The Mummy Returns
May 13, 2001
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THE annual ritual of overt deference to mothers is here again, affording guilt-ridden offspring their best chance to make amends, by pampering the lady for all to see.
To the untrained observer, it might appear that for the rest of the year, mummy had been on the list of missing persons and the startling discovery that she is still alive inspired these gratuitous outpourings of affection.
Of course, mummy has been there all the while and in many cases, children provide her with appreciable support and care on an ongoing basis, including her in family matters and showing love at every opportunity.
But today offers a special facility for those among us who routinely forget to check out the old lady. It is a time when robust men feel no qualms about parading publicly with floral bouquets destined for mummy, making her breakfast, taking her out to lunch and posing for family pictures.
Gift-giving, an integral part of the tradition, is a gesture harbours a number of hidden (and potentially embarrassing) difficulties. Mummy knows how much effort you have put into the selection process.
Flowers work particularly well, because such gifts have to be ordered well in advance and therefore demonstrate thought. On the other hand, sleepwear reeks of serendipity and giving mummy a new ironing board or vacuum cleaner is really no different from presenting her with a year’s supply of scouring pads.
Happily, mothers are almost universally magnanimous and will at least pretend appreciation of any gift, while forgiving the other 364 days of neglect that often comprises the rest of her year.
There are those mothers who sneer at this day, thinking it nothing more than a token fuelled by blatantly commercial interests, but after 87 years of annual observance, Mothers Day is properly enshrined.
It was in 1914 that US President Woodrow Wilson decreed the second Sunday in May each year a national holiday in respect of American mothers.
President Wilson was responding to a lobby pursued for seven years by Anna Jarvis, a Philadelphia woman, who first persuaded a church in Grafton, West Virginia to mark the second anniversary of her mother’s death with a celebration of all mummies.
So successful was the observance that by the year following, Mothers Day was also celebrated in Philadelphia, moving Ms Jarvis to take her campaign nationwide.
The thought was not original. Since 1872, Julia Ward Howe, who wrote the words to “Battle Hymn of the Republic” suggested a Mothers Day, as a day dedicated to peace. She held annual rallies in Boston, Massachusetts, using those platforms to spread her message, borne along by religious references.
Indeed, history’s earliest mention of Mothers day was rooted in religion. There was a spring celebration in ancient Greece, in honour of Rhea, the Mother of the Gods, although it remains unclear whether participation was discretionary or decreed.
The western appreciation probably had its genesis in the Middle Ages in England. It was a time when poor folks invariably worked great distances from their homes and lived on the estates of their employers.
During the 1600’s, the Anglican Church developed a celebration called Mothering Sunday, on which day working class types were encouraged to journey home and spend the day with their mothers.
The mothering cake, specially baked and decorated to enhance the festivity, was the focal point of the day and tradition held that mummy would be offered the first slice.
Having thought up Mothering Sunday, the church soon began to feel left out of the focus, so as Christianity spread across Europe, the cause was twisted just a tad to indoctrinate converts about the Mother Church and persuade them to dedicate this special Sunday to spiritual matters.
Mothering Sunday, one of the special days of Lent, still exists in the church calendar, although no right thinking cleric is likely to tamper with the current emphasis.
The word “Mother” has however taken a beating. Street language in the US came up with an unflattering interpretation of what the boys in the ‘hood' call a “mutha”. Hollywood thought up a slew of put-downs, from the bad-news single parent at the Bates Motel and Mommie Dearest to The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.
But the essential definition of the matriarch has not been altered by these incursions. Mummy, the lady who greeted you with hot bakes and cocoa when you came in from the rain, still represents security and a level of comfort not guaranteed from any other quarter.
So, here she is again. Mummy is back in the spotlight. Do good by her this day, because she won’t be here forever and left to Hollywood, if she has to come back just so you could show some appreciation, it could be a very scary experience.
To all mothers and particularly those who are single-parents and engage in the ongoing struggle to keep their children clean and make them credits to society, happy mothers day.