A mother is the beginning of us all.
We have that one fact in common.
"All I am I owe to my mother." Those words of the father of our country, George Washington, are echoed by other famous, infamous and ordinary people. That's because it is true to the core.
Among the famous with similar sentiments are presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, poet Maya Angelou, writer Washington Irving, actress Merle Streep, media guru Oprah Winfrey, and the list goes on and on, for it seems most everyone has something to say about mothers.
Among my favorites is comedian Milton Berle, who observed, "If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands?"
Among the not so famous is murderous outlaw James Copeland, who thieved his way across South Mississippi and blamed his "rascality" on his mother. Even the Third Reich dictator Adolph Hitler wrote a touching poem about mothers.
People like us
Among the "ordinary," if there truly can be such a designation, are people like you and me.
Quite simply, all I am yesterday, today and tomorrow I owe to both my mother and father who inspired, encouraged, steered, set examples, cajoled and scolded but always loved unconditionally. Because today is Mother's Day the spotlight is on the feminine half of parenthood, so let's consider the old Jewish proverb, "God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers."
Who began this commemoration?
Behind each of our own stories is our mother's story. These are not always perfect stories, or necessarily loving stories, but the overwhelming majority are. That is the wonder of it all. That is why Mother's Day became one of the first commemorative days in American history, following 131 years after our first Independence Day celebration.
Anna Jarvis, a West Virginia native, is credited with the idea of a nationally recognized Mother's Day in this country. The first observation was in one church in 1908, followed in 1914 by President Woodrow Wilson declaring a national holiday to honor all mothers.
"Mother's Day, the second Sunday in May, will be celebrated this year in every section of the United States," this newspaper reported in 1909 in what is likely the first local mention of Jarvis' creation.
Jarvis herself would later rue the commercialization of Mother's Day, but no amount of guilt-fed sales, no proliferation of advertising, no overload of media spotlights on motherhood can diminish the influence our mothers had on us from Day 1. Even those long gone continue to grip our hearts.
So on this Mother's Day I choose to study an old, faded black-and-white photograph of my mother, who died of colon cancer 17 years ago. For years afterward, I continued to reach for the phone to call, to ask her a question, a piece of advice, to tell a story. Cotton Bergeron was my guide through life.
Surprisingly, she did not try to discourage me, when in my mid-20s, I informed her I was selling everything I owned so I could a trek across Asia. Later, Mom admitted she'd have liked to have gone, too, but in my independent and ignorant youth, I didn't think to ask.
Each mom has a story
My Mom was widowed at 40, left with four children aged 4 to 16 to raise on her own. How she managed on a military widow's pension is an amazing story in itself. She made the difficult decision to live frugally rather than leave us home alone if she were to tackle the underpaid world of working women of that era.
Determination that her offspring would go to college was another unthinkable feat, considering family finances. But it was never "if you go to college," it was "when you go." The three older siblings took on summer jobs while most peer teenagers played.
The family again faced loss when brother Richard, while in college, was diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor. Mom's "just take one day at a time" philosophy saw us again through three years of a cancer fight, a time when she took up commercial fishing to pay for Richard's medical expenses.
A protective tigress
In reflection, I realize Mom was a protective tigress who taught her cubs independence for the day we'd leave the family pride. She wasn't perfect, certainly neither were we, but she nurtured a family unity that remains to this day.
Once her cubs could venture out on their own, Mom returned to college, which she'd quit years earlier to join the Navy as a World War II Wave. This Pennsylvania Protestant married a Catholic Louisiana Cajun within weeks of meeting him at Pensacola Naval Air Station at the end of the war. The babies started coming and she settled into the duties of a young military wife.
We are our mothers
As I study this old photo of Mom, taken shortly before or after marriage, I see my own family resemblances. I have her Murray nose and thick hair. In the photo, she sits astride a horse, smiling in that secret way of hers, a young woman with a life of family love and challenges yet to unfold.
How lucky I am to claim her as my Mom.
Ignore the commercialization and over-hype on this special day. Use this Mother's Day for reflection, remembrance and appreciation. No matter our age at this moment in time, our mothers brought us kicking and screaming into this world, and they tried their darndest to tame us.
Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or c/o Sun Herald Newsroom, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.