Thursday, October 4, 2012

I don’t mean to sound maudlin, but...

...fifty-five years ago today, at around 7:45 a.m. Central Daylight Time on a Friday morning, my mother died in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, on October 4, 1957. 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, 34 miles away, with three other men from our community. 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.

[Note to my readers. If you have left a comment on similar posts of mine in previous years, I am not expecting you to comment again. I just find that I need to remember this anniversary in a public way annually. Thanks for your patience with me. --RWP]


Snowbrush said...

I'm so sorry, Bob, that you lost your mother when you were but a teenager. I was 39 when mine died, and as hard as that was, I have no thought that it compares to what you went through.

rhymeswithplague said...

Snowbrush, even though it happened so many years ago, it is still fresh in my mind. My juvenile take on the world became an adult perspective almost overnight. When I hear people complaining about their parents I want to shake them.

A Lady's Life said...

You only have one Mother and she must have been a splendid one for you to still remember her so strongly on this special day.
She has a wonderful son and blesses him every day from up on high.
You must feel her smiles upon your head and this must bring joy to your heart and soul.
I also miss my parents and wish it didn't have to be so final as to never see them again or hear their voice.As they were parents, we will forever be their children.

Snowbrush said...

"When I hear people complaining about their parents I want to shake them."

Your grief for your mother is almost certainly at a level that I have yet to experience following my own losses, yet she died 55 years ago. I wonder from time to time what it was about you at that period in your life that caused the grief to go so deep that you still feel it almost as intensely as if she had died today. As for your request for "patience," the more profoundly you feel about something, the greater my interest in it, so I welcome those occasions when you write about your mother.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

The detail of your account is like a tattoo - you remember every pinprick - even though I am sure that there are hundreds of other days that are totally unremembered. This fond yet painful piece of writing is also a window on a simpler, more communal America that, like your dear mother, is forever gone. Thank you.

rhymeswithplague said...

Thank you, Lady's Life and Yorkshire Pudding, for your kind comments.

LightExpectations said...

What a sweet, wonderful thing for you to share. I'm sorry that I sometimes complain about my parents. And I'm very sorry for your loss. But I'm also praising God for every detail of your remembering. Painful though it may be for you, I still think it's better than forgetting.


rhymeswithplague said...

LightExpectations, I appreciate your words and agree completely with your last sentence.