Seasons by the Sea: Magnificent Mom

The earliest, earliest celebrations celebrating mothers are believed to have begun with the ancient Greeks and Romans
The author's son, Billy Taylor, who makes a mean salad dressing, with their dog Gumbo from earlier days Laura Donnelly

Mother’s Day is celebrated on different days and in many ways around the world.  In Thailand, it is celebrated on Aug. 12, the birthday of Queen Sirikit. Shrines are built, fireworks go off, and children present their mothers with garlands of jasmine flowers, which represent maternal love.

In Ethiopia, families gather to feast for several days in honor of motherhood on a holiday known as Antrosht, held at the end of the rainy season. Everyone brings ingredients for a meat hash, which the mothers prepare. Hmm, doesn’t sound like the day of pampering we have here in America.

In Mexico, Mother’s Day is always May 10. Mariachi bands are hired to serenade moms and big breakfasts of tamales and atole are served.

Americans spend $170 per family on Mother’s Day, according to the National Retail Foundation. Fifty percent of households buy cards, phone lines get jammed up, florists rejoice, and restaurants make a bundle on brunches. It is always celebrated on the second Sunday in May. I am proud to say that my one and only son, Billy, has mastered the art of Mother’s Day. There have always been homemade cards, very creative with glued-on Legos when he was little and manga illustrations during the years he was obsessed with all things Japanese. I was always mystified by the imagery of racecars and Harajuku girls, however, and wondered how they related to Mother’s Day. I have also received many IOUs for housecleaning, meal cooking, dog walking, weed pulling, car washing, etc., and usually get a bar or two of my favorite soaps, lavender and verbena. In other words, he was raised up right, if I do say so myself. 

When he asked what I wanted for Mother’s Day this year, I told him I’d like a paragraph to complete this column. I assured him it needn’t be sappy or emotional. Such expressions make him extremely uncomfortable, but I would like it to reflect his wit and humor.

A few years ago I decided that the greatest gift I have ever received came into this world on Aug. 13, 1987, at 2:30 p.m., eight pounds, six ounces, 21 inches of Adrian William Taylor, sound of wind and limb. So now we celebrate Mother’s Day by me cooking for him. Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of weed pulling, mulch layering, and lilac planting on that day by the manly offspring!

The earliest, earliest celebrations celebrating mothers are believed to have begun with the ancient Greeks and Romans, who worshipped the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele. In spring in Rome a festival called Megalensia was held to celebrate Cybele, “mistress of wild nature, a healer, and goddess of fertility and protectress in time of war.” These festivals involved a good bit of bloodletting, twirling around, castration, and sacrifices, so let’s be glad those days are over.

The origins of our Mother’s Day go back to the days before the Civil War. Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia, created Mother’s Day work clubs to help teach women how to care for their children. In 1868 she organized Mothers Friendship Day, in an effort to care for and unite former Confederate and Union soldiers.

The abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe wrote a Mother’s Day proclamation (not to mention “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”) urging women to help promote world peace.

When Ann Reeves Jarvis died in 1905, her daughter Anna Jarvis proposed a specific Mother’s Day to acknowledge the sacrifices mothers made for their children. With backing from John Wanamaker of the Wanamaker department stores in Philadelphia, the first official Mother’s Day was celebrated in May 1908. She encouraged florists to sell white carnations in honor of mothers who had died and pink or red for those living. Over the ensuing years, she started letter-writing campaigns, lobbied politicians, and by 1914 had convinced President Woodrow Wilson to sign a measure establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. 

Ironically, Ms. Jarvis (who never married nor had any children) came to dislike the commercialization of the day and spent her remaining years filing lawsuits and badmouthing florists, candy makers, and even charities. She died penniless in a sanitarium.

The words my son sent me were not the funny and witty musings I had expected and asked for, nor are they sappy. They are heart-wrenching and reminded me of the things we have survived together: my cancer (22 years clean), divorce, moves, being kind of broke sometimes, a bad car accident, and the things we continue to endure together, like the death of his father three years ago from pancreatic cancer.

Food is the thread throughout his passage as it is throughout our lives. He makes me sound like a hero, but I’m not. I’m just a mom.

“Food has always been central to my mom’s life and livelihood — and by extension, my mom and I. Good times, dark times, lean times — a delicious meal or snack were never far removed from these periods. I remember the delicious, impossibly juicy home-cooked ‘chicken-in-a-bag,’ a staple throughout my middle school years. Her homemade Lunchable snack pack I got after leg surgery in sixth grade (healthier than the real thing, and with identifiable ingredients!). The peanut butter and jelly sandwich she made for me after we were in a serious car accident, just minutes after she got out of the hospital with a badly injured leg. These still resonate with me today as a testament to her toughness and love.”

“Most memorable in recent years was an epic Edna Lewis Southern spread for my 27th birthday. All of the amazing qualities that inhabit my mother’s being — fierce passion, limitless kindness, humor, boundless creativity, and energy, were all evident on that table of ham biscuits, watermelon rind pickles, and deviled eggs.”

“I love my mom. My mom is the best. I mean, so is yours . . . but mine especially.”

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