Empire editorial: Mother's Day: It's not just cards and flowers

Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2007

Contrary to current, cynical wisdom, Mother's Day wasn't invented by greeting card companies looking to make a buck.

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Granted, they've made plenty of bucks since President Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mother's Day in 1914. He was trying to keep the United States out of World War I, and the idea was to have everyone show the flag, to honor moms who'd lost sons in war.

Students of recent history may see the gesture was one of those good intentions that pave the road to Hell. Good thing we haven't reached the end of the road. Too bad we're still on it.

But at least we have Mother's Day.

The author of America's first "Mother's Day Proclamation" would have probably approved of Wilson's sentiments, although there's no doubt she would have been appalled at the carnage that's ensued since 1914.

Here are a few of the things Julia Ward Howe wrote in her proclamation of 1870:

• We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies;

• Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice;

• Blood does not wipe out our dishonor, nor does violence indicate possession;

• Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience ...

Those aren't the only off-the-wall ideas Howe came up with.

She called for an international women's congress to promote "the alliance of different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace."

A sort of feminine U.N.

Oh, she thought women should be able to vote, too.

For most of us, Mother's Day is a pretty personal occasion: a bittersweet day for those whose moms have passed on; a happy one for those who can still make her breakfast, take her to dinner, regale her with flowers, reminisce about when we were all younger and cuter - or not.

Some of us were ornery little brats who tried her patience, which, often as not, turned out to be infinite. Loving sentiments, all. Howe would probably be gratified.

But one can only imagine what she'd think of today's boot-camp marching song:

If I die in a combat zone,

Put me in a box and send me home.

Lay my medals on my chest.

Tell my mom I did my best.

Mothers are no longer regarded as members the "fair" and "gentle" sex. They not only lose sons in combat these days, they lose daughters, too. Mothers in the wrong place at the wrong time are losing their own lives.

Nor do dads have a monopoly on bellicosity.

Howe, for all her pacifistic reputation, coined fighting words that are better remembered than her Mother's Day manifesto: a battle hymn about the grapes of wrath and a terrible swift sword; about dying to make people free.

Motherhood and Mother's Day are a lot more complicated than flowers and cards. Those of us who can keep it simple and sweet are the lucky ones, especially if we can still give Mom a hug and say thanks.

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