Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fifty-four years ago today,...

...on October 4, 1957, a Friday morning, at around 7:45 a.m. Central Daylight Time, my mother died in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. She was 47.

I was 16. I was at home alone getting ready to leave for school. I had been a Senior for about a month. My dad had left the house about 6:15 that morning to ride in a car pool to work at the General Dynamics aircraft factory, about 34 miles away, with three other men from our community. I may have the mileage wrong. Dad had worked there for ten years. I think the car pool stopped by St. Joseph’s on the way home from work Wednesday afternoon so that my dad could have a short visit with my mother.

I had not seen her since the preceding Sunday afternoon because she had wanted me to concentrate on my school work. We did not own a car and depended completely on others for transportation. There was no public transit between our rural community and downtown Fort Worth, which I think was about 14 miles away. Someone had taken my dad and me after church to the hospital for a visit. Mama had been there for about a month at that time, and her condition was worsening. When I was seven or eight years old, she learned that she had breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy of her right breast and the removal of lymph nodes from her right side and armpit. In those days people said if you lived five years after cancer surgery, you were cured. After seven years had gone by, Mama’s abdomen began to swell and more cancer was discovered. The doctors at St. Joseph’s inserted an irradiated gold needle into her abdomen -- I’m unclear as to what was really going on, whether it involved cobalt or some other form of early radiation therapy -- but she was unable to tolerate it, so they stopped the treatment and said she had about a year of life left.

I was dressed and waiting for Mrs. Brockett, a teacher who lived on our lane, to come by and take me to the high school, which was two miles away. The telephone rang about 7:30; I picked it up and said, “Hello?”

A female voice said “Mr. Brague?” and since my dad had gone to work and I was the only Mr. Brague around I said “Yes.” The voice identified herself as someone from St. Joseph’s Hospital and said, “If you want to see your wife you need to get here soon because she’s not going to last very much longer.” I said, “I’m her teenaged son. You want to talk to my dad.” I gave her the telephone number where he could be reached at General Dynamics and hung up the phone.

Everything after that is a blur.

I didn’t go to school that day. I don’t remember that I talked to Mrs. Brockett but I must have. I sat there weeping and remember being especially devastated that I hadn’t seen my mother for five days and that she died alone. After an hour or so a couple of neighbor women came in and began sweeping the floors and dusting the furniture and washing the dishes. My dad came home about midday, I think, though I have no idea how he got there.

Mama had decided a few months earlier to have a closed-casket funeral service because she had lost so much weight from the disease and didn’t want people gawking at her. My father and I did not go to the funeral home or any wake on either Friday night or Saturday. Mama’s funeral was Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. at the Methodist Church in Mansfield. I do remember that Rev. Ernest Piott spoke and Mrs. Ruth Sprinkle Morris, Doug’s wife, sang “Lead, Kindly Light” and the Albert Hay Malotte version of “The Lord’s Prayer.” I don’t know who played the organ, probably white-haired Miss Cora Galloway, who had retired and whose place I had taken a couple of years earlier.
I know Mama is buried in the Emerald Hills Cemetery in the town of Kennedale, and I know I went there that Sunday afternoon, but I cannot remember going or being there.

Mrs. Sally Huffman, the lady I called my “other mother,” told me later that she had almost called me Thursday after school to see if I would like to go to the hospital that evening to visit Mama, but something came up and she didn’t make the call.

I still wish she had.

When I returned to school on Monday (because my dad insisted that life must go on and we mustn’t take excessive time grieving), people were talking about something called Sputnik that had happened on Friday. I had no idea what they were talking about.

If I have written of this before, please forgive me. There are some wounds that time does not heal.

by Emily Dickinson

My life closed twice before its close;
It yet remains to see
If immortality unveil
A third event to me

So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.


A Lady's Life said...

That must have been a traumatizing time for you especially not being able to say good bye properly.
Adults were a lot more private in those days and kids, well ... they were not informed as it was seen that it was better not to know.
Adults didn't burden kids in those days with info.
You mustn't feel guilty.It wasn't your fault.

Elizabeth said...

Bob, you go on writing it as many times as you need to...

Mum's are special and any amount of time doesn't change that.I wish I could wrap my arms around you and give you a huge hug. My thoughts and deepest love are with you and Eleanor. All those who care for you will be holding the sails secure as you travel through this anniversary. tanchumay תנחומיי


Snowbrush said...

Perhaps, the precision of your memories astounds me even more because I rarely remember exactly when anyone died. I could tell you the year and the month my parents died, and I know my father died in the afternoon, but all I have other than that is how it felt to be with them when they passed.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

What a very lovely post Robert. Thank you for sharing it with your visitors. You remember so much detail even after fifty four years. I suspect your mother would have been very proud of you if she had seen the way your life developed with children, grandchildren, a devoted wife, a long and relatively successful career, a cheerful outlook and a kind heart. Yes she would have been very proud.

Elizabeth said...

I so endorse what YP says. She would have been so proud of you, Bob. xx

rhymeswithplague said...

My thanks to everyone who commented.

Katherine said...

Oh, my heart goes out to the man-boy. Poor dear. Such a long part of your life during which she was slowly leaving...

....Helping to make you the thoughtful, kind, dear man that you are.

Thank you for sharing this Robert.

Rosezilla said...

I'm so sorry, and I can see how it wouldn't get any easier. When I was a child I prayed quite seriously that if God took my mother, please take me too. I grieve for you. I do agree completely that your Mother must be very proud of you.

(Due to ongoing heart problems, I haven't/won't be around much, but one day perhaps they will be resolved and I'll carry on!)

rhymeswithplague said...

Katherine and Rosezilla, your comments, like those of all the rest of you, mean a great deal to me. I don't want to be perceived as still drowning in grief 54 years after the fact, but this time of year is always a bit difficult for me.

I appreciate everyone's kind words more than any of you know.

Snowbrush said...

It was a lovely post, Rhymes.

Shooting Parrots said...

That's the second post in succession I have read on the subject of breat cancer, although the first covered more recent events.

I identified a lot with your story. My mother also had breast cancer and a subsequent mastectomy and she too was given the all clear after five years only for the cancer to return.

We nursed her at home for many weeks, with the help of the family doctor and a visiting nurse.

I was working 60 miles away when I had a call that she had not much longer to live and though I set off immediately, I didn't make it back in time.

I still feel the guilt 25 years later.

Thanks for sharing.

Wine in Thyme said...

I'm sorry for your loss. There's no explanation for why we continue to "wish for" stuff that will never happen. Yet we do, and that's human nature. Sometimes these things come to mind uncalled. we just live through them again. I'm glad you loved your mother enough to remember her forever. I'm sorry she left you so soon.