1952. Lincoln Park, Michigan. People from all over the country and from all over the world lived there. The fathers, drawn by the opportunity to work in the automobile factories or the huge plants that supplied them with steel and thousands of car parts, worked hard through their various shifts. The mothers generally stayed at home to cook, clean, and raise kids. The men and women worked hard during the week, partied on Friday and Saturday nights, and took their kids to church Sunday morning.
One Sunday in May, Mother’s Day to be exact, my sister Sheila came home from spending the night with her friend Jane and announced she was going to go to church with her and her family. I begged to tag along. Sheila said, “Okay. Hurry up and get dressed.”
A huge crowd filled the sanctuary. We had to sit in the balcony, but we were lucky enough to get seats in the front row. This was back in the day when businesses, that could afford it, advertised they had air conditioning. Signs on their doors proclaimed, “It’s Kool Inside!” The church had no such sign on its gothic revival door. The heat from all those bodies crammed inside and from the many lighted candles rose to the rafters, carrying with it the scent from the dozens of floral bouquets that decorated the altar. It was hot in the balcony. My hat and gloves made me even hotter, but taking them off was unthinkable. I wished we would go, but that was unthinkable, too.
I folded my arms on the railing and rested my head on them. I looked at the congregation, noticing how many “old” ladies were present. The preacher mentioned them and said a special bus from a retirement home brought them to this service. He asked the women to stand. Everyone gave them a nice round of applause. Then he launched into his sermon, which was about Mary and mothers and their sometimes painful sacrifices. I struggled not to fall asleep.
The next thing I knew, Jane tapped me on my shoulder and said, “Do you want to go?”
I thought, Thank God and followed her and my sister toward the aisle. No easy matter since we had to climb over feet and dodge around knees. No one else got up to leave. I thought, that was odd. The three of us didn’t go out the door. Instead, we walked right up the center aisle of the church. When we reached the altar, Jane turned around to face the congregation. Sheila and I did the same. I had no idea what was going on.
The preacher asked if there were any mothers or grandmothers in the congregation who didn’t have a son or daughter who would be coming to visit them that day to give them a special Mother’s Day hug. The women with their hands up, were invited to come forward. They were paired with one of the kids. My memory of my “mother” includes white hair and a blue suit. As instructed, I wished her a happy Mother’s Day and gave her a big hug. The preacher then asked the kids to promise the’d remember to wish our “mother” a happy Mother’s Day every year hence forth and to mentally send her a hug. The “mothers” promised to remember every Mother’s Day that there was a child sending a special hug to them.
I was nothing if not an obedient child. So much so, that I kept my promise for years I often wondered if my “mother” remembered to remember. I could only hope so. I’m also a bit slow on the uptake. It wasn’t until I was a mother myself and my children were about ten years old, three decades after my experience in the church, that I woke up and wished my “mother” a happy Mother’s Day, sent her a mental hug, and then realized there was a good chance, that she had died. I sat up and blinked furiously to keep back tears. All told, the white haired woman dressed in her blue suit probably occupied about a half an hour of my conscious time – out of three decades! Yet I mourned her. And I was going to miss my little private ritual.
Then I thought why? Why not continue to wish her a happy Mother’s Day and send her a hug? Where ever she might be. And why limit myself just to one mother who didn’t have a child close by to give her a hug? Why not send out Mother’s Day greetings and mental hugs to all mothers? You can laugh if you like, but it was a cosmic moment for me. I was happy I could continue my little private, if somewhat altered, ritual.
So, another thirty years has gone by. I told you I was slow on the uptake. I figure it’s pointless to keep my ritual private. So, here’s to all you mothers who don’t have a child near by to give you a Mother’s Day hug. And here’s to my own mother, who is beyond my physical reach now.
To each and every one of you, I say “HAPPY MOTHER!S DAY!”