My mom, Dorothy Elizabeth Hodgins (nee Dodd, yes she was Dot Dodd), was born in Fort William, BC in the 20’s. One of four kids, her closest sibling was my aunt Shirley who was only one and a half years her senior. They were perfect sisters – total opposites – perfect partners in crime. Shirl was brash and beautiful, whereas my mom was the sweet, innocent one. Shirl’s nickname for my mom was Doe. Appropriate, I always thought, because my mom had big hazel eyes and resembled a doe.
At my mother’s memorial Shirl told me lots of stories – images of my mom as a girl – images that stay with me. One was of my mom when she was 10 years old, babysitting all day (she always adored kids). Anyway, being the dirty 30’s, she made only ten cents a day which she would take home and give (unsolicited) to her mom, my nana Jesse. Jesse would then buy a pack of smokes with the dime, hide out upstairs in a back room and smoke every last one. They lived with my mom’s grandparents in a loving, but firmly non-smoking household (especially if you were female).
My mom’s dad, Harry Dodd was a travelling salesman, never an easy profession, especially during the depression. So it was due in part to his being away so much that the whole family ended up moving in with Grandma and Grandpa Wallace (my mom’s maternal grandparents.) Dot adored her grandpa, William MacGregor Wallace. He made a vat of oatmeal for the entire family every morning and did not allow gossiping or female smoking or the wearing of shorts under his roof.
So needless to say, Dot and Shirl would sneak off to their girlfriend’s houses to change into their shorts. But rules or not, my mom often said “My grandpa was one of the kindest men I ever knew.”
Another memory of my aunt Shirl’s is Dot around 13 years old chasing after her big sister who was off to a dance – Dot decked out in high heels and a dress with cigarette in hand, swaying down the street, trying to keep up.
In 1943 Dottie joined the Air Force and was sent first to Halifax, then on to London, England with the Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
While still in Halifax, the barracks they were stationed in had a coal gas leak, so they were all evacuated to the local bowling alley. It was there my mom had a chance meeting with a handsome prairie boy named Harvey Hodgins. My mom always said, “If it hadn’t been for coal gas, I may have never met your father.” My dad always said that for him it was love at first sight.
After Halifax my mom and dad were sent overseas to England. My dad was a wireless operator air gunner and he completed a tour of operations which meant he flew 32 missions – with Bomber Command No. 6 group (all Canadian boys – they were very proud of that). This also meant that every time he flew my mom didn’t know if she would see him again. My mom worked in the back of Harrods which was R.C.A.F. headquarters during the war. Her friend Jewel worked in the records department so every day Dorothy would wait while Jewel checked the records and gave a thumbs up if she didn’t see his name in the ‘shot down’ or ‘missing in action’ lists.
My mom and dad were married in St. Savior’s church near Knightsbridge in London. My dad’s best-man, Harry Clark was a wireless operator air gunner with another group. Shortly before my dad proposed, Harry had taken my mom aside and said “You better be serious about Harve. He’s really fallen for you and I don’t want him led astray.” Sadly, two nights before their wedding, while on his 2nd to last trip, Harry’s plane was shot down. So their wedding was bittersweet.
After the war they settled into married life in Toronto. I am the youngest of four kids – with a sister and two brothers – and there’s 13 years between my oldest sibling and me.
Mom was always busy. For years she worked full time as a commission saleswoman at Sears. But no matter how busy she was, Dot always had time for everyone. As a child, during our summer holidays, my cousins were permanent fixtures at our house on the lake. They were more like siblings and Dot treated them like her own. My mom had the ability to make us all feel like her favourite. She often said “I have no favourites. My favourite kid is the one that needs me most – at the time.” I know I felt adored by her all my life. She instilled in us a love for the arts and music. Her mom, my nana Jesse, was an amazing classical pianist so we always had lots of music in our house. In fact as a girl, Dot had wanted to be an actress and had a dream of going to Lorne Greens’ acting school but having a family kind of changed her direction.
She saw every show I was in as an actor and every children’s show I directed. She would sit beside me and laugh her head off at the kids’ antics – I mean laugh till she cried. She had the best laugh. That was the hardest part when I directed this year – not hearing her laugh.
I can’t write about my mom without talking about music. Music was a huge part of my mom’s life and of our life with my mom. She grew up listening to her mom (my Nana Jesse) play incredible classical piano and she told me more than once that her first experience with the human voice and its ability to give us transcendence was as a little girl when she wandered into a movie with some friends. An operetta film came on instead of the usual Saturday matinee. The kids were pissed off and jeering. But not Dot. She sat there in a state of frozen transcendence – moved to tears. (And had to hide it so the other kids wouldn’t make fun of her.)
Many times as I was growing up we both sat hunched next to our big wooden stereo, Leontyne Price blasting out the death aria from Madam Butterfly, tears streaming down our faces. Then it would end and mom would say “Play it again!”
At her memorial my brothers and sister and I had a few differences of opinions, we all had such strong feelings about the music that represented our mom to us. John and I immediately picked out Mahalia Jackson (she loved gospel and was crazy about Mahalia) and Cecilia Bartoli singing Vivaldi; Gail picked out Gershwin; and Paul picked out Beethoven’s 9th. And in the end we were all right.
All of it was Dorothy.
When we first found out she had lung cancer we were devastated. She was too. For a time she would only see my dad. Only when she felt collected did she start seeing all of us. My mom made it absolutely clear she wanted us to remain upbeat. As she told my aunt Shirl “Never mind dear, you’ll be following right behind me.”
Dorothy always had a firm belief in spirit and that love endures. She passed away in Jan.2005.
Of course we all miss her like crazy, especially my aunt Shirl and my dad (they had just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in Dec.2004). But as my husband Ronnie said “Dot’s dynasty was a beautiful one. She left only good memories. Not a bad way to leave the world.” Indeed.