“My grandfather made me these lovely hand-whipped angel food cakes each year for my birthday. I was his only grandchild; he doted on me.”
It is a pleasure to introduce Mary Norton, resident in our beautiful Limited Assistance neighborhood at Meadowbrook Healthcare. Mary was asked to be featured in our Age-in-Place Project which allows us to shine some light on aging, and how one person’s story in its entirety can be shared and hopefully, help them in some way. Mary’s story is one of love, so much love. But of course, there is pain and loss that go with life. On one cold morning in January, she shared her story with us.
Mary was born in 1930 in Endicott, NY and was an only child of two wonderful parents, George and Harriet Wright. Her parents and her grandparents were very close to Mary, but her entire family was a tight unit. “The only time I saw my father cry was when my mother’s father passed away. We were sitting in our car returning from his funeral and my father just started to cry. I never forgot that.”
She had very close relationships with her two grandfathers, who showed her love and support that she has carried with her throughout her life. “What happens to you in your formative years stays with you.” she said.
At the age of 15, Mary decided that she wanted to join a church. What is interesting about this is she wasn’t ordered to become a member, but her parents gave Mary the freedom to decide to which church she wanted to belong. So at the ripe age of 15, Mary tried out all the churches she could; Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, she tried them all. In the end she decided on Presbyterian.
You know how they say ‘everything happens for a reason’? Case in point: Mary met her future husband at the Presbyterian church where she had become a member. “It was very strange.” Mary said. “I knew my husband’s entire family before I knew him.”
Dennis Norton had returned home from serving in the Army during World War II. “We just kind of knew that we were going to get married as if it was just supposed to just happen.” she said, smiling.
She attended Ithaca College where she studied music as a Voice Major. She said she loved to sing and play the piano, and had recalled performing at the giant country club located in Endicott, that was owned by IBM (which was where Mary’s father had worked).
Dennis and Mary got married in 1950, and to enable Dennis to complete his schooling, Mary didn’t continue her college education which was a decision they made together. It allowed Mary to stay home with the family her and husband would create. They had five children with their first daughter being born in 1951, Catherine. Following Catherine was Richard, born in 1954, David John was and Barbara Jeanne were born in 1955 and 1956, respectively.
“I had a fifth child, Garry George.” Mary sadly commented. “But he passed away when he was 11 years-old.” He had broken his leg while at school and was admitted into the hospital where he remained for one month in traction. Tragically, he passed away from throwing a clot from the healing of his broken leg.
The impact of losing a child is something that no one should have to experience. When we asked her how she handled a loss so profound, she said “I had to be strong for the rest of my family.”
Her kids grew up and each one of them attended college and are now all retired and enjoying this phase of their lives. Her second son, David John travels the nation with his wife working as ranch hands. “He’s a free spirit.”
Mary started working as the secretary for the principal at Northern Adirondack Central School in 1962. She worked for 23 years there, retiring to join her husband who was already in retirement and they moved to Holiday, Florida in 1992. She fondly mentioned a trip she and Dennis took to Vienna during their retirement. Mary said she never pushed Dennis to share his experiences of World War II, but when they visited Vienna, he would point out different places he’d been.
“It was the most wonderful experience.” Mary said. “We got to do all the things we always wanted to do together.”
“I am so fortunate to have the life that I have lived. My children are wonderful people, and it all started with Dennis and me.” Sadly, after 56 years of life together, Mary lost Dennis in 2006 due to a heart condition.
Mary remained in Florida until she returned to Plattsburgh in Fall of 2018. Her health had declined just enough that she decided to become a resident at Meadowbrook. “I am very happy here.” Mary said. “I have had a wonderful life and I’m pleased I get to enjoy this stage of my life here at Meadowbrook.”
There is one wall in Mary’s room where she has several older portraits, including one of her parents and her grandparents, and Mary as a child. There is also a portrait of a four year old child, who Mary said she was named for – it was her father’s sister. She explained that the child died at the age of five, after an emergency appendectomy was performed on the kitchen table.
There is another section of her room that features photos of her children and one larger one of her and her husband. Just prior to this story being published, Mary learned that her youngest daughter, Barbara, is now suffering from ALS disease. She was able to visit her a few weeks ago, but upon her return to Meadowbrook, it is obvious Mary’s heart and thoughts are still with her daughter. She requested that this detail be shared, because her daughter is still with us, and it’s an important piece of Mary’s life. Her family is and has been her life.
Mary’s story is not filled with wild anecdotes, nor of fame or fortune. It’s a story about love, and the love continuum.