Vita Sua in a Bygone Mobile
Part 6 in a series: "Profits ... and a great loss."
Previous installments: 1, 2 , 3 , 4 and 5.
Mobile Bay Times
1958 was to be far and away my greatest year ever in business but also far and away the saddest year of my life.
My production scooted up, and right along with it, my pay.
But, on a Monday morning -- Nov. 17 -- I lost my mother.
Mother had somehow
I guess because she
was always there
when any of us
needed her. When my
father died in 1925,
she took over the
burden of a brood of
three young children,
and, though she had
no previous job
training and very little
that task in
There was no Social
Security then, a Depression was on the horizon which would see her secretary's salary drop to a low of $35 a month, yet somehow mother, all by herself, prevailed. She whipped it all and, at the time of her death, she was still doing things for her children and grand children who were her whole life.
She would have been 59 that Christmas Day. It was an appropriate birthday for mother.
Was it just coincidence that she died Nov. 17, 1958, 33 years to the day from my father's death? We'll never know in this world but, if we all are something more than just the random creations of nature, the father I do not remember may have been granted a wish on that appropriate day.
Mother had taken sick on Nov. 12 and she had to be quite sick for she left the office for home that day about noon. I was not working that night at the newspaper but I did come by her house after work and met C and my children there.
I was there when Dr. PH came in. He examined mother and told her that she had a virus, which was prevalent at that time. He assured her that the chest pains of which she complained were not caused by her heart. It relieved mother greatly, but not completely.
Even now, 16 years later, it is painful for me to recall those days.
I fault myself for not insisting that Dr. PH order an EKG. At mother's age and with her symptoms it should have been indicated.
But, like her other children, it did not even occur to me that anything serious could happen to my mother. She had always been there and would always be, it seemed to us.
A few evenings prior to the onset of her illness, she had been involved in a minor auto accident which had left her with a badly bruised knee. She showed this to Dr. PH but he was not concerned about it.
It is my unshakeable conviction that a blood clot from that badly bruised knee caused the coronary occlusion which ended mother's life five days later. I admit to no medical knowledge and I was unable to get any firm medical opinion that this might be so, in later conversations with doctor friends. However, no matter how friendly, it's a rare doctor who will give an opinion which might suggest that a colleague had made a faulty diagnosis.
Mother was feeling somewhat better but still quite ill when I visited her Saturday afternoon, Nov. 15. This was the last time I was to see her alive. I remember her wan smile as she sat in a chair on the front porch of her
home as I departed for the evening shift at the newspaper just four blocks away.
I had not been at work Monday morning for more than a few minutes when Jack G., one of the lawyers for whom mother worked, called me. "A., you had better come right over here. Your mother's sick. I'm afraid she's dead."
I don't know what's the best way to put a message like that. I suppose Jack's way was as good as any.
I bolted from the office. I remember that as I got outside the door, I passed a customer, Dr. CS. "Where are you going in such a hurry?" he said.
The nonsensical things one says when he is in shock: "I'm afraid my mother's dead," I replied, just like I might have said, "I forgot and left my umbrella in the car."
I flew to the bank building two blocks away where my mother's office was located. I fumed when I got to the elevator bank and found all the elevators were in service and I had to wait.
Good friend Cas W. passed through the lobby as I waited. And I winked and said, "Hello, Cas." I was a walking zombie in a dream world.
At last an elevator came and I alighted at the seventh floor, and, heart pounding, ran to the end of the hall and the law offices of C, G & C.
Jack was there and mother lay sprawled by her desk. I ran to her, felt for a heart beat or a pulse, discovered none and tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to no avail.
"For God's sake, Jack, get a doctor," I screamed at him. "There's none on this floor," he said. "Well, get somebody, a dentist, a nurse, anybody and call an ambulance."
I have prayed hard in my life, many times, but never like I did on that ambulance ride, while I sat by my mother's body. I promised God to do so many difficult things if he would just permit my mother to survive.
It was not to be and I really knew it.
I had called the office and told B.H. to call C. and have her call H. and J., my sister and brother. They met us at the Providence Hospital emergency room. The doctors examined mother and our last slim hopes vanished.
It was the first truly great tragedy in my life and remains the greatest that I have ever experienced. I have no memory whatsoever of my father and his death. My grandfather's death hit me hard but it was not entirely unexpected at his age and he was not part of the immediate family circle.
Many tributes came mother's way, including a front page story in the afternoon paper, lovingly composed by my good friend, Register reporter John Will.
For about ten years after mother's death, I continued to have dreams at night in which my mother was very ill, but apparently going to survive. I guess a psychiatrist would reason that my mind refused to accept the fact of her death but was willing to concede, instead, a grave illness.
For years, too, when I had some venture planned, I would pause in my thinking and remind myself, "I'd better talk it over with mother." Then, I'd recall that I could not do this anymore.
Tears would come, too, in private, although it has now been several years since I last cried over my mother's memory.
Time does heal, whether we want it to or not.
(Chapter VII: Biddies, bawdies, one man who could pull the trigger and one who couldn't.)