This is a piece written some years ago, when my mother was still alive.
WHY NOT FLOWERS AND LACE?
You know the scene. You’ve been twenty minutes at the card rack trying to find an M-Day number for Mom. It’s no sale. Everything’s too saccharine, too precious, too cutesy. You begin to wonder if it’s time for your annual worming.
The folks around you are in the same pickle. Every card on the rack has been handled twenty times. The stranger next to you says, “I’ll give to your mother if you’ll give to my mother.” You think about it seriously.
But wait, not every card’s been handled, not really, not those flowers-and-lace jobbies at the top of the rack. You know the ones I mean, the oversized ones in verse that begin, “What is a Mother?” – by Shirley Canby Stickie or Ida Soonbee Fulsome.
Too sentimental, everyone figures.
That’s the thing about Mother’s Day sentiments: they get sentimental if you don’t watch out. Gratitude, appreciation, filial affection – they’re easy to overdo, especially in verse. The ideal card, you figure, comes at them from an angle, by way of a catchy phrase, a subtle hint, a casual word or two.
Who doesn’t recall the familiar movie scene where the hard-boiled coach says to the winning athlete, “Not bad, kid.” Think of all that’s implied there: the bear hugs, the slaps on the back, the inexpressible pride. It’s all there in those few understated words, “Not bad, kid.” You don’t hear the coach reciting, “What is an Athlete?” – by Flora Framble Frickard.
So you figure, why can’t you find a Mother’s Day card that says it simply: “Not bad, Ma.” “Nice going.” “’Preciate it.”
Well, you can. They’re all over the place. They’re the cards that get handled twenty times, the ones that set your innards congealing. Funny thing, but the sappiest card turns out to be the one that tries to say it simply -- without sentiment. It’s the card you hand to Mom as you go out the door. “Oh, I almost forgot to give you this.”
I’ve figured something out. It’s not sweetness that cloys; it’s artificial sweetness. And there’s nothing quite so artificial as trying to toss off your feelings for Mom in a catchy phrase. It embarrasses both parties. And it’s a great shame, because there are cards around that won’t embarrass Mom in the slightest.
This hit me the other day while I was rummaging for something in the attic. I turned up a packet of Mother’s Day cards my wife has saved up over the years. There was a frilly creation, old and faded, right on the top.
“What is a Mom?” this card asks, and amidst flowers and bluebirds, it expands at length. Here and there, a glowing adjective is circled in coloring pencil. And at the end of the verse, there’s a row of neatly-penciled kisses.
And I guess Suzanne, my step-daughter, must have looked at this card, her pencil box still warm in her hand, and worried that the sentiments might be a bit too pale, might slip past, because she drew an arrow to the right edge, luring her mom to the back, where she wrote, in four colors, I LOVE YOU, MOM.
Looking at this card, I’m thinking how natural and right the sentiments seem. It’s marvelous how a kid can skirt the sticky-sweet. It’s the instinct kids have for saying what they really feel, I guess.
It took me about a minute this year to find a card for my own mother. It was right at the top of the rack. I think she’ll like it. It has flowers and lace.
~~ Robert Brault