May 11 , 2006 EJOURNAL...

The Mother's Day Rose Tradition
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When I was a girl, my father had a tradition about Mother's Day. Apparently, when he was growing up in South Georgia, on Mother's Day Sunday everyone went to church with a rose. If your mother was still alive, you wore a red rose pinned to your suit lapel or dress. If your mother was no longer living, you wore a white rose or sometimes a yellow rose. It was a silent tribute to your mother.

Of course, as a kid, I didn't really appreciate Papa's little family tradition. Why? Well, for one thing, it meant I had to get up a little earlier on Mother's Day Sunday
and go out to the side of the house for his ceremony of the rose picking and pinning.

My father had planted a red climbing rose bush on the south side of the house and it always was in bloom the first week of May. Using this bush, he had elevated the Mother's Day Rose Tradition to the level of a religious experience.

Here's how the ritual went. We all dressed up (this was in the days when people really dressed up for church). Then we would fumble around in Mama's sewing box to find hatpins. When everyone had pricked themselves several times and put bandaids on their fingers and finally had a hatpin in hand, we would all troop to the side of the house and Papa would begin cutting a rose for each one of us.

Picking just the right roses to satisfy three fashion-conscious little girls was a time-consuming endeavor, because no matter which rose Papa chose, there would be choruses of "No, not that one. Go a little higher. See the one that is more of a bud...." and so on.

After what probably seemed to be an eternity to Papa, he would have five roses, one for each of us. Mama (who always seemed to have floral tape on hand), would take each rose and wrap the stem and a few leaves in floral tape. Then she would carefully pin a rose to each of our dresses. The "pinning of the roses" also took quite a long time because inevitably the first and second pinnings would be crooked and have to be redone.

Mama would do the same for Papa, and then create a corsage for herself. Only then would we be ready to go to church. For some reason, we were usually late for church on Mother's Day.

Another reason I didn't appreciate Papa's little tradition was the negative socialization that came with being the only person in my Sunday School department wearing a rose on Mother's Day.

When I got to church it didn't seem like there were any other children whose parents had the same tradition as mine, so I was endlessly questioned as to why I was wearing a rose corsage. And as I got older, the questioning turned into teasing. The older kids thought it was ridiculous for me to wear a corsage in honor of my mother.

So it took me many years to really appreciate the "Mother's Day Rose" tradition.

The day wearing that corsage turned from a hassle to a symbol of appreciation was when I was in my early teens. My grandmother was visiting us and it happened to be Mother's Day Sunday. So of course, she was included in the ritual of the roses.

That Sunday morning when we all marched to the side of the house to get our roses, it suddenly dawned on me that my grandmother would not be wearing a red rose. And we had no white rose bush.

I felt a sudden rush of emotion--gratitude mixed with sadness. Gratitude that I still had a mother living and an overwhelming sadness that one day I would not. And from that day forward I would no longer be able to wear a red rose on Mother's Day.

That morning, standing beside our house in Decatur, Georgia, I felt a new appreciation for my mother and a great swell of happiness that she was still alive. I had friends who had lost their mothers and I had never really thought about what
life would be like without mine.

My father, always the planner, had already foreseen the need for a white rose and had bought one for my grandmother from a local florist. So we were all able to go to church with a Mother's Day rose.

That was many years ago and Papa is gone now. So is my grandmother. But Mama is still alive. She's 87 years old and lives in an assisted living facility, but is still bright and caring. My two sisters and I are driving together to see her this weekend.

And I'm bringing the roses.

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Until next time....
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