Founder of Mother’s Day craved simple expressions of love

mquillin@newsobserver.comMay 10, 2014 

— The fourth-graders in Sandy Willey’s class at Durant Road Elementary School made cards last week and etched on them sweet similes of their own creation to honor the mothers in their lives.

Their little labors of love also unwittingly paid tribute to the original intent of the woman who is often called “Mother of Mother’s Day.”

Anna Jarvis spent nearly a decade of her life trying to persuade the American public, state and federal leaders to set aside a day to appreciate their mothers. But almost as soon as then-President Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation in 1914 marking the second Sunday in May, Jarvis began to despise her progeny.

Though Jarvis never had children of her own, she shared the experience of every mother who must one day trust the shaping and molding she has done and let her offspring go into the world to see what they will become.

Jarvis had envisioned Mother’s Day as a thoughtful, simple expression of the love that often goes unspoken. She wanted each person to wear a white or red carnation in honor of their mother and hand-write a letter proving that another year of caring gestures had not gone unnoticed.

But florists and greeting card companies saw the marketing opportunity and immediately turned it into a sales event.

This year – on the 100th anniversary of the federal designation of Mother’s Day – Americans will spend an average of $162.94 on their moms, a total of $19.9 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. Two-thirds will buy flowers. Others will get clothing, books, CDs, housewares or gardening tools.

More than 80 percent will buy a card.

But not the children of Marriott Procter Little and Doris Procter Bason, both mothers of four.

A local connection

Little and Bason are the last surviving children of Madeline Jane Jones Procter, who was just a teenager when she left school in Philadelphia and agreed to help Anna Jarvis start Mother’s Day. Procter and Jarvis traveled the country as Jarvis talked to civic groups, governors and legislators, bringing them into the movement.

It may have been the only job Madeline Procter ever held outside her home. At age 25, she married Ivan Procter, a doctor who had been serving in World War I, and moved with him to his native Raleigh, where he then set up his private practice.

Procter had four children to whom “she was a wonderful mother,” Bason said, a nonconformist with a quick, irreverent sense of humor. She didn’t so much raise her children, Bason said, as “she just let us grow up.

“You did not want to disappoint her, although I don’t know that you could disappoint her. She just let us be who we were.”

Bason, now 87, said that as a child she would sometimes pretend to be sick so she wouldn’t have to go to school.

“Oh, goodie,” she recalls her mother saying. “You can stay home and play with me.”

‘I love you today’

While Anna Jarvis spent years trying to stop commercial celebration of Mother’s Day, Madeline Procter went on to enjoy the day, though she eschewed its store-bought trappings.

She incorporated her experience with Jarvis and Mother’s Day into her family life. She named a son after Jarvis’ brother. When she was nearing her due date with her third child, Marriott, she took castor oil to time the delivery so that her daughter arrived on Mother’s Day in 1929. Procter died in 1975, less than a week before Mother’s Day.

Marriott Little, who turns 85 this year, still has a poem she wrote for her mother in 1966, by which time she and the next generation all called her mother “Nana.” It appropriates a favorite phrase of Procter’s: “I love you today.”

For their mothers – or motherly figures – Sandy Willey’s students made tissue-paper flowers. They crafted pop-up cards. In keeping with the curriculum, they were instructed to write a metaphor, a simile, a personification or a figurative bit of language to describe what they love about their mothers.

Willey has her children do this every year because it adds something fun to the school day and, she said, “I’m a mom. I remember the joy of getting these handmade things from my kids from school.”

Some of her students’ work nearly brought Willey to tears.

“Your eyes sparkle like diamonds in the rich soil,” one boy wrote.

Words of love from a child to his mother: More precious than any jewel.

Quillin: 919-829-8989

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