Where did it come from? No, it wasn’t in a lumberyard, but I’ll get to that shortly.
Its origins stem from so-called “peace meetings” between mothers of sons who fought on opposing sides of the American Civil War. Very motherly, don’t you think? That made me wonder if any of the conflicts throughout history could have been avoided by allowing the mothers of tyrants, leaders, et al, to plead with their sons to find alternate solutions. Although I can be a bit too cynical at times, the sappy idealist in me tends to think that a mother’s connection to her child(ren) could transcend such worldly concerns as borders, power, and money. At the very least, it has the power to help heal. Ann Jarvis certainly thought so.
She began her work in 1868 to help families reunite after the Civil War. After her death in 1905, those efforts were continued by others over the next several decades, but her daughter, Anna, is recognized for championing Mother’s Day into its present status as an American national holiday honoring the spirit of motherhood. Hailing from Grafton, West Virginia, Miss Jarvis campaigned for recognition as a holiday and in 1910, West Virginia became the first state to officially declare it as such. Several states followed and on May 8, 1914, the United States Congress did too. It was written into law and each year, the sitting President signs a proclamation reaffirming the tradition observed on the second Sunday of May.
Like many young boys growing up, I loved trucks, construction, and all types of machinery. The array of tools in our garage consisted of a handsaw, a hammer, a drill, the “bike” wrench, and a socket set. Probably some assorted screw drivers and a vise-grip too. I filled in the gaps with several large-scale (in my mind anyway) construction projects using toy construction equipment. As any observant mother would, my mom noticed and did what she could to help me embrace it.
When there was an occasion to visit S&S Lumber, the local forerunner to Home Depot and Lowe’s, she’d toss a few cardboard boxes in the back of our Chevy Blazer and off we went. As I recall, she’d handle whatever real business she had, then ask on my behalf if they had any scrap lumber laying around that I might have. There weren’t a lot of women perusing the aisles of hardware stores back then, mostly contractors and do-it-yourselfer types, but she fit right in and I thought nothing of it. She was just being my mom, trying to help further my interest. On one of those occasions, I returned home and used my spoils to build her a bench. The finished product was unsightly and barely big enough for a small child to sit on, but it occupied space in our garage for several years.
As I grew older, I became capable of handling more complex machinery (see: lawnmowers and rakes). Properly mowing and raking our yard in Nebraska was an all-day event and not a summertime activity I begged to participate in. Looking back, I wonder if my Mom might’ve had bionic ears. Don’t most of them? From inside the house she could usually hear us “quietly” grabbing our bicycles from the garage and more than once, my brother and I, mere pedal strokes away from the daily summer freedom ride to the neighbor’s house, were stopped. The door would open as my mom nonchalantly asked us where we thought we were going. In our world, that was a precursor to getting recalled for lawn mowing duty. She had certain specifications as to how the work was done, but to her credit, she worked alongside us. I probably wasted the first few hours complaining about being robbed of a perfect summer day, but a strange thing would eventually happen. Once enough time working had passed, a sense of pride started to creep in. I doubt I shared that with my mom at the time. Along with the life-long lesson of taking pride in a hard day’s work, my fondest memory was sharing an ice-cold Pepsi with her. Usually when the mower ran out of gas or at the end of the evening to admire a freshly manicured lawn.
Nested within that lawn were several bushes and trees. My version of the story would have me planting all of them. In her own spirited manner, she reminds me that my memory might be a bit cloudy on that score. Formerly among them was a peach tree that I purchased long ago as a Mother’s Day gift. Peach trees don’t tend to thrive in Nebraska’s climate if you’re wondering. I believe it died sometime during it’s first strong midwest winter. My mom never let on though and she kept it in the yard for many years after.
I imagine most people have their own version of a cobbled together scrapwood bench, a long gone peach tree, or an ice-cold Pepsi. At least I hope they do. These only represent a small sample of my motherly anecdotes. I suspect that the nurturing gestures children are aware of is vastly outnumbered by the ones they know nothing about. If my suspicion were confirmed, it would be ironic, but not surprising, that the majority of motherly acts might actually go unnoticed. Wouldn’t that just fit a mother’s M.O.
Like any relationship, mother-child isn’t perfect. Besides, I’m of the opinion that a “perfect” relationship shares its chief characteristic with a unicorn. Real relationships are built with scraps, selflessness, and a willingness to care beyond the strong winters in life. To me, this is the true spirit of a mother and although I struggle to mask my distaste for the commercialism of holidays, Mother’s Day included, I’ll be the first to celebrate wholeheartedly, the spirit of mothers everywhere.
In thinking about this post, I wanted to write something non-commercial to honor my mother and the spirit of all mothers. Its not a role I was put on earth to experience personally but that certainly doesn’t lessen my appreciation for it.
Ironically, Anna Jarvis was arrested in 1948, protesting the commercialism of the holiday she campaigned for (that made me smile). She thought it lazy that one couldn’t take the time to handwrite a card to the one who’d done the most for them. That alone is worth a bouquet of carnations, although she probably would’ve been appalled by a whole bouquet. As I was typing this, I realized I was sipping a cold Pepsi (diet) and like most people, I called my Mom today. The conversation happened to turn to the mowing of her lawn and how she liked it done a certain way. Don’t I know it. I couldn’t help but chuckle. Love you, Mom.
To all those who fill the role of Mother in someone’s life, Happy Mother’s Day!