When I think of home growing up, it isn’t a place, but experiences. My family was a close-knit one in that my Grandparents, my mother’s parents and my father’s dad, were friends. Perhaps it was because my Grandmother Nunnally had passed before I was born, the Nunnally families and the Geddie families often spent holidays together. Home was the knowledge that folks loved you and loved each other…pretty imperfectly at times…but consistently.
Mother’s Day, really any holiday, was about honoring the person named that holiday. It was about gathering and creating a celebration of thanksgiving that we had such a person in our lives. Our family believes the table is the center of every celebration and having been raised in the South, food is our love language. Family gatherings would begin long before the appointed day. As a little girl I was fascinated with how my own mother would begin several days before a holiday was to begin by laying out the table protection pads, then a muslin table cloth, then the linen table cloth.
As a little girl I knew the joy of seeing my Aunt Jean and my mother iron all the linens and clothes, first laundering them and putting them damp on a top shelf in the refrigerator so that she could iron them crisp. Then to see the ironing board out and be the appointed one to hold the ends up of the long long table linens like a bridal train as each part of the very long rectangle was ironed. The holding of the cloth was a high honor for a little hand. It usually involved having a fine bubble bath before the process began and fingernails scrubbed and hair just so. There was a ceremony to preparing to be “a lady” and helping Mom with such tasks. Most other times I might be found outside playing mudpies or baseball with a generous amount of said mudpies on my person.
There’s a family story about how my father took the boys and me to the local drug store to pick up something special for Mom for Mother’s day. Apparently, my older brother was just as good at finances as he is today and found the best hairnet the little store had to offer, which coincidentally was also the least expensive of the options for Mom, preserving a significant windfall for his own pocket. I bet it was the best hairnet given on Mother’s Day. ..not that Mom would have ever let on that she wasn’t delighted. The delight maybe that she enjoyed the story for the next sixty years each year.
Setting the table at such days was done typically two to three days before an actual event. The linens now pressed and hung on the table properly for a few days had become so straight and pristine that the china begged to be sat on it. China is still one of my favorite things, for I love to set a pretty tablescape In a small town, flowers most likely come from neighbors or your own yard. Mother’s day meant that there would be an opportunity for copious amounts of fresh flowers, a blessing. As a young child Mother and I might go to the Bryans home or Winnie Williams and share whatever was blooming by Mother’s day. They would share irises, daffodils, roses, forsythia, or snowballs. Often there would be much ooohing and aaahing as we brought our bounty and neighbors shared theirs.
Back at home, a sink full of cool water would be run and the clippers brought out to trim the ends down to the size of the bases used. My mom particularly loved to do three vases of flowers on a long long table so that we were all in the same room. As a young child, our home had been a boarding house before us, so the dining room was long and held the table fully decked out with all leaves. After setting the table, adorning it with protectors, layers of muslin, and then linens, setting the china was akin to putting the crown on a soft pillow for a processional. After plates were carefully put in place with dessert plates, salad plates, and coffee cups and saucers, we’d return after lunch to polish the silver in the kitchen. Silver came down in a chest from the cabinet. It was like a treasure chest to me and it never failed to delight me to open it and see the silver carefully bagged in individual bags to protect from scratches and tarnish. However tarnish it did, so we handled each piece and shined it well. The boys were not allowed such important jobs (little did I know they would have passed on it if offered) and I felt right smart being trusted with such important duties.
The table would be set the night before the event and we’d go to bed early. Very often the last two days we would have been busy making pie crusts, rolls rising and gathered fresh berries or fruit from the trees. There was an expectancy at every holiday that this would be something special and we all knew it. My mom had the gift of not being frantic before holidays or events. A former home ec teacher, she had loved planning the menus, read cookbooks like best seller romance books, and loved creating a beautiful experience. We were not fancy people, in fact, a country doctor who was paid more often in kind gestures than currency. The fallacy of being a doctor in a small town is that folks assume money just flows, and it does, right to the staff, the nurses, and the payroll, and like any business, you get paid only after all the expenses are handled. In the sixties, a doctor’s wife was to set the example, do community leadership work as her career, and my mom did invest a tremendous amount of her life doing work for our communities and church. She was also a licensed professional counselor, bookkeeper for the clinic and active in United Methodist Women and the medical auxiliaries.
Early morning on the day, we’d shower Mom with coffee in bed, often leaving a mess in the kitchen in the process. She never seemed to notice, and I suspect looking back, the coffee wasn’t the best either as I made it without precise measurements, I watched her make it daily in a percolator, adding three-level spoons of coffee, so I was careful to give her three heaping full spoons of coffee wanting it to be something special and I didn’t use her little spoon, I used the Jethro Bodine spoon wanting to be generous and all. She liked dry toast, so I made that too and carried it upstairs.
