Like fine wine, Mother’s Day grows sweeter with time

Mother’s Day used to make me uncomfortable, if not downright irritated. Convinced that it was simply a conspiracy among florists and greeting card companies to boost their sales, I told my six children many years ago, do NOT get me anything for Mother’s Day. I’ve since changed my mind, maybe because one year I didn’t get any Mother’s Day cards.

Prior to that epiphany, though, Mother’s Day had been what my children called a “mixed bag” of emotions, agonizing visits, and burned scrambled eggs. My mother had died just shy of my fifth birthday, old enough that I was blessed with countless vivid memories of her and young enough that a subterranean grief clogged my growth.

After her death, my father immediately trolled for a replacement to care for his three bereaved children, a three-year-old and a 12-year-old, in addition to me. He tapped a former girlfriend of his, a 40-year-old paralegal who lived in Missouri and looked like a red-headed Marilyn Monroe. To our friends’ and neighbors’ amazement, she married him within months and moved into our Homestead home.

Though she had been raised in the Ozark Mountains, she found our life among snakes, palmetto bugs and spiders on the Everglades fringe too untamed for a sophisticate, and coupled with my father’s growing alcoholism, which she found was too much for her, she left after only a few years. Undaunted and aided by consummate charm, he continued to provide stepmothers, so by the time I was a mother myself, I had five living stepmothers and a too-long list of Mother’s Day cards and presents to buy each May.

I probably did not need to buy cards for all of them, but, somehow, it seemed to me that my stepmothers should receive at least a token acknowledgment of their fortitude. Standing in line with six cards—another one for my mother-in-law—after spending a minimum of an hour seeking the verbiage that matched each woman most certainly fueled my disapproval of greeting card companies.

The obligatory visits to my mother-in-law, who pointedly displayed her gifts on the kitchen table in descending order of value, and to the one stepmother within driving distance, who reacted without humor when one of my children would invariably address her with another stepmother’s name, added significantly to the day’s overall discomfort.

My own children toted home from school each May hand-crafted cards and gifts that I still have, still treasure. Then their teachers discovered mimeograph machines that printed mass versions of the same design, which their students had only to color. Abruptly, all my cards looked alike.

My two daughters reacted by convincing their father to cook breakfast on Mother’s Day Sundays, so they could “do something special” for me. I would lie in bed upstairs, the bacon’s aroma teasing my stomach, listening to their father bark orders. “Get me the eggs. Where’s the frying pan? Quick, get me a plate.”

The glow from their grinning faces as they “woke” me to present a tray of food, a cup of orange juice and a freshly picked azalea bloom remains with me decades later. The bacon never made it upstairs, only the eggs, which I’d prefer to forget. They looked as if they’d been whipped into pea-sized construction debris in shades of gravel brown. They were cold and rubbery. My children would pile onto the bed around me, within inches of the tray, to watch me savor my special meal…one…slow…bite at a time.

These days, my daughters get their own “breakfast” in bed, and my sons occasionally heed their children’s pleas to be Mother’s Day chef, but they know how to scramble eggs—probably my best legacy to them and to their wives. The most amazing change, though, is the anticipation that now accompanies me on my walks to the mailbox in May. The odds are good—at least one in six—that inside will be a Mother’s Day greeting card awaiting me.