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Moms through time

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M is for the million things she gave me.

Yup, it's that time again. In the hustle and bustle of the end of the Season With No Beginning, it's easy to lose track of Mother's Day. Mother's Day doesn't have a fixed date. It isn't as nebulous as, say, Easter, which seems to float between late March and late April and is, therefore, the Holiday You're Most Likely to Lose Track Of, but it has a tendency to sneak up on us. Second Sunday in May — except after C or something like that — fails to fix it in the flotsam of consciousness as well as, for example, Cinco de Mayo, Tuesday's Mexican celebration of mayonnaise which always follows Quatro de Mayo, the Mexican celebration of quarter barbecue chicken to go.

This year, what with the Bike Park and golf courses opening during the best skiing of the season, it's both excusable and understandable that many of us will miss Mother's Day. Naturally this means Mother's Day cards will be arriving at mailboxes everywhere well into the middle of the month and possibly as late as Father's Day, the date of which I haven't a clue.

O means only that she's growing old.

In the pantheon of things to celebrate, mothers are a no-brainer. Mothers have been celebrated since Pagan times. This is probably puzzling to those of you who are convinced we still live in Pagan times and, if pressed, I couldn't tell you exactly when Pagan times were or, if pressed further, if Pagan times wasn't actually the name of a newspaper as opposed to an historical epoch. But in a world where we measure things by comparing their size to football fields — and none of the three fields something called football is played on are the same size — cut me some slack already. Mother's Day has been around a very, very long time.

As long, in fact, as the Ancient Greeks, who invented everything it seems except Saran Wrap. The very first celebrations in honour of mothers were held in the spring in Ancient Greece, a time of year when the Greeks weren't celebrating much of anything other than spring lamb with mint sauce. The Greeks paid tribute to Rhea, the Mother of the Formaldehyde, who begot Naugahyde, who begot the twins Tuck & Roll, Patron Saints of hot-rodders everywhere. As so many things ancient and Greek, it is lost to antiquity exactly how the Greeks celebrated motherhood, but rumour has it there was definitely a tie-in with the whole spring lamb thing, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, what happens in the pasture stays in the pasture.

T is for the tears she shed to save me.

In the years between the Ancient Greeks and the Pre-Thomas Crapper English, no one celebrated Mother's Day. With all the attention being paid to the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the Dark Ages, the Crusades, bubonic plague, what have you, mothers everywhere got short shrift.

There was even a period of several centuries when men — whose natural place in the scheme of things was to promulgate explanations for everything, regardless of their lack of understanding — were so out of touch with what women did on a day-to-day basis, no one except other women actually knew where babies came from. This was the historical period know as Stork Days, named for men's popular conceptions of how babies managed to arrive at their houses on a regular basis. Women, knowing men wouldn't believe them if they were told how things really worked, kept them in the dark and let them go about the business of laying waste to the world.

H is for her heart of purest gold.

When men had matured enough — as if — to be let in on the secret of childbirth, it became popular once again to celebrate Mother's Day. Mothering Sunday was celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent, its floating nature cast in quicksand forever. Since Lent was the sadistic celebration of guilt, penance and fasting, England's upper class, addled by inbreeding, lackadaisical servants and poor dental hygiene, went along with this plan. In an uncharacteristic act of noblesse oblige, wealthy Brits gave their serfs the day off to celebrate their mamas with song, celebrations and something called mothering cakes, a confection made of boiled grains, floor sweepings, sugar and molasses. It was during these early years that mothers everywhere popularized the phrase, "But you shouldn't have."

Despite bad food, the popularity of Mothering Sunday quickly drew the attention of the power brokers of Christianity. Always quick to spoil a good party or cash in on any gift giving, the Holy Men moved to co-opt the celebration to one of honouring not only one's own mother but the Mother Church as well. Having collective memory sufficiently long to encompass the frivolities of the Inquisition, people acquiesced to this unwarranted power grab.

E is for her eyes, with love-light shining.

Like all things New World except corn, Mother's Day as we now know it in Canada was invented in the United States. The idea of celebrating Mother's Day, a day dedicated to peace, was first floated in 1872 by Julie Howe, a genteel southern woman whose Louisiana hot pepper plantation — Howe's Bayou — made it through the war relatively unscathed. Ms. Howe, whose claim to fame was penning the words to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and inadvertently giving John Steinbeck a title for a great book, failed in her efforts, possibly because she couldn't come up with another good song for the occasion.

R means right, and right she'll always be.

Anna Jarvis succeeded where Julie Howe failed and Mother's Day became a holiday filled with irony. Ms. Jarvis was, herself, a single woman and never a mother. After throwing a party to celebrate her own mama, two years dead, Ms. Jarvis agitated to have the day formally declared a holiday. In 1914, Woody Wilson, then prez, capitulated to what had become a groundswell of populism and proclaimed Mother's Day.

By 1923, Ms. Jarvis was protesting what Mother's Day had become, a manipulative, commercial celebration, tearing at the guilt and regret we all feel for never being able to repay the debt we owe our mothers. When she died in 1948, having spent her modest fortune and the last quarter-century of her life trying to put the genie back into the bottle, Ms. Jarvis was sorry she'd ever started Mother's Day. Strange, but true.

Put them all together, they spell "MOTHER," A word that means the world to me...

Especially this year. Happy Mother's Day to moms everywhere.

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