Every Mother’s Day I always think of one a long time ago. At six years old, it would be many a year until I became a mother, but I was excited about doing something special for my mother. We lived in Imperial Beach just south of Coronado where my father’s ship was based. His ship had just returned from duty in a far off place called Korea so he happened to be in port that May.
On a Saturday afternoon it was a special treat for my older sister Jane and I to climb into the front seat of the bright green Studebaker and sit right next to Daddy for the ride to the Five & Dime card section. I had my heart set on a card with the most beautiful flowers. The tiny words under the picture spelled out Lilly of the Valley, but the large words at the top were in fancy, curlicue script and I couldn’t make them out.
We took so long choosing our cards that my dad grew impatient, standing there jingling the coins in his pocket, and urging us to hurry up. After we got home, we giggled when my dad pretended to sneak us into our room. He whispered, “Jane, make sure you two get the cards signed,” and we did, hers with her neat cursive and mine printed large and all in caps.
We hid our cards, Jane’s in her diary and mine under my pillow. I must have checked a dozen times, just to make sure it was still there. Early the next morning we smelled the bacon long before we found my dad in the kitchen making waffles, one of his four specialties that included hamburgers, fudge and popcorn.
Mom wasn’t able to sleep in once the little kids woke up — Mary, two, and JoeBill, one — so breakfast in bed wasn’t an option. We set the table and put a few wilted flowers in a water glass. For the final touch, we placed our cards one on either side of my mother’s plate.
My dad called out “Grub’s on the table.” Mom came in carrying JoeBill on her hip with Mary close behind her. Once she got the kids settled in their highchairs, she turned and clapped her hands in delight and proclaimed, “Oh, what pretty flowers,” then slid into her chair and professed great surprise at seeing the cards.
She opened Jane’s first and read aloud the sweet poem inside the card. But when she pulled my card out of the envelope, her hand went to her mouth and I was sure I heard her chuckle. Why would she laugh at my card? It was far prettier than my sister’s. All hers had was a blue and white teapot next to a steaming teacup and a plate of cookies.
Seeing the tears, I couldn’t hide, Mom leaned towards me, put her hand on my cheek, and said, “Oh, Pam, your card is just so beautiful. Don’t cry.” She kissed me on the forehead and I felt the lump in my throat grow lighter.
My mother died on Oct. 20, 2004. My father had been ill for some time with Parkinson’s Disease and was in a care facility. With help from some of our grown children my sisters and I spent the better part of a week cleaning and packing.
When it came time to empty Mother’s dresser, we found a packet of love letters my father had written during the war, some old photos, and a few mementoes from our childhood. There at the bottom of the stack was an old-fashioned card with a lovely painting of Lilly of the Valley. Across the top were the fancy script words “May you find comfort in this time of grief.” In spite of my sadness, I broke out laughing.