Which Color Rose Do You Wear Today?

Posted by Toni V.S. | 11:27 PM | 7 comments »

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. She’d died the day after Christmas, in 1933.  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.

    My son doesn’t follow that custom now.  He doesn’t search frantically for a red rose and I doubt if he’ll worry much about finding a white one...whenever.

    Nevertheless, every year, I remember...the day I learned the symbol of the Mother's Day roses and what having a mother really means.  I wonder if he ever will?

    Too bad I won’t be around to tell him.


  1. Mary Marvella // May 13, 2012 at 1:40 AM  

    Toni, I'll need a white flower. Thanks for the reminder. If my kid finds time to meet me, I'll give her a red rose and make sure she knows why.

  2. Beth Trissel // May 13, 2012 at 1:01 PM  

    This is a lovely post, Toni. I didn't realize all the symbolism. thanks.

  3. Patrice // May 13, 2012 at 1:21 PM  

    What a beautiful story and memory you have shared. I never knew the difference or significance of a rose and its color. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Mona Risk // May 13, 2012 at 4:31 PM  

    What a lovely post Toni. At church, our priest gives a red rose to every mother.

  5. Pamela Varnado // May 13, 2012 at 10:39 PM  

    What a touching post, Toni. My two kids are grown now. They must pay attention to our conversations because I always get something we've talked about, which is very thoughtful, but I still remember the hand-drawn cards and gifts they made at school. And the big smile they had on their faces when they presented their gifts to me.

  6. Alison E. Bruce // May 14, 2012 at 11:00 AM  

    I was busy with my kids yesterday so I'm coming to this blog a day late. No roses in bloom yet in Ontario. I'd have to wear a white one if there was. Maybe I'll give my kids a red rose next year, but I have no fear that they'll forget me. Although, if my son stay true to form, he won't pick up my present until the last moment.

  7. Josie // May 16, 2012 at 9:05 AM  

    Beautiful post, Toni, and a lovely tribute to mothers everywhere. I wasn't aware of the rose tradition, and have lived in the south for 15 years.