“Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.” William Makepeace Thackeray.
Mother’s Day cards in the card aisle at the grocery store are something to behold. Funny. Sincere. Loving. You can choose any flavor. You just sign your name at the bottom and pop it in the mail. Listen, it’s better than nothing, right?
Well, not according to Anna Jarvis.
Anna Jarvis is the woman who spent years trying to get government recognition for Mother’s Day, then spent even more years trying to stop what it became. No kidding. Anna Jarvis was so bent out of shape about the commercialization of the holiday that she was willing the spend the last half of her life fighting against florists and card makers and others she thought took improper advantage of this special day. According to Katherine Antolini, author and historian, Jarvis was even charged with disorderly conduct for trying to bust up a charity sale of . . . you guessed it . . . Mother’s Day carnations. Not exactly a Hallmark moment for Jarvis.
So where does that leave us with Mother’s Day and its true meaning?
Certainly, the notion that everyone has a mother is somehow comforting in these times where we are busy identifying who’s “in” and who’s “out.” Since we all have a mother, it makes it harder to really believe that someone is a member of an alien species if they have a different religion, or a different shade of skin, or dare to want to use a bathroom not designated on their hall pass. Of course they’re not aliens. See, they have a mother. Put them with the “in” group.
And then, of course, there is that crazy mother/child bond. Before I married, my wife told me an apocryphal story passed down in her family. It was the story of a great-grandfather, who was described by one and all as a no-account drunk who spent up the family money and was a hard man. The great-grandmother eventually bore him 11 children. One day the house caught on fire. Great-grandmother miraculously rescued all of her 11 children. Great-grandfather died in the blaze while sitting in his favorite chair in the living room. How unfortunate.
“Did that really happen?” I asked my bride-to-be.
“She was later tried and found innocent of murder,” she responded, innocently enough.
The bond between a mother and her children is so powerful that even the National Parks have warning signs posted about the increased danger of seeing a mother with her little ones. This isn’t a mystery.
But there is more. Mary Cassatt was an American painter around the time of the impressionists. She became famous for her paintings of mothers and children. Her art could capture a small moment between a mother and her child that is nothing special — but totally special, loaded with love, connection, and belonging. The gifts of a mother.
Nicolle and Her Mother c. 1900; Nathan Emory Coffin Collection of the Des Moines Art Center; Photo Credit: Rich Sanders, Des Moines.
So, I thought I would go look for Nicolle and her Mother at the Des Moines Art Center. I wandered and wandered through our world-class museum and could not find a single dark-haired, blue-eyed mom holding Nicolle.
Come to find out that she is in storage. Bummer.
Turning a corner, however, I found another family portrait at the Art Center.
Rosie and her mother (and friends) c. 2017; Chef’s Palette — Des Moines Art Center Cafe; Photo credit: Joe.
Rosie Punelli recently opened Chef’s Palette in the Art Center. A homecoming of sorts having worked for Lisa LaValle in this same spot for many years. But now it is all hers.
“I get here about 7:30 after I get my two kids to school. Then I start doing prep for the day, baking cake and things like that. I’m ready to open at 11.”
And open she does to the wonderful smells of soups and pastries and today’s special — chicken and sausage gumbo.
“I brought my mom, Jeannie, to help me. And this is Charletta. She is one of my best friends. And her niece, Kira, works in the kitchen. Charletta is like my kids’ other mother. This is a family operation.”
Professional service, high-class food, and one of the best locations in Des Moines. It’s an easy sell. But there’s something else going on here.
“I want the customer to enjoy the experience. That’s why I’m here. I want people to walk away happy — to enjoy the atmosphere and the food. Some people come in, they’re hungry, and a little bit grouchy, but by the time they leave they’re satisfied. That’s what I want.”
And . . . .
“We are one big family. I depend big time on my crew. I couldn’t do it without them. I couldn’t do it without Charletta or my mom or without Kira. They all help me so much. It’s a dream.”
Love, connection, and belonging. Mary Cassatt could not have drawn this portrait any better.
So where is Mother’s Day and its true meaning? Is it in our shared humanity? Is it in the fierce bond between a mother and her children? Or is it in the spirit of love, connection, and belonging?
Got me. I’m a struggling dad.
By the way, would you mind passing me another slice of Rosie’s homemade lemon-ricotta cheesecake?