Mother's Day.

I miss my mother, who passed away several years ago at the ripe old age of 80. I wish she was here so I could give her a hug and tell her how glad I am she’s my mom, so I could share with her what’s growing in my garden, and show her the latest item I’m knitting, crocheting or sewing. My mom (and dad, of course) raised ten children, of which brood I am the youngest. How they managed that on a shoestring without losing their minds completely I’ll never know! Despite many battles during my teenage years, we luckily ended up with a very close, loving relationship. Dad speaks so tenderly of his courtship with mom when they were at art school together in Chicago. Here they are all dressed up for a date -- just a simple date! Doesn't mom look glowing and beautiful?

Now, lest you think Mother’s Day is simply a “Hallmark holiday” designed to swell Sunday brunch lines and peddle flowers, jewelry, cards and gifts, the truth is quite different. Mother’s Day started as an effort to promote peace, as envisioned by two mothers raising their families during the Civil War. Julia Ward Howe -- a women’s suffrage and abolition activist who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” (here’s a nice audio version of it) -- is one of two women credited for starting Mother’s Day. Troubled by too much war -- first the American Civil War, and next the Franco-Prussian war -- she puzzled over man’s continued compulsion to use violence to resolve conflict. In her memoir, Reminiscences, 1819-1899, she wrote, “Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters, to prevent the waste of human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?” Howe’s “Appeal to Womanhood,” also known as the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” was intended to unite women against war and draw them into a crusade for peace. Her Mother’s Day was celebrated on June 2 for almost 40 years.

More than a decade earlier, a rural northern Virginia minister’s wife named
Ann Jarvis also united mothers in the name of community and peace. Around 1858 she started “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” -- groups of women who worked locally to help prevent the spread of disease by improving sanitary conditions, and who assisted families of mothers suffering from tuberculosis. At the onset of the Civil War, her clubs helped raise money for much-needed medicines, conducted food inspections to guard against contamination, and tended both Union and Confederate soldiers sick with typhoid fever. She created “Mother’s Friendship Day” to ease post-war tensions, and create a sense of peace and unity between Union and Confederate woman. Her wish for “a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life” came to fruition in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother’s Day a national holiday. Ann's daughter, Anna (pictured below right, next to her mother) rallied for years until she was virtually destitute to help grant her mother's wish. Ironically, Anna Jarvis never married or had children, but clearly she was devoted to her mother!
I am humbled by the work of these women, which goes far beyond what I have presented in these few paragraphs. Each felt deeply the importance and necessity of peace in the world, having experienced directly its violent opposite in their homeland. Each understood the unique position women are in as traditional nurturers to help bring about peace. Each endured the hardship of war, disease, unsanitary living conditions and social disapproval to work (peacefully) for peace, to help others live better lives -- to help them simply live. Mother’s Day is built on a firm foundation of faith, integrity, sweat and compassion, not greeting cards and chocolates.

I miss phoning my mom on this day to say, "I love you, mom!" I miss the joy of receiving sweet handmade treasures from my own son (who, incidentally, gave me a hug this morning AND is in the kitchen
making me breakfast!). I appreciate the tulips and reassurances that I’m a good mother that I get from my husband. But since Mother’s Day has “real” -- not commercial -- beginnings as an effort toward peace, I need to figure out how to honor the women who began the day. While I’m working on that, I’m going sip my favorite kiwi pear green tea, enjoy the crunchy stuffed french toast being prepared for me by my two favorite guys, plant some Joseph's Coat climbing roses (oh I hope mine grow as beautifully!) in the front garden, go for a bike ride, and nurture peace and love in my own home.
Green tea on mother's day morning