Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Mother of Mother's Day

Bill Brown  ...  Xiamen University
 Happy Mother's Day from Amoy!
  I wrote this article for Common Talk in 2006.

When Anna May Jarvis's mother died on the second Sunday of May 1906, Anna May wished she had heeded the warning to, “Lavish your flowers on the living, not the dead.” Driven by remorse, the gentle, easy going Anna May became obsessed with the desire to see her mother and motherhood honored throughout the world.

After a year’s planning, the first Mother's Day was celebrated on the second anniversary of her mother’s death, May 10, 1908, at St. Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where Anna’s mother had taught Sunday School. A year later, Philadelphia became the first city to proclaim an official Mother’s Day. Three years later, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed Public Resolution 25, establishing the second Sunday of each May as Mother's Day. And then, to everyone’s surprise, Anna May retired and spent the remaining 34 years of her life, and her fortune of over 100,000 dollars, fighting against Mother’s Day!

The problem was that from day one, Mother’s Day had become a great commercial extravaganza to boost the incomes of card and candy makers, and a salve to soothe the consciences of those who each May made mother a “queen for the day” but neglected her the other 364 days.

Anna May complained, “Mother’s Day has nothing to do with candy. Candy is junk. A maudlin, insincere printed card or a ready-made telegram means nothing except that you’re too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone else in the world. You ought to go home and see your mother on Mother’s Day. You ought to take her out and paint the town red...You ought to give her something useful, something permanent...Is she sleeping warm at night? Could she use an eiderdown? Maybe the stairs in her home need fixing...”

For 30 years, Anna May fought for the integrity of Mother’s Day. She finally died in a sanitarium — old, tired, deaf, blind, penniless, and having never married nor been a mother herself!

Sixty years later, mothers may be more neglected than ever. Statistics show one half of Americans, which of course includes one half of our mothers, live in poverty. Where are the children? More than ever, mothers deserve more than cards and candy one day a year and anonymity the other 364.

My appreciation of motherhood only began as I watched my wife, Susan Marie, in both sickness and health, unselfishly spend herself on her two sons (and her husband as well!). I also slowly came to better appreciate my own mother, and though she’s 12,000 miles away, I am now careful to not only send her the obligatory Mother’s Day card and flowers but also to regularly write and phone her.

Fortunately, most Common Talk readers are not 12,000 miles away from home! So as Mother's Day catches on in China, let us seek to make Mother’s Day not a card-and-candy substitute for well-deserved love but the crown and pinnacle of a full year’s expression of love and appreciation for the one who gave us life: our mother.

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