It was a spiritual act, a practice of humility, a way for my mother to say that even in our humblest choices we can honor God.
by Edward Grinnan — Posted on May 9, 2014
My mother was not a particularly big fan of Mother’s Day, at least not personally. She thought it was silly to honor her for something she considered a sacred honor in and of itself: motherhood.
In general, she was not very sentimental, especially when it came to things. She did, however, apparently have a soft spot for some of the really bad Mother’s Day art projects I’d bring home from grade school, and decades later I discovered that she had actually saved some of them–a terrible attempt at a mosaic that was supposed to read “Mom” but looked more like Sanskrit, for instance.
For years she hung onto a really awful Wedgwood candy dish with a cameo of a poodle (we had a poodle, Pete, at the time, putatively my dog but it was Mom who mostly looked after him). In later years the one thing she really loved about Mother’s Day was that everyone came over for dinner. The flowers and cards we proffered she couldn’t have cared less about, I suspect. Or at least her appreciation was fleeting. She just wanted us all together.
My dad usually cooked steak on the grill for those Mother’s Day dinners, not just to relieve Mom of the cooking chores but because Mom was not a particularly good cook. I know that is a sacrilege to say about one’s mother but it was totally true. She’d rather read a book or do volunteer work than spend any more time in the kitchen than necessary. To her, frozen food and TV dinners were as much a leap for mankind as any of the great achievements in the pantheon of twentieth century scientific discovery. Back in the ’70s when I brought my let’s-return-to-nature, crunchy-granola prairie-skirted girlfriends home to meet her, she thought they were absolutely insane to want to cook everything from scratch. Wasn’t the whole point to get past that Depression-era drudgery?
What those Mother’s Day dinners remind me of as I write this blog today is the set of steak knives that went with them. We had them forever, inexpensive items with plastic handles meant to look like wood. One of the handles had been badly heat-warped by the dishwasher (another one of man’s great achievements, according to my mom, along with the electric garbage disposal). Saturday night in our house was steak night, maybe to compensate for the fact we didn’t eat meat on Fridays. My mother always set her place with that bent knife. We knew she did it because she didn’t want anyone else to have to use it, though she always claimed she simply felt sorry for the knife, and it was true my mother liked underdogs.
The number of Saturday steak-night table settings diminished over the years as we kids grew up and moved out (I was the youngest and last to leave). Yet every Saturday that same humble, deformed utensil would appear at Mom’s place, year after year.
One night a few months before we had to move her into an Alzheimer’s care unit, and several years after my dad died, I showed up while she was eating dinner alone in a house once so full of children. It wasn’t steak night but, yes, at her place setting was the old bent-handled knife.
It struck me then that my mom’s attachment to the knife was not the archetypal act of self-sacrifice mothers are known (and honored) for. It was an act of humility for a fiercely proud and independent woman who occasionally had to remind herself not to be too proud and independent. Yet my mother never felt independent from God. That was always clear. Her love of the bent knife was a spiritual act, a practice of humility, a way of saying that even in our smallest and humblest choices we can honor God.
And it’s probably the reason she always wondered why we made such a big deal about Mother’s Day.
Be sure to see our Guideposts 100 Inspiring Mothers, sent in by readers. Happy Mother’s Day all you moms out there... including dog moms.