This Sunday, May 10, Americans will spend almost thirty billion dollars’ worth of gifts for mothers nationwide. Eighty percent of these purchases will be Mother’s Day cards.
Before her passing Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother’s Day, made her feelings about these cards quite clear, "A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world."
Despite this . . . sentiment . . . the holiday will go on as it has since 1914.
It was first introduced to congress in 1880 but stalled in the senate. One senator derisively remarked: "Might as well have a Father’s Day . . .or a Mother's-in-Law Day."
All the cynicism aside, we’ll still be proud to take a day and pay homage to the women who made us so much of what we are today. But what about our nation’s first Mother?
How should we honor her? How should we honor them?
One hundred and twenty five years before the first official Mother’s Day, on Aug. 26, 1789, an elderly woman at the much advanced age of 80-plus years lay dying of breast cancer. The remarkable mother of six was buried in a grave that’s missing to this very day.
We don’t even know where the mother of George Washington is buried.
Can you imagine that? Mary Ball Washington, the woman who molded and guided the father of our country, George Washington; an important woman in American history in her own right, as well. Her unmarked grave has laid undisturbed and undiscovered for over 230 years.
Maybe that’s the way Mary wanted it.
Some think she was buried near Meditation Rock, a large outcropping of stone not far from her home in Fredericksburg, Virginia where she used to go with her Bible to be alone and contemplate.
So few of her letters survived, but those that did, show that she had a fine hand, handled the King’s English with style and grace, and was well-read, though mostly in religious books.
Reading in those days was more varied than people today can imagine, but for some it was confined to religious tracts or the practical, such as primitive medical home remedies.
Mary Ball Washington was, in many ways, like all of our mothers, more June Cleaver than Joan Crawford. Warm and caring, thoughtful, but also reserved and tough; sometimes a taskmaster.
After her passing, Washington said of Mary, "The honorable mention which is made of my reverend Mother; by whose Maternal hand (early deprived by a Father) I was led from Childhood." As Shakespeare said in Henry V, "And all my mother came into mine eyes And gave me up to tears."
They fought, gently, she probably drove him to distraction, sometimes, yet Washington always knew he owed everything to this remarkable woman. But I only found this out while researching and writing my newest book, "Mary Ball Washington: The Untold Story of George Washington’s Mother."
(Image used with the express permission of the author)
The hand that rocked the cradle ruled the world indeed.
Washington went on to defeat the greatest military superpower in the world. Leading an often ragtag band of underpaid, underfed band of brothers held together by a single idea and led by a single man.
And when his work was almost done, he laid down his sword and went back to Mt. Vernon, back to the life of a planter and farmer.
King George III, when told that Washington had surrendered power, at the peak of his powers, Cincinnatus-style, remarked if true, "Washington will be regarded as the greatest man in the world."
Washington’s father died while his son was a young man. There were no constant, strong male figures in his formative years. Surely he learned all these marvelous qualities — honor, integrity, patriotism, humor, faith, loyalty, courage, leadership — from the one constant in his life: His mother.
Few mothers, I imagine, wish the worse for their child.
The vast majority wants the best and will sacrifice so the child does not go without. And then, sends that child off into the world with smiles and tears.
For many years, a myth abounded that Mary was nasty, even cruel.
No, but she was tough.
She had to be. She was a single woman raising six children in a century not very hospitable to women. They did not have the right to vote, as all know, but in many cases, they could not even own property. Their job was to take the property left behind by their deceased husbands and act as caretaker until their eldest son grew to the age of majority.
This Mother’s Day, while honoring our own mothers (and yes, wives), perhaps we should take a moment to honor our nation's First Mother as well. This strong-willed, yet also genteel woman whose kindness, assertiveness, patience, and love molded the man who would set our nation free.
You need not send flowers or a card.
Until the day we find and can honor her, at her place of rest, a simple warm thought will suffice for this woman, who, had it not been for her, we would not live in the country we do today.
And while you are at it, thank your mother.
It's on her shoulders you stood and stand today.
Craig Shirley is a Ronald Reagan biographer and presidential historian. His books include, “Reagan’s Revolution, The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started it All,” “Rendezvous with Destiny, Ronald Reagan and the Campaign that Changed America,” "Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years," and “ Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan." He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller, “December, 1941” and his new 2019 book, “Mary Ball Washington,” a definitive biography of George Washington’s mother. Shirley lectures frequently at the Reagan Library and the Reagan Ranch. He has been named the First Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, Ronald Reagan’s alma mater and will teach a class this fall at the University of Virginia on Reagan. He appears regularly on Newsmax TV, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN. Read Craig Shirley's Reports — More Here.
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