Remembering, Missing and Honoring Mothers

Margaret and Randolph Thrower Sweetbay Magnolia Grove at the Atlanta Botanical GardenRight on the stiletto heels of spring, eye-popping and heady heights of color and bounce – here comes Mother’s Day!

But for those of us without our mothers, even if you are one, it can feel more like a flat-footed event – particularly as Mother’s Day has gained commercial and emotional momentum over the years.

When my mother died, in 1968 at age 45, Mother’s Day was noted with breakfast in bed or by taking some special chores off her plate or by planting a small bed of bright annuals – no big deal. The current focus on brunches, lunches, weekends away and expensive gifts had not quite taken hold.

As she was fighting cancer and I, the oldest, took on some household duties, my brother and sister called me Little Mom, and to this day they wish me – the one without any children of her own – a Happy Mother’s Day. I love it!

 

Obviously we think of and miss our mothers every day – every day! – but Mother’s Day is a good time to zoom some particular energy in her direction – whether here or, well, “there.”

 

I have friends who will visit graves on Sunday and others who, mired in a lonely and annual funk, will not want to visit anything. I also know of people who will dress up a bit more for church – wouldn’t their mothers approve! – and maybe spend time with an older friend who has played a maternal role.

 

As botanical gardens all over the country prepare for the annual Mother’s Day surge of visitors this week, a very good and long time friend of mine took me to the Atlanta Botanical Garden on Sunday to show me something special her family did there to honor her mother who died almost two years ago.

 

Margaret (1915-2009), also a longtime friend of mine, was a founding member of the Botanical Garden in its infancy when it was run from a trailer in 1976. “She didn’t do it for social reasons,” her daughter, Patricia, said. “She just really liked to play in the dirt.” (I can vouch for that as I have a thriving crop of ginger lilies copped from her luscious garden where peonies are now in bountiful bloom.)

 

Fontaine Huey, the Garden’s director of institutional advancement, said, “My early memories of the Garden always included Margaret…” And long-time board member and landscape designer Sylvia Attkisson recalled a conversation with Margaret several years ago about the pitcher plants she had growing in bog areas at the family farm, Sunnyside, in North Florida.

 

Because of Margaret’s love of Sunnyside and everything outdoors, her husband Randolph and all five grown children – Margaret, Patricia, Laura, Randy and Mary – wanted to make sure her generous bequest to the Garden would reflect her botanical interests and loves. Sure enough, the recently dedicated Margaret and Randolph Thrower Sweetbay Magnolia Grove satisfies on many levels.

 

The handful of deciduous sweetbay magnolias are younger versions of those that have been growing at Sunnyside. Their dark green leaves have a silver underbelly, and the creamy white flowers – we spotted one early bloom yesterday – have a little lemony scent which Margaret loved, too. The crimson cone fruits are tasty treats for wild turkey, quail and songbirds – all plentiful at Sunnyside.

 

The trees in this memorial “grove” are on an elevated patio, Alston Overlook, with a breathtaking view of the City of Atlanta, also dear to Margaret and the beneficiary in many select ways of her interests.

 

“What’s wonderful about the development world,” Huey said, “is that you have the privilege to glimpse into a family and their lives and why they are doing something for the Garden.” She recalled a couple who came in several years ago and who, after touring the gardens, expressed an interest in purchasing a kinetic sculpture Tendrils, Gingko Leaf Variations, 2008 by George Sherwood, to honor their parents who had recently died. They had received a modest inheritance, Huey said, but didn’t need the money and wanted to do something for the Garden.

 

Huey said the development office has the ability to direct gifts to support the Garden, no matter what size. Gifts may include books for the two libraries, bulbs for the spring tulip festival or a $10,000 teak bench with a commemorative plaque. One Garden member who did purchase a bench, she said, visits the Garden on the anniversary of her mother’s death and spends time on the bench.

However we choose to remember our mothers, dads, and other family members and friends, it helps keep their personal loves and memories alive when there is something tangible to focus on – whether a bulb, a bench or a sweetbay magnolia.

Landscape designer Attkisson remembered Margaret as the early leader of the Myosotis Society at the Botanical Garden. At that time, members of this group left bequests of a certain level in their wills. Myosotis, you see, are forget-me-nots.

How fitting now that the Sweetbay Magnolia Grove will be a lasting tribute to a devoted mother and Garden member.

***

Susan Soper is the founder and author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she was formerly the Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief" shortly after her father died. Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband.

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Comment by Martha Hyne on July 10, 2011 at 1:14pm
My comment is about my younger Sister who died in 2000 of her second, unrelated cancer. A