I suppose I was nearly seven before I realized that Southerners were different, that they had customs and ceremonies which might seem unusual to the rest of the nation...such as the Mother's Day roses....

In the town I where I lived, we celebrated Mother's Day the way everyone else in town did: getting up on Sunday morning and having a big breakfast, then presenting Mama with her cards and gifts--some asked for, some unexpected, but all greeted with enthusiasm and appreciation.

Afterward, we would dress for church, in still-new Easter clothes, so lovingly sewn by hand and worn only a few Sundays previously. Soon we were all ready to go, Mama looking beautiful in a dress of her own making and my father--handsome in his navy suit with the thin white pinstripes and a burgundy tie. At that point, Mama would say, "Just a moment, we have to have our roses!" and she would take her shears from the kitchen drawer and disappear down the back steps into her garden.

Mama had an authentic Green Thumb. Flowers of every conceivable type and color flourished in her garden, camellias, azaleas, vines of wisteria dangling their purple flowers grape-like from the fence, golden forsythia, pink oxalis, and silver dusty miller--and roses--bushes, runners, florabundas, hybrid teas--everywhere. As I watched, she selected two red blossoms, half-opened and still damp with Easter-morning dew, clipped them, and stood there a moment, looking around hurriedly, before returning to where we waited.

One rose became a boutonniere, while the other was pinned to the left breast of my dress. Then, she said, almost forlornly, "The white roses haven't bloomed yet. What will I do?"

"Surely there's some other white flower," my father suggested. After all, there was no law that said she had to wear a white rose, and as she returned to the garden, searching among the plants and shrubs, I wondered aloud the thought I had always accepted until now:
"What's so special about wearing roses on Mother's Day?"

My father smiled, as if he'd been expecting this and wondered why it had taken me so long.

"They're to honor our mothers," he explained. "If you wear a red rose, it means your mother is still alive, if you wear a white one, then--she's not."

I thought about that a moment. It made sense. My father's mother was still living--we saw her all the time, but I knew my mother's mother only from old photographs. Most of the people at church who wore white roses were older people. Of course, their mothers wouldn't be alive, but I had seen one or two children wearing white flowers.

In a few moment, Mama was back, all smiles, returning the scissors to the drawer and pinning a spray of white English dogwood, with its sweet, sweet fragrance, like a corsage on her shoulder. Taking my hand and my father's arm, she went down the steps toward the car.

Many Mother's Days have passed since then. I became a mother myself and we moved to Nebraska, and when my son was small, I kept the traditions I had grown up with alive--a die-hard Southerner in the midst of the Great Plains. Each Easter, we had a frantic search for a red flower for him to wear, while I--well, I looked for a white one.

And every year, I would remember the day I learned the symbol of the Mother's Day roses and what having a mother really means.


  1. Nightingale // July 29, 2008 at 2:03 PM  

    Toni, what memories your post stirred. I lost my mother at a relatively young age 67, and I remember hating to buy white roses. Thanks for a walk down memory lane and making me remember two of the most important people in my life -- my mom and dad.

  2. Mary Ricksen // July 29, 2008 at 2:05 PM  

    Toni, it sure sounds like you had a kind and wonderful family. The love oozes from your words, like maple syrup sap being tapped, sweet and continuous. You also have a great voice.
    We all have our holiday memories, but you were able to put me into yours. Thanks, that's a rare talent.

  3. Anonymous // July 29, 2008 at 10:05 PM  

    Toni, thanks for the vivid memories of a tradition that alas is rapidly fading from the South. I remember the search for just the right red bud to adorn our dresses. I also remember the year mine changed from red to white. I had forgotten this wonderful tradition, but will remind my children and grandchild when next mother's day rolls around. Your words were lovely.

    The Scarlet Pumpernickel

  4. Mary Marvella // August 4, 2008 at 10:18 PM  

    I remember! Lovely!