Saturday, May 12, 2007

Thank God For Mom

Some time ago I heard Leonard Sweet give the history of the American observance of Mother's Day. It was never intended to be a day off from any of the tasks and triumphs that go along with mothering. The story of Mother's Day is a story of protective yet adventurous, gentle yet bold love that was passed from generation to generation.

How did it start? The mother church of Mother's Day is in Grafton, West Virginia, where for the first time on May 8, 1908, Mrs. Ann M. Jarvis was honored by her daughter, Ms. Anna Maria Jarvis.

Ann was 12 when her father (Josiah W. Reeves) was appointed to a Methodist church in Philippi, West Virginia. Seven years later she married Granville E. Jarvis, son of the Baptist minister in Philippi. They had seven children in Taylor County, West Virginia, where Mrs. Jarvis organized and conducted "mother's work clubs" in Philippi, Webster, Prunytown, Fetterman, and Grafton.

These mother's groups were work clubs started to mobilize the mothers of a community to fight the problems of disease, poor health, improper sanitation–one or more of which had killed five of her seven children. When the Civil War erupted, the Methodist churches in many of these villages were taken over by Union troops with soldiers from Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. When an epidemic of typhoid fever and measles broke out among the soldiers, the general asked if these mothers' clubs wouldn't help care for the sick. They did, and received the highest commendations for their wartime service.

When the war was over, and blue and gray veterans returned to the same communities, the same churches and in many cases the same families, there was a bracing for the feuds and prejudice and hatred that would continue on a local level the Civil War just concluded. Mrs. Jarvis conceived of an idea whereby her "mothers' work clubs" could be reactivated and redeployed to "kick the devil downstairs," as a phrase of the day put it.

So she worked with local county authorities to announce the formation of a new celebration in 1868 called Mother's Friendship Day. The plot was simple: each member of the club would bring her entire family, and mix that family throughout the crowd. This way there could be no splitting of the community into hostile camps.

On the appointed day a huge crowd gathered. What everyone feared most started to happen: armed Blues and armed Grays occupied opposite corners and glared at one another. The authorities decided to disband the crowd and cancel the event, but Mrs. Jarvis would have none of it: "I will not. I'm no coward."

When the program was announced to start, Mrs. Jarvis appeared dressed in Union colors alongside a counterpart dressed in Confederate colors. When the bugler called the crowd to attention, Mrs. Jarvis explained the meaning of Mother's Friendship Day, and invited the crowd to sing "Way Down South in Dixie" to the accompaniment of the Prunytown band on the high courthouse porch. A portion of the crowd loved it, and sang its heart out.

When they were finished with this song, Mrs. Jarvis' Confederate partner invited the crowd to join her and the band in singing "The Star Spangled Banner." At the close of singing this song, two teenage girls, one dressed in blue, the other in gray, stepped forward, took the two ladies' hands, and invited them to shake and hug each other.

The crowd was then invited to do the same, after which the band struck up the song "Auld Lagne Syne" What followed was a "melting of hearts," and the bloodshed that everyone feared was prevented.

Mrs. Jarvis continued her work with the "mother's work clubs" and Mother's Friendship Days throughout the rest of her life. She moved to Grafton, West Virginia in 1864, her husband died in 1902, and she was moved to Philadelphia to be with her son, where she died in 1905.

At the foot of the open grave in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Mrs. Jarvis' daughter, Miss Anna M. Jarvis, made a pledge that she would establish a memorial to Mother's Friendship Day, and for the next two years waged a round-the-clock campaign to found a Memorial Mother's Day. On May 10, 1908, a full Mother's Day service was conducted at Andrew Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia and in the afternoon at Wanamaker's Auditorium in Philadelphia. Not until 1912 did the Methodist Episcopal Church General Conference agree to designate the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a resolution confirming and setting aside the second Sunday in may as Mother's Day.

Ann Jarvis used "mother love" to spread Jesus' love commandment from the "Boys in Blue" to "Johnny Reb." Jesus commanded all his disciples to do a simple, a monumental thing—to love one another "as I have loved you." It was this seat belt love that would enable others, enable "everyone," to recognize Jesus' disciples when they saw them.

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