The day of Mother’s Day would be a dress-up occasion. Grandmother Geddie’s home was about an hour away, but that Sunday we’d all dress up, often in newly made matching clothes (like this one Madison and the one I am wearing, Mom made), to go to church with the Geddie’s. Bless Mom’s heart, she had to get everything ready for the lunch, then get us cleaned up (usually there was a rousing game of Monopoly upstairs or war with tents of sheets) before baths while she was working. We all rose at six am when dad left for rounds at the hospital so I don’t think she ever had an early morning to herself to work on the meals or rest. We’d climb into the backseat of the car and head to church in Camden. Moms would wear a flower based on whether or not they had a Mom alive and the sermon would usually include long talks about the nobility of a Proverbs 31 bride. Meanwhile it might have been the only rest most of the wives got that day, for expectations were high for a fine meal to celebrate themselves and restaurants were few and far between.
Leaving church at the First United Methodist Church in Camden, we might stop by Kentucky Fried Chicken to add a bucket of chicken to the affair for dinner. That was often the plan for that evening’s supper, for Sunday nights were often left over nights, but chicken would mean less fuss and clean up after such a special noontime dinner.
After the hour drive home, magically the roast or casserole would be just finishing up in the oven. I thought my Mom was magic for having, like Bewitched’s star, Elizabeth Montgomery, twitched her nose to move it from the fridge to the oven while we were gone to church. It turned out it was Winnie Williams, our beloved babysitter who put it in after her own church and did it en route to her own luncheon at her house. What a kind gesture to do for a young mom with three children who had an extra hour to get home. However I didn’t know kindness until adulthood, so I just took it on faith that Mom could do anything she wanted to do….magically. I had figured this out by myself and I was right proud of knowing my mom had these capabilities, after all I had seen evidence of other such powers such as waking up to brand new dresses that seemed to make themselves in the night, rolls that rose by themselves though we cut them out of flatly rolled out dough and put them on the pan. When they came out from under her damp linen clothes they had always quadrupled insize. Smiling to myself I knew the truth…My mom was like Samantha Stevens… fancy.
The Mother’s Day meal was a sight to behold. Four to five vegetables, two meats, at least three congealed salads that would be full of sweet fruits and marshmallows. We’d all have iced water in the fancy stemmed glasses and silver would shine like a sparkler in the summer night. Dad would come in from whatever emergency had called him out, and pronounce Mom the best Mom and bride other and a short speech would be given about our Grandmothers and our own legacy to raise our children well. Heads would be bowed and hands held as prayers of thanksgiving were given (often a brother would be seeing how hard he could squeeze a hand in the meanwhile) and we’d finally be allowed to taste the faire before before us.
Mothers Day was about making the time to celebrate others. There was no fussing about “what are you going to do for me for Mother’s Day” and I don’t remember Mom ever thinking it wasn’t about her own mother, not herself. We were fortunate to have Grandmother Geddie until her nineties. Mom parted ways on the night of Valentines Day in 2005. It’s been nearly sixteen years now that I am the oldest mother in our household. We still make a special meal, though typically its gathering for brunch, not Sunday lunch the day before. In our home, now the cottage, its about adding something to the yard that we can watch grow. Each home we’ve been in, has a tree, flowers or bush added each Mother’s Day. I like to think that from Alaska to New Mexico to Texas to Arkansas to Alabama to Oklahoma we’ve added memories to every home we have lived in. This year no different as we’re adding the fragrant gardenia bushes and camellias will be added to what we think is our forever home….at least until God says it’s time to go again.There’s a long line of women doing so in my family and my youngest is doing it as well.
Mother’s Day can be a very hard thing, whether its knowing that babes are not around our earthly family table, or knowing we have buried loved ones, or that our friends or loved ones long to be a mother and are not. It’s being aware that not all mothers were healthy and many missing their children this day. I am ever aware that while I am blessed to have two birth children and two stepchildren and dozens that I have chosen to mother, there are others not present in my life this day…and chances are I’ll not see our children today for life is busy in all directions for all of us. While I personally believe that Mother’s day is a fine idea, I recognize it has become a spending event…too often of the retail persuasion…and I encourage and invite you to spend this day another way…loving on the ones who mothered you. To reach out to the teachers, to the mentors, to the friends who loved you well and love you still. That’s the best focus of this day. I don’t know about you, but there are hundreds of folks who have poured into me, and I am so very grateful for them all.
Happy Mother’s Day weekend!