Mom at age 97

I admit to being on the fence about Mother’s Day. I have yet to find a card I think captures my feelings on that particular May day. I know the card industry would disagree. Since my mother passed away I only glimpse the long racks of cards now: mostly light-handed humor or syrupy lines that would never come out of my mouth. In her last years, I always looked for a card with a “hummer,” her favorite bird, flowers, and blank inside. Unlike me, she was not ready to pass on Mother’s Day and the obligatory gift.

Photo by Joan Robins

The best gifts and sentiment came forth when I was in elementary school. Mrs. Lacey, a large woman with the wild, copper-colored hair, brought in all manner of crafts and turned us loose. The gifts piled up: the handprint, the ashtray—shocking now, little cards with flowers—too many to remember. What I do remember was that I loved my mother and the grace period before adolescence kicked in.

Mother’s Day in my teen years were too often a day to lay down our arms, form a temporary truce, make my mother wait until after dinner before a gift was given, and a handmade card limited to Happy Mother’s Day and my name signed under a few hastily drawn posies.

When I became a mother, I’m proud to say, I never wavered from my doubts about that one day out of the year when: women who at least for my generation did most of the housework, childrearing, school meetings, disciplining (could never get with the wait until your father comes home), and battles over teeth brushing, flossing, etc. Just one blessed day? Really?

We become friends as well as mother and daughter

As my daughters grew into the wonderful women they are and I left the trenches of motherhood with more time to reflect, I wasn’t sure I always deserved those gifts and cards either. It’s all in my forthcoming memoir and how much I would love a do-over as a young mother.

As I write this I am remembering the first Mother’s Day present I bought with my own money. I took the bus—the fare was ten cents—to the Wedge, a set of stores in Pine Lawn (a suburb of St. Louis where I grew up). I went to a gift store and looked at everything. In those days, the saleslady didn’t assume I was shoplifting and helped me find something within my budget. I chose Salty and Peppy (it could work for Father’s Day too) salt and pepper shakers. They were made of natural-colored wood balls with a hat on top—Salty’s was white and Peppy’s red. I can still feel them in my hand and that they were on our kitchen table for many years.

On the way home, holding my gift tightly in my hands, I looked out the bus window and saw the orphanage—dark large buildings behind a tall wrought-iron fence. Where were their mothers? I put the sadness out of my mind and couldn’t wait to make my presentation. On the official Mother’s Day I was rewarded with a tearful “Oh, just what we needed. And your own money. Thank you, sweetheart” or something close—it’s been a long time. I do remember emphasizing the part about “my own money.” And, it was uphill after that. I maxed out my gift giving at ten—Salty and Peppy were a hard act to follow.

All this to say I wish mothers everywhere well, not just on one day in May but all year. I still don’t need a card or a gift. What I prefer is sometime when I’m at my best and able to offer the unconditional love we all need, a simple hug, a spontaneous “I love you,” or “Thanks” said with a smile will do.