianist, married a good man and had nice children. Her life looked good to me.
I'd forgotten that when you are with Martha she evokes a sort of sympathy. Family members would say, ''Well, you know, poor-dear-Martha never could keep up," or after they'd hear her whine they'd say, ''Poor-dear-Martha had too many children.''
She had five, just one more than I had.
Trouble was Martha whined all the time -- it was a hobby.
When she had company for dinner, she wouldn't use her good china or her silverware, but her every-day stuff. Then she would say, ''I'd use better plates, but I don't have any.''
Wrong. Because the funny thing is that poor-dear-Martha DID have enough money, and she had a full set of wedding china. What's more, her husband always had a steady job and he loved her. And now that he wears a hearing aid, I notice he just turns off her perpetual whimpering. He plays a lot of golf.
So last month at a family get-together she said to me, ''I wish my hair looked like yours.''
And I told her, ''Just go have it frosted, it's fun.''
The next day I wore a ring my husband had just bought me, and poor-dear-Martha commented, ''I wish John would buy ME a ring, ( sigh) some time.''
Then I reminded Martha that she didn't have enough fingers for all the rings he had bestowed on her.
But it seems nothing ever satisfied Martha and maybe nothing ever will.
Most of all she wants you to feel sorry for her, stroke her. And we did, thereby feeding her self-pitying soul.
She says she doesn't have many friends now, and she is probably right, because they wouldn't want to hear her complain about her dress size, her house size, her lifestyle and the fact that her kids don't love her as much as they should.
She tells us all that she can no longer make her mother's fruitcake -- ''too expensive, and people don't appreciate anymore.''
She tells me she has been busy making 10 pairs of angel wings for the church pageant. But when I praised her she said, ''But they didn't turn out the way they should, my hands must not be as good as they used to be.''
Christmas is a bad time to be around people with a Martha complex. At frantic holiday times martyrs come out of the family woodwork. They feel more put upon, sorry for themselves. Their chores have often tripled. Whining is what they do best, but no one has time to listen.
Martha admired a tiny gold guardian angel pin I had on my shoulder. ''I bet they are too expensive for me,'' she added.
''No, they are only about $3; here, take mine, I would love for you to have it.''
Secretly, I thought probably angels hate whiners. I would like to have said to her, ''Here, wear it instead of the heavy chip on your shoulder.''