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Mother’s Day / Motherless Day

BY SHERRON WESTERFIELD

Community columnist

When I was a child women wore flowers or corsages to church on special occasions. I’m sure many do today, especially among the ladies of my mother’s generation. On Mother’s Day it was (is?) the custom to wear a red carnation if one’s mother was living and a white carnation if she was not.

I was only 8 years old when my maternal grandmother died, an event that deeply saddened and changed my young mother. As a gesture of daughterly compassion I took it upon myself to make sure that ever after Mother had a white carnation among her other flowers on Mother’s Day. That single flower was my unspoken acknowledgment of my grandmother’s absence on a day I knew her daughter was missing her very much.

Before I had money of my own to spend I picked wildflowers for Mother or went begging to neighbors for pretty blossoms from their carefully tended flower beds. I took great pains to make abundant bouquets, huge corsages, or dainty nosegays for her. And, I was always so pleased with her happy response to my clumsy but sincere efforts that it’s a wonder I did not become a florist when I grew up.

Through the years my four younger brothers and I managed to see to it that Mother had flowers on all the holidays, and we often gave her flowers for no reason other than to say “we love you.” Before returning home to Kentucky in 1996 Mother lived in Texas for many years and became especially fond of the yellow roses of country music fame.

I always had a single red carnation or rose on Mother’s Day, as did most of my contemporaries. On Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 9, I will be wearing a white carnation. For me, as it is for so many others I’ve met as I speed past 75, Sunday is Motherless Day. A day for us to reflect on all the sweet and loving things our mothers did for us. A day to forgive our mothers for having done the best they knew how at the time. Although we may have criticized them then, now it is easier for us to understand their actions in the revealing light of knowledge and experience.

Sunday is a day for us motherless folks to honor our deceased mothers in ways that are individually meaningful. Perhaps we will prepare her favorite food or go somewhere she especially liked. We could share stories about our mothers at Sunday dinner — stories about something she did that was so darned funny. Stories about her courage in the face of adversity. Stories about things she taught us that we carry within us today. We can no longer give her flowers and see her broad smile of appreciation and joy, but we could take flowers to decorate her grave in loving devotion and remembrance.

That Sunday will also be my 29th Mother’s Day since my only child died of burns he suffered in a crash caused by a drunken truck driver. Time has eased the breath-stealing pain in my heart created by the absence of my son in my life. But Mother’s Day remains a cruel reminder of my loss. For 30 years I was Mommy, then Mother, and finally Mom. I was “Rick’s Mom.” Now those words are mere echoes in my dreams and in the far corners of my mind.

In the grocery, at the drug store, in Walmart, I pass racks of colorful greeting cards and invariably my eyes fall upon a beautiful one that says “Happy Mother’s Day From Your Son” or “For a Dear Mother on Mother’s Day” and my breath catches in my throat. It is difficult for me to accept the fact that cards such as those are for other people, not for me.

When I sorted through my mother’s belongings after she passed I found nearly every card my brothers and I had ever given her. Each one was precious enough to her that she saved it. I have every card my son ever made or bought for me. Like my mother must have done, in quiet moments I take them out of their box and read them one by one. I am able to recall in vivid detail the age my son was when he gave me each card and in my mind’s eye I can see his beautiful smiling face.

On Mother’s Day when Rick was 12, he woke me early with a breakfast tray of orange juice, coffee, and toast. He had neatly arranged white seashells and sand dollars, things we both loved, on the tray along with a fistful of buttery daffodils in a tall glass and a homemade card with sparkles glued on it. How he beamed with pride as he carefully carried that tray to my bed. I remain thankful he never outgrew the delightfully sweet way he had of showing he loved me.

This Mother’s Day, as furniture stores, groceries, car dealers and other merchants shout their “Mother’s Day Specials” from newspapers, magazines, and television ads, I’ll quietly make some “killer” brownies like my son loved. And I’ll plant a yellow rose bush in memory of my mother. On Sunday I’ll be wearing a white carnation. What color will your flower be?

Sherron Westerfield is a freelance writer residing in Danville

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