Books Bygone: “To Mother with Love, Mary and Bill”
Despite popular belief, Mother’s Day was not cooked up by a greeting card company. On May 9, 1914 President Wilson, following the adoption of a congressional resolution, proclaimed that the second Sunday in May be celebrated as Mother’s Day. He called upon government officials to fly the American flag on all government buildings, and asked that Americans display the flag at home as “a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.” The idea had originated some years earlier in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). This bit of background comes by way of an old favorite, “Anniversaries and Holidays: A Calendar of Days and How to Observe Them” (1928). Though not the subject of this essay, if you ever come across “Anniversaries and Holidays”-- which was written primarily for librarians and teachers— add it to your home library.
Concluding a list of supplemental materials on Mother’s Day, the author notes, “There have been many poems written in praise of and in memory of ‘My mother’.” Wouldn’t you know, I just happen to have a collection of poems and prose about Mother: “Far Above Rubies: My Mother” compiled by Mary W. Lightfoot (1970). Lightfoot begins the collection with lines from Proverbs “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies” (31:10-12). “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her” (31:28).
This short book is divided into three sections, Abiding Love, Lasting Influence, and Gratitude, and each has selections that will pull at your heartstrings, and make you laugh. For example, a story titled “The Door to the Heart” tells of a young woman who left her widowed mother for a “gay and dissolute life in a big city.” The mother prays she will return home someday and after many months she does! She returns in the middle of the night to find the door to her mother’s home unlocked. She asks why it had been left open “this late at night.” To which the mother replied that she’d not locked it since the daughter went away “so that no matter the day or the hour you might know you were welcome to enter at once.”
Here’s a funny story. Two women are sitting on a bench. The one’s three children “gleefully tumbled and cavorted while the other woman, who was childless, looked on and said: ‘I would give ten years of my life to have such wonderful children.’ After a moment’s reflection, the mother said, ‘Yes, three children cost just about that’.”
The poetry selections are likewise sentimental and lovely. Edgar Allen Poe’s “To My Mother” was written for his mother-in-law! “But you,” he says, “are mother to the one I love so dearly… .” There’s another by Alice Allen comparing … well, Alice says it better that I: “Her heart is like her garden, Old-fashioned, quaint and sweet, With here a wealth of blossom, And there a still retreat.”
There is something about this book—this particular book on my desk right now—that I find sad. Clearly it was marketed—no doubt in a greeting card store—especially for Mother’s Day. A corner of the title page has lines for “To,” “From,” and “Date.” This particular book is “To Mother with Love, Mary and Bill, May 14, 1972.” It’s in beautiful cursive handwriting with flourishes on the “Ms” in Mother, Mary, and May. Tucked away inside the pages is a little piece of light blue paper with pasted-on cut-out yellow flowers and another pasted-on smaller piece of paper on which is again written “To: Mother. From Mary & Bill.” Between the beautiful handwriting and the childlike decoration, I can’t figure out how old Mary and Bill might have been when they gave this book to their mother. Nor do I know how this book (and the corresponding one from Mary & Bill to “Our Daddy”) found its way to a junk store. I just can’t imagine Mary & Bill not wanting to pass this book bygone on to their children. Can you?
“Anniversaries and Holidays: A Calendar of Days and How to Observe Them.” Mary Emogene Hazeltine. American Library Association, Chicago. 1928. Available at MSU Mitchell Memorial, West Point, and Aberdeen libraries and at online booksellers.
“Far Above Rubies: My Mother.” Mary W. Lightfoot, ed. The World Publishing Company, New York. 1970. Available at online booksellers.