Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Thinking of Mom

If Mom had lived, she would have been 90 years old today. I trust my loyal (though few) readers will indulge me as I depart from my normal format to write about her. The only electronic pictures of her are on my computer at home, so I will edit this tonight and paste one in, a beautiful childhood picture of her on a pony.

Dorothy Alfreda Sexton was born in New York, in 1918. She was conceived in St. Lucia, and her mother emigrated while pregnant, while World War 1 was on. That's another story for another post (or a book). Mom and her mom lived with her mom's uncle, David Sexton in Providence, Rhode Island. She grew up in that small household, her father absent, her mother's marriage annulled. Uncle Dave became a surrogate grandfather/father to her, and his name was frequently invoked in glowing terms throughout my childhood (a subject for another post or book). I have his name.

Mom attended public schools through 8th grade, then was shipped off to Northfield School for girls in Northfield, Mass (a school founded by Dwight L. Moody) in proper British tradition. She graduated, then went to Rhode Island College (now the University of Rhode Island) for a brief time, one to three semesters. She took a job in Boston for some amount of time, then in Providence. At some point (not sure how long after she left school) she became an X-ray technician, and worked at this job until she was married and began having children. This might have been as long as twelve to fourteen years. I remember accompanying her to Dr. Richardson's office when I was maybe 6 or 7, when she had to work one afternoon.

In January 1950 she married Norman Victor Todd in Providence, and we three children were born in 1950 through 1954. Dad was 33, Mom 31. In late 1950 Dad and Mom moved from Courtland Street in Providence to Cottage Street in Cranston. It was a convenient place for Dad to take the bus to his night job, and to walk home the four miles at 4:00 AM. It was a smallish house, on a smallish lot, but it adequately served we five.

I never remember Mom being anything but sick, deathly sick. Her kidneys were bad, and she had to fix separate food for herself since she couldn't eat protein. Eventually her whole body went bad, whether from the kidneys or lack of nourishment I don't know.

I came to the conclusion that the years of exposure to X-rays, back in the days when they didn't know the danger, was what ruined her kidneys, but now I'm not sure of that. Years after her death I discussed this with Dad, and was surprised to learn that Mom had breast cancer and had a double radical mastectomy. She was considered a cancer survivor, having lived more than five years after the operation. But I have no childhood memory of her having cancer--being sick, yes, but from her kidneys, not cancer. So my working theory now is the x-rays caused her cancer, she had the double as well as chemotherapy in the early days of what was then an experimental type of treatment, and the chemo ruined her kidneys. Just a theory, but possible and maybe probable.

On August 13, 1965, Mom checked into the hospital for the last time. She spent time in the hospital two or three times a year, but this time was different. She died about 10:30 PM on August 19, 1965, age 46 years, 10 months, 20 days. Dad was at work at his night job, we kids at home. The hospital called him and he rushed there, but he didn't get there in time.

My memories of Mom are good, although I ache for the constant pain she lived in. To give her an activity that didn't require much physical effort, our family took up stamp collecting. Both Mom and Dad had done that in their formative years, but let it go as adults. Oh, the memories of working on our collections. During the week Mom opened envelopes purchased from dealers and sorted, or soaked and sorted if required. On Saturday night the five of us sat around the dining room table, each with our albums. Mom distributed the stamps acquired, always one country per night. If she had five or more of a stamp, each of us got one. If four, we three kids got one and Mom and Dad alternated. If three, they went to us kids. After that, the stamps were put in the middle, and we all had a chance to pick one, going round and round until all were distributed and the duplicates were in an envelope. We licked hinges and put them in our albums. We usually discussed what was on some of the stamps, learning history that way, seeing other alphabets, other languages, learning shades of colors, etc. A wonderful, wonderful time.

Did working the stamp collections prolong Mom's life, since it gave her a reason to live through the pain? I suspect so. I'm a strong believer in the will to live having something to do with longevity.

Allow me to add here a poem I wrote about Mom several years ago on the anniversary of her death. I may make another post with two others I've written.

Thirty-Eight Years Ago

Crippled by years of encroaching pain,
a precious mother breathed her last.
What legacy lives on today,
as memories are fading fast?
Each year I live those days again,
and wonder if she found her way.


Anonymous said...

Very touching, Dave. Your Mom would be extremely proud of you. My guess is that you inherited your sensitivity from her.


sincerelymsred said...

Such a lovely tribute to a lovely woman.

David A. Todd said...


I appreciate your comment.


David A. Todd said...


Thanks for the comment, and for stopping by again. You need to get going and make some posts to your blog so I can go there and harrass you.