With trembling fingers, I gently pulled the white carnation from its nest of multi-colored siblings. For the next few moments, the noise and activity of the supermarket on a Friday night faded and I felt tears well up hot and salty in my eyes.
I stood there remembering a Mother's Day of long ago, when as a small child I saw my Mama pin a white carnation on her lapel and a pink one on my dress. And I remember the sadness in her eyes when I asked why she didn't have a pretty one like mine.
She told me that the pink carnation, so bright with color, was worn if your Mother was living and a white one if your Mother had died. I remember how I wrapped my arms around her, my stomach tight with the virgina fear of how empty my life would be without her.
The jostling of two metal shopping carts brought me back to the task at hand and it wasn't until later that evening, as I put the carnations into a bud vase that I was once again overwhelmed by memories of Mama.
She was a woman who was truly happy in her role as wife, mother and homemaker. The word homemaker has become archaic in a time when we balance the needs of our families against our careers and our own personal wants, but Mama only needed to be needed. She had a heart that overflowed with love and gave that love freely to all who knew her. Mama's joy came from putting family and friends first.
I remember one winter when my Aunt Babe was ill. She lived over a mile away and depended on my Mother to fix her lunch each day. My Mama walked both ways for the entire week without regard of the snow and cold, and she never once complained.
Another time, one of our neighbors was sick and Mama saw to it that the family had supper and that the house was cleaned. She taught me by example that when you do something for someone it should be done cheerfully and from the heart.
I remember that Mama sang whenever she had the chance, old silly songs like “Three Little Fishies” or hymns from her childhood like her favorite, “Alone In The Garden.” She also loved hillbilly music— as she called it— and our home was filled with the voices of Jim Reeves and Loretta Lynn.
She took great pride in her home and never seemed to mind painting our walls or cleaning the oven. She made homemade bread, baked little cakes for our school lunches and made the best apple pie in the world. She loved picnics, poetry and playing in the snow. Our house rang with her laughter.
Mama taught us to love God and to take the time to talk to Him everyday. She prayed for everyone she knew and never missed a day without saying her novenas to a wide variety of saints.
As time passed and I had children of my own I started to realize how much she had done for me. Now she shared her love and joy of life with her grandchildren and was always there when they needed help or comfort.
Slowly her health began to deteriorate and the years of heavy smoking caught up with her. Her doctor placed her on oxygen. At first for short periods of time but gradually increasing its use until she was tethered to it for twenty-four hours a day.
Her joy of living faded as her health failed and she became housebound, unable to do even the smallest of things. She would stare out of her window in her small kitchen and watch the world go by. She never missed saying her prayers or novenas. The little books were faded and worn from her palsied hands.
She passed away at age sixty-six, much to early to leave our lives.
This Mother's Day I will pin a white carnation on my lapel and a small pink one on my daughter and when she asks me why they are different, I will look at her with sadness in my eyes and tell her what I have just told you.