Mothers…Then and Now

Next Sunday is Mother’s Day and I’ve been thinking about mothers and about how that role has changed over time. Since beginning work on the Hickory Ridge novels last year, I’ve been immersed in diaries and historical records that reflect the tremendous changes the War Between the States forced upon Southern women. In the antebellum years, women of the middle and upper classes operated in separate spheres from husbands, sons, and fathers. But when the men went off to war, suddenly these women who were brought up to be seen and not heard were required to deal with slaves and crops, to organize bandage drives and in some cases to seek work for which they would be paid. When the war ended, an entire generation of young  women was left with few eligible men from which to choose. It was that generation of women who fashioned different lives for themselves and began paving the way for the opportunities modern women enjoy today.

Regardless of  time period, mothers are mothers, concerned with the welfare of their children, often second guessing the decisions they make regarding their offspring, as in this snippet from the diary of Cornelia Peake McDonald of Winchester, Virginia. In March of 1862, when fighting broke out near her home, she gave her two young sons permission to “go to the top of the hill…to see what was going on.”  As the battle went on into the afternoon, she wrote: “My little boys! How could I have suffered them to go away from me so thoughtlessly when nearly every moment brought danger?”

That reminded me of  a hot summer afternoon my mother hung onto me as I begged to wade in the river to cool off. She wanted me to have a good time,, but feared for my safety. She has always been my protector and my cheerleader. Like most moms, she  is a fount of practical advice such as: Never leave the house wearing ratty underwear. What if you get into an accident and have to go the ER?  Or, When you write a check, round up the number in your register to the next whole dollar amount and you’ll always have a little more money than you think.”  When I was a girl I hated housework. (Some things never change.) When I procrastinated and complained about cleaning  my room or washing dishes, Mom would  recite this little verse: “If a job is once begun, never leave it till it’s done. Be the labor great or small, do it well…or not at all.”

That verse  kept me going through 6 years of grad school, numerous cross- country moves, and the writing of  fifteen books. Thank you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day. I love you.

What piece of motherly advice has helped you in your life?