The Saratoga Sun -

The Magic of Mom


The modern holiday of Mother's Day in the U.S. was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at St. Andrew's Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. Jarvis wanted to honor her mother who was a peace activist. Efforts by Jarvis, had all US states observing the holiday by 1911, with some states officially recognizing Mother's Day as a local holiday.

In 1914, Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother's Day, held the second Sunday in May, as a national holiday to honor mothers.

Jarvis specifically noted “Mother's” should be a singular possessive, for each family to honor its own mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world when writing out the holiday.

Makes sense.

That is the extent of my official knowledge of Mother’s Day.

As an aside, I think all mothers are peace keepers if they have more than one child. I love my sister unabashedly and we did not fight a lot growing up, but when we did . . . I am glad someone was there to intervene.

My mother was the person who made me believe in the magic of the world. Sometimes it was fantasy, like when she would point out crevices in boulders telling me that was where the “wee folk” lived.

She also explained the art of how the real world worked.

One of my earliest memories of something she said when I was around eight or nine that has stayed with me for life: You should never judge someone on what they looked like on the outside, but what was inside.

It was the first of many wise sayings she told me over the years.

My favorite, if I can say I have one would be: “Life is not a dress rehearsal. You don’t get to go back and do it over again.”

I cannot begin to count this saying as my justification to try latest trends, go to foreign places and make myself uncomfortable by doing something new and strange, all because her words echo in my mind.

I remember a time when I was in junior high and somebody said something that upset me. I cannot remember what the comment was, but I do recall exactly what my mother said when I told her.

“Mike, hurtful words are like when you get dog poo on your shoes. It smells bad for the moment, but it always washes off and shoes go back to normal.”

That saying had much more impact than the proverbial “stick and stones”.

My mother was raised in the deep South, so it should be no surprise she is the one who first told me, “You attract more bees with honey than vinegar.”

That little saying has been applied more than I’d like to admit when I lived overseas dealing with banks, immigration officers and bureaucratic agencies. Getting angry thinking the person a major doofus seldom accomplished any goal I wanted to achieve.

My mother was a girl from Alabama, who went to university for a couple years, married young and had a child (me) by age 22 and another (sister) by 24. She was not a stay at home mom, instead working for NASA. She worked in the public relations section and was the person who took Prince Phillip from England on the tour of Houston Spacecraft Center. I have a picture of her two people away from President John Kennedy while he was touring the center. She told me she was actually escorting Alan Shepard’s parents when they all ran into each other. It is a great picture.

Her exposure to this world of celebrities had her say something enlightening that became pivotal with how I deal with people to this day.

In my early 20s, I was working for the political newsletter, The Baron Report. Our office was in the National Journal and I was around famous political commentators and quite a few politicians. Alan Baron, at that time was considered one of the premier political analysts who was invited to many “power” parties. We were not a large staff, so it was not uncommon for all employees of the Baron Report to get to go to some of these swanky affairs.

So when I got to go to Ted Kennedy’s house in Great Falls, Virginia, I was excited. I was the youngest person there out of about 40 guests. I was in awe of his place. There is no use describing it here, but boy did I tell my mother everything. I will never forget her words after I had just been exclaiming about seeing the Grateful Dead on Kennedy’s stereo (no it wasn’t playing any time that night).

I should also mention my mother does not often use curse words.

“Mike, I think it is great you got to go this party and that you got meet a lot of famous people. I don’t want to take away from that, but I think you should remember, that when Ted Kennedy goes to the bathroom, he s**** just like everyone else.”

The best part was how she said it so matter-of-factly in her soft southern voice.

Since then, I have met people who were famous for whatever reason and I remember what my mother said and it really does keep everything in perspective.

I also lucked out to have a mother who is one of the best bakers and cooks. Ask any friend who ever visited my home. There would always be a cake (still never tasted a better German chocolate or carrot cake), cookies and often a pie available to eat. Her spaghetti is the best. Italian sausage, hamburger, mushrooms, onions and homemade tomato sauce. Her Lasagna is damn good, too. Her fudge has won awards and is unparalleled in my opinion. Her apple dumplings are so outstanding (though time consuming because she makes the dough), that it was my birthday dinner request for years.

It is my mother who basically gave me the confidence to cook.

At age 14, the start of summer vacation, my sister and I were given chores while the folks were at work. We got paid a pretty good allowance and one of the chores was making dinner.

So the night before I was to cook dinner, my mother was pulling out the chicken and vegetables and I told her I didn’t know how to cook.

She turned from me and went over to a nearby shelf and pulled out a Betty Crocker cookbook, handed it to me and said, “If you can read, you can cook.”

That next day I made fried chicken, banana nut bread and some veggie dish and got rave reviews from the family. I always tell people my mother started me on my road to owning restaurants.

My favorite thing to look at she has saved over the years, is an article with her name in Time Magazine describing how it was her idea to pump music into the Mercury (or Gemini?) space capsules so astronauts had something to listen to. I remember it was something by Beethoven.

She obviously made an impact at her place of work.

I think my mother felt a little guilty being a working mom though, because I can remember being at a wedding when I was around 30 also attended by my mother. Besides not using curse words, my mother seldom drinks, but this event she drank three Amaretto Sours and got a bit drunk.

We were slow dancing and she looked up at me and started to cry saying, “I am sorry for being a terrible mother.”

I was stunned. I assured her she wasn’t. She cried a little more in my arms and then my wife (ex) cut in.

My mother and I have never talked about that dance since it happened.

Seems like this Mother’s Day she should be assured she was a great mother, so that is what I am going to do.

I think after reading this column you know why.


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