Anna Jarvis of USA was the driving force behind Mother’s Day. Her campaign to make it a recognized holiday in the United States began in 1905, the year her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, died. Ann had been a peace activist, cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War, and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues.
Anna wanted to honor her mother by continuing her work. In 1908, Anna held a memorial for her mother in Grafton, West Virginia. Due to her campaigns, several states officially recognized Mother’s Day, the first being Jarvis’ home state West Virginia in 1910. As the annual celebration spread across the states, Jarvis began to lobby with politicians to set aside a day to honor mothers. She ultimately succeeded when the Congress, by a joint resolution approved on May 8, 1914, designated the second Sunday in May each year as ‘Mother’s Day’, and requested the President to call for its appropriate observance. President Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation creating ‘Mother’s Day’ as a national holiday to honor mothers.
Mother’s Day assumed special significance for me on that day in May 2007, when I first traveled to the USA with my wife. We landed at Philadelphia under the most glorious golden sunset of east coast summer. The next and last leg of our flight was from Philly to State College, PA where my daughter, a student at Penn State, lived. We retrieved our checked-in luggage, and tried to find the terminal from where we were to board the flight for State College. As we were coming out of the terminal with a vague idea of our next terminal, we saw a luggage check-in point of the United Airways, by which we were going to travel. A very surly middle-aged black person was receiving the luggage. I was not sure if we handed over the luggage at that point, it would find its way to the terminal from where we were to take off. My polite inquiry to settle that doubt disturbed him much, and he said, attesting his years of experience, that I was free to trust him with the luggage, or keep it. The thought of a long walk, lugging the luggage, did not appeal. I reluctantly handed him the luggage, which he promptly deposited on a conveyor belt heading into a dark cavern behind rubber curtains.
I think we had landed at terminal ‘A’, and had to reach terminal ‘E’. The walk was long, through a slowly deepening evening, with a bracing wind blowing. Dragging one small suitcase we walked … on and on … checking once at some terminal, in a huge United Airways office that was deserted except for a single black girl, who said we had to walk down further on.
Finally, we reached ‘E’ terminal, bright and warm inside. There was no queue for checking in. A black person in sloppy plain clothes, wearing dark glasses and beads all over him, came rushing with a gait that I recognized years later in ‘The Joker’ of ‘The Dark Knight’. He greeted my wife with a hearty, “Hi, beautiful!”, or something like that. My daughter had prepared us for encountering black people with amusing behavior at Philly airport, but this one took the cake. As I looked at him with surprise and shock, he smiled baring a set of perfect white teeth, and clarified that he would process our check-in. Nothing much happened after that, and passing through separate gates, I reunited with my wife.
Our immediate concern was to reach the gate for boarding, and if possible, call up our daughter and let her know our status. Our flight would reach close to midnight, and she would be waiting at the airport.
We reached the gate walking down a long corridor, and saw it to be empty except for a single passenger, who soon went out to board an aircraft. After that, we sat alone at the waiting area. I wanted to use the pay phones nearby, but had no change. I asked a young black person cleaning up a food kiosk before closing for the night, whether he could change my dollar notes. He said the place had shut down for the day, but he could give me some change he had. He took out a few coins, but would not take my dollar bill in exchange. He simply wanted to give me his money, just so that I could call my daughter! Touched as I was, I declined. Sensing my urgency, he advised me to walk up the corridor to the terminal entrance where a kiosk would still be open. I could buy some food, and get the required change. We did that, but several attempts to use the pay phones failed, and finally I ended up exhausting the coins I had. As we sat down, dejected, a young girl approached my wife, and offering a cell phone, said, “Ma’am, please use this.” She said she had been observing our frantic attempts to call up someone, and wanted us to use the phone. My wife thanked her saying we wanted to call our daughter, but would not like to use her personal phone. The girl said it was all right. The phone belonged to the airline, and was meant to assist passengers. The girl persuaded my wife till she yielded, took the phone and relieved, made a call to our daughter.
They cleared us to board the flight around 10:30 in the night. On the tarmac stood a wee little aircraft that looked ridiculously small after the Airbus A-320 / Boeing 707 we had flown. One single airhostess greeted us, and asked us to leave our carry-on bag outside the aircraft for separate loading, because the cabin had no overhead luggage rack, as we saw later. The flight was under an hour. There were few passengers besides us, and most of them dozed off immediately after boarding. After we took off, the airhostess came around to ask if we wanted some water. We had not eaten much since the last meal in the previous flight around four in the afternoon, and this obvious hint that there would be no food on this flight came as a big disappointment.
The airhostess disappeared behind a curtain. She reappeared only just before we began to descend for landing. She carried a small bottle in her hand, with a fancy ribbon tied around it. Offering it to my wife, she said with a smile, “Happy Mother’s Day!” It was a bottle of wine!
I have very grainy memory of the rest of the entire flight. This gesture of kindness etched itself firm in that mosaic, and resurfaced in my consciousness today as the following small incident happened.
The doorbell rang around nine in the morning. I opened the door to the staircase landing. A young person, his shirt soaking in sweat, stood leaning against the door, holding a small glass bowl with some red roses. He was talking animatedly on his cell phone, and did not even see me. I felt irritated, thinking he had pushed the bell on the wrong door. I barked at him, “What is it?” Without interrupting his call, he offered a piece of paper to me. Looking at it, I asked him, “Who has sent it?” He interrupted his call, looked at the paper, and said, “Some Babu … Please sign.” ‘Babu? Who was that?’ Just then, I saw a cellophane-wrapped package kept on the steps going up to the next floor. Of course, he was a courier, come to deliver a newly published book. It must be from one of the publisher’s agents (some Babu?) for my wife, as they send her books from time to time. But, then, why the roses? I took the small piece of cream colour paper with a card attached to it. Glancing at what was printed on it, I quickly recognized my daughter’s name, Bubu, which he had read as Babu, and Sri, my son-in-law. It immediately dawned upon me, ‘Today is mother’s day!’ I called out to my wife, “Bunu, come quickly! Bubu has sent you flowers.” Bunu came over and I asked her to sign the receipt. The courier was getting impatient. “Please hurry up. I have many more to deliver.” ‘Yes, of course!’ I gave him back the paper. He handed me the bowl of roses, the cellophane-wrapped package (it was a box of chocolates!), and a tear-off slip from the paper, which had this message for Bunu: “Happy Mommy’s Day! We miss you. Tell Bapi to take good care of you today. Lots of Love. Bubu and Sri”
Bapi is what they call me, a person not very dependable when it comes to taking care of Mommy!
But today I did. I looked up Wikipedia to learn about how Mother’s Day started. And, I learned a lot, specially about caring for others, as only mothers can do.
Indroneer / 11 May 2014