Sensing, perhaps, the lull in the middle of a Facebook “chat,” he began a cover-up, breezily adding that it was probably just his silly old memory that was at fault. Perhaps he just doesn’t remember that I have a good memory. More smiley faces and a bold “LOL.” To give him his due, he offered some reassurance by telling me I’ve never forgotten anything important.
Unless, of course, we’re talking about Mother’s Day, which I was until I remembered how I felt about finding out I have a bad memory.
As I was saying, it isn’t until after the Irish Mother’s Day has passed that reminders of the American Mother’s Day pop up in emails from Teleflora or showy Hallmark displays in the grocery store or at the carwash. I have developed a strategy to cope with this annual conundrum, outsmarting the calendar with the clever purchase of two Mother’s Day cards in May – one as a sort of consolation prize for possibly having forgotten the Irish Mother’s Day, the other for the subsequent March. It is a brilliant plan, except it rarely works, because I will put the card in a safe place i.e. lose it amongst bills and all the other papers I need for the Tax Filing Deadline Day which, naturally, is sandwiched between the two Mother’s Days (but after my birthday) along with all the aforementioned holidays that someone has kindly listed on the Greeting Card Universe website.
But because it is Mothering Sunday, I am drawn to an enduring memory of my brother and me, to a time when he had more respect for his elders. Scrubbed clean, uncomfortable in our Sunday best with all the other children, we are proceeding in a crooked line to the front of the aisle of Antrim’s All Saints Parish Church, where we will collect from a beaming Reverend Thornton a single fresh flower to give to our mother. I was going to send flowers this year, but instead opted for a gift of gourmet brownies from a company in the Cotswolds. I knew it would remind ma of a Christmas night when I baked a pan of chocolate fudge brownies while she and my dad were napping. More than that, the appeal of the Bluebasil Brownie company was in the packaging. The brownies would arrive in a brown paper package tied up with string, the kind of package that usually travels across the sea from my mother’s address to mine.
Since 1988, my mother has been sending me such packages – boxes filled with Antrim Guardian newspaper clippings about people I used to know but might not immediately remember, chocolate for my daughter, the obligatory three or four packets of Tayto cheese and onion crisps, teabags and always something for me to wear. (This last is typically something for which she paid entirely too much, and something I really don’t need, but she always dismisses it as “just-something-to-throw-on”). My husband was always intrigued by the brown wrapping paper and the string, unaware – as was I – that, by all accounts, consumer demand for my mother’s type of handiwork has gone rather mainstream. At any moment, we are but a few clicks away from the Bluebasil Brownies, artisanal gift-wrapping, jam-making and even the knitting of very complicated Aran sweaters, all of which she has practiced and perfected since childhood.
My mother’s first job was in Crawford’s shop in Castledawson. At the counter, she learned, among other things, how to wrap a tidy parcel in brown paper and string. In the way she had learned to bake and sew by watching my grandmother, she watched Jim Crawford skillfully wrap parcels for the customers. Soon she was expertly preparing packages of sweets and biscuits for those who wanted to send a taste of home to relatives across the water. Mrs. O’Connor, whose daughter was in England; Jim Crawford himself, who had devised a way to tie newspapers with string so they could be easily mailed to his relatives far away in Australia. Such newspapers travel to my Arizona home, not as frequently it’s true, so I’m glad I still have a few that I never opened.
My mother still has the knack for it and is quick to remind me that all this wrapping and knot-tying was long before there was any such thing as Scotch tape, so sometimes she would carefully pour sealing wax over the knotted string. There is both heart and craft in such an activity. But it is only in recent years that I have appreciated it, along with many of my mother’s gifts.
I have no idea how the ”Mothering Sunday” tradition began; it may, like a lot of things, have its origins in mythology. It is certainly a profitable day for the greeting card companies. For my mother, I have gladly handed over a small fortune on greeting cards. Admittedly, some were perhaps a little less about making her day and a little more about assuaging my guilt about having put down roots so far away from home.
To confirm my suspicion that others know how to make a penny or two off this guilt, I took a quick trip online to the corporate page of undisputed heavy-weight champion of the greeting card industry, Hallmark Cards Inc.
Ruefully, I learned that along with millions of other people, my loyal patronage has contributed to a consolidated revenue of $3.9 billion in 2013. According to their website, it is Hallmark that “makes the world a more caring place by helping people express what’s in their hearts and connect in emotional ways with others.” I might not ever again hand over a fistful of dollars for a folded piece of card-stock emblazoned with a generic message and a stock photograph.