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Mother's Day Rooted in English Custom
We humans seem to need special days: birthdays, anniversaries, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, July 4, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Presidents’ Day . . . I wonder if our lives would be boring without these spikes of excitement.
Thoreau sought to live seamlessly without subdividing his life into days and months, but I have not done so. Some months cause me to dip into my inner pool of reminiscence where everything that I ever experienced is stored. May is freighted with memories: the elders of the neighborhood hoping that the irises and peonies would bloom in time for Decoration Day; listening to the Five Hundred radio broadcast . . .
Come the first of May, I’d count my slender horde kept in a cigar box to see what I could spend for a Mother’s Day gift at Florys or Danners. I had little money. Grandpa’s weekly dime formed the foundation of my savings. Daddy paid me to clean his work shoes that became filthy when he worked at the greenhouse or tromped around in the mud while fishing. During canning season, Mother hired Wanda and me to wash jars.
My fastest source of cash was the pop bottles that I’d turn in for the deposit. One year my enterprising Jones nephews and nieces went all over town and collected so many bottles that the merchants wouldn’t take any more. After I started babysitting and working at the “Knightstown Banner”, I could afford more expensive gifts than a handkerchief or a tiny bottle of Blue Waltz or Evening in Paris. I still have statuettes of a shepherd and shepherdess that I gave Mother.
Mother’s Day started in England when one Sunday a year, Mothering Day, was set aside so that live-in servants visit their mothers. In America Anna Jarvis agitated until Woodrow Wilson established Mother’s Day as the second Sunday in May in 1914. She also started the custom of wearing carnations to church in honor of one’s mother. Females wore red carnations to honor living mothers, white ones if their mothers were deceased. Today Mother’s Day is supposedly the most popular day to eat out.
The dictionary definition of “mother” as “female parent” is inadequate. Everyone’s mother is a complex, unique blend of many ingredients. My mother has been gone for nigh on to twenty years, but she is still present in the innermost core of my being where I see her in my mind’s eye or hear her in my mind’s ear as if it were yesterday.
Random images from my internal album rise up before me like a slide show: She’s telling me my favorite bedtime story about Brer rabbit and Mrs. Ledhulce and the gals . . . She’s rolling out pie crust . . . She’s ironing stiffly starched shirts or sewing while listening to “Stella Dallas” on the radio . . . She’s chiding me for having broken my glasses again . . . She’s yelled for me to come into the bathroom after her shower and help her with the old-fashioned corset that’s stuck halfway up because of the humidity . . . She’s tending her flowers or hoeing the garden . . .
A devout Christian, she preaches one of her sermonettes: “No one who is prejudiced against people of other races or religions will have an easy time getting into the Kingdom of Heaven. There’s a bunch of bigots who are going to be surprised--mighty surprised--when they stand before God!” . . .
She’s moaning, “Don’t look, don’t look!” after prematurely laying down her Canasta hand . . . She tries to console Daddy after he loses his sight . . . Exhausted, she’s fallen asleep while reading the newspaper after a hard day’s work at the greenhouse . . . She’s sobbing because Granny has died . . . She’s talking about a favorite book . . .She’s fighting back tears as I leave for college where I receive whatever she can afford to send each week from her meager earnings . . . She’s loudly singing Christmas Carols to keep Vicki from hearing the whining of the Christmas puppy that’s hidden in the basement . . . And, at the last, she faces her approaching death cheerfully . . . I understand what Abraham Lincoln meant when he said that he owed everything he was to his angel mother.
As Mother did every year, I’ve been waiting to hear the silvery trill of the wren. Yesterday a pair of cardinals was at the feeder. Every now and then he’d hop over to her and feed her a seed. This is part of their courtship ritual. Not just human guys take their dates out to dinner! Mother would have loved to see that just as she would have liked to know my grandsons whom she never saw.
She is no longer here physically, but she lives on within everyone who loved her, and something of her will be passed down to generations yet to come.
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The Banner, PO Box 116, Knightstown, IN 46148 (765) 345-2292