Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

"A mother is a person who seeing there are only four slices of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie." - Tenneva Jordan

"The phrase 'working mother' is redundant." - Jane Sellman

"Sweater, n.: A garment worn by a child when its mother is feeling chilly." - Ambrose Bierce

"He is a poor son whose sonship does not make him desire to serve all men's mothers." - Harry Emerson Fosdick

"A mother's arms are made of tenderness and children sleep soundly in them." - Victor Hugo

"A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.  And candy!  You take a box to Mother--and then eat most of it yourself.  A petty sentiment." - Anna Jarvis, credited founder of Mother's Day

(Brief disclaimer: nearly everything factual that I present in this blog was obtained from the Wikipedia page on Mother's Day or the Wikipedia page on Mother's Day (U.S. version).  Yes, yes, I despise Wikipedia as a cited source as much as you do, but the Internet connection where I'm staying is so awful I only get what I'm looking for on every other or every third click, and I don't have the patience for real research under that condition.)

Anal retentive hun that I am, I checked.  I haven't written about Mother's Day yet, in the more than two years I've been running this blog.  Shame on me.  A more generally-important topic can't be found--after all, every one of us either is a mother, or has one.  So let me begin by saying, for what is apparently the first time on this blog:

Happy Mother's Day!!!

Frankly, I used to hate Mother's Day, and for the same reason its very founder protested against the holiday just a few years after she successfully lobbied its enactment.  I like giving gifts.  I enjoy expressing loving sentiments.  On the other hand, I despise standing in line with all the other guys in the city waiting to spend our money on requisite cards and flowers.

Fact is, Mother's Day is one of a few holidays (second in my mind only to Valentine's Day) when retailers have us right where they want us: right smack in the wallets, and they're hanging on for dear cash.

It wasn't always that way, of course, but the transition apparently didn't take long.

The history: Ann Jarvis, mother of the holiday's founder, used the term in an extraordinarily useful way when a few years after the Civil War ended she created "Mother's Friendship Day" to reunite families that had been divided by that horrific series of events.  She had also created "Mother's Day Work Clubs" that were intended to improve sanitation and health for both Union and Confederate encampments.  She expressed to her daughter, Anna, a desire to mold these activities into an event honoring mothers, but she passed away in May, 1905, before that could happen.

Then Anna picked up the torch.  In May, 1907, two years after her mother's death, they held a Mother's Day service in the West Virginia church where Ann had taught Sunday school.  By the next year, Anna had enlisted the aid of John Wanamaker, the Philadelphia multi-millionaire who is often credited as the father of modern marketing (among his credits: the money-back guarantee).  Not only did they hold a Mother's Day service at the same church in May, 1908, but at the same time Wanamaker also held a much larger celebration in his store (go figure). 

Money talked as loudly back then as it does today, and so by 1910 West Virginia had declared Mother's Day an official holiday, and in May, 1914, the United States followed West Virginia's lead (yeah, I know, I can't believe I just typed that either).  Meanwhile Anna kept campaigning for the holiday's acceptance internationally, apparently right up to the point when she started campaigning against it for its rabid commercialism.

The holiday's acceptance world-wide seems to fall into three rough camps.  You'll see if you visit the overall holiday Wikipedia page I linked above that there are a lot of countries that celebrate Mother's Day on the same day we here in the U.S. do: second Sunday in May.  Why a Sunday?  Well, it was created by making it into a Sunday service, and where better to celebrate motherhood than the church?  In fact, according to my good Wikibuddies over there, Mother's Day is the third most attended church day in the year, falling only behind Christmas and Easter.  Ain't that cool?

So anyway, that's the first camp: "we'll follow along with the United States."  There's a second camp, the "yes, we'll celebrate mothers, but we'll not do it like the United States because they're so commercialized," and a third camp, the "United States can bugger off; we already have our holidays set" group.

The Wikipedia site has a rather long list of different nations' ways of celebrating the holiday.  I won't repeat all of it here, but at points it makes for an entertaining read.  Mexico, for example, has an interesting Mother's Day history; at one point apparently women were allowed to retrieve their sewing machines from the national charity/pawn shop for free on that day.  Yeah, that practice might be a little gender-insensitive, but then again the whole holiday's rather gender-centric, right? 

I don't want to sully my blog page with the story, but I'll suggest that you read under Germany what the Nazi Party did to the holiday.  It's worth considering how even a benign (if expensive) holiday can become a propaganda tool to the extreme. 

So, back to one of my favorite topics: me.  I truly used to despise Mother's Day as the embodiment of all things gilded and fake.  Used to hate buying and sending cards for that reason.

Then my mother got sick.  A few years later the most important woman in the world to me passed away.  She was a strong woman who had to fight for her children and her own safety several times.  Even riddled with cancer, she still insisted on taking care of her husband and on making sure their house was set when we came to visit--something we didn't do as often as we should have, admittedly. 

Now?  I'm still against commercialism.  I'd still rather not stand in line to buy a card.  But now, all the commercialism the world has to offer is--well, it's not such a big deal.  Part of me wishes I'd taken the time back then to buy more crappy, sappy cards for Mother's Day.

Regardless, I can't change what is past.  What I can do, though, is lay tribute where it is due, and today merely amplifies the fact that I owe much more than I can ever repay to my mother.

The mother of two great kids who I married?  We celebrate a little differently than most; every Mother's Day we go to a paint-a-pot place and create stuff together.  Yes, it's still spending money, but it's creating useful things in a fun way while spending time together, and we all enjoy it.  Every year but this one, of course, because we're over 800 miles apart.  I've already located a shop where we can go in June, though, once we are all back together here in Memphis.  

So thank you for reading my long history and tribute, and if your mother is still around, give her an extra hug today, okay?  And even--gah, I can't believe I'm saying this--get her an extra-special card or flowers.   


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