Like any good son, I feel the pressure of expressing my love and devotion to my mother on this coming Sunday above all others. One problem: I have never been able to send her flowers. As the recently retired owner of a flower shop, she is critical of stems she did not select and arrangements she did not arrange herself. A splash of color and fragrance are not enough. She’s spent far too much time in the company of flowers to be impressed.
So did I! Our home was redolent without end. Every way I turned, I was watched by sunflowers or lilies. It was an oppressive childhood, surrounded by beauty that seemed to renew itself every week. Of course, this was the only world I knew. I did learn very early, however, that there was no need to add to it, to go out and spend money on flowers from a competitor that my mom would—figuratively—sniff at.
So here is an approximate list of gifts I’ve gotten my mother for Mother’s Day:
Really bad poetry
Really bad pottery
You understand my dilemma. I’m being only slightly unfair to myself with all the nothings. When I was very young the nothings involved leaving her alone, which is, I’ve heard mothers claim, the best gift you can give, and what my own mother frequently requested. I would also occasionally help out in the shop that day (the second busiest of the year), cleaning buckets and, when I had my license, making deliveries. At the end of that one day I would hardly be able to stand, while my mother, usually up the night before to prep, would still sweep, close, and procure a late dinner. It’s a familiar story: how suddenly clear in our recollections our parents’ stamina becomes, once we are far enough from it.
“Flowers make people happy,” I commonly remember her saying. Though I think now that’s not quite right, that she actually said something slightly different but importantly so: “Buying flowers makes people happy.”
During my hours ringing doorbells and collecting occasional tips, I did not encounter the kind of excited response I thought I would. People are very good at accepting flowers with a straight face (people are good at receiving almost anything with a straight face, at least from strangers). I don’t know what I wanted to happen each time I approached the door with my arms full of flora—a brief fainting spell would have been nice—but the most frequent result was a pleasant smile, an “Oh how nice,” and that’s it.
Maybe reactions would have been different had I made deliveries on any other day but this one: Mother’s Day, after all, is overripe with expectation. These mothers were primed and ready for their flowers. They may have been more likely to feel faint if by sunset a bouquet had not arrived at their doorstep.
This sounds like a jaded summation of the holiday-industrial complex, but it’s not. There is great reassurance to be had in celebrating at the same time as others. And now that I am grown and living far away, all those Mother’s Day nothings have come to haunt me, since my distance, once such a relief, has become a cause for sadness. But I believe, at long last, I know what to do. The timing is right.
This is the year I’ll send my mother flowers. It’s the very last thing she’ll expect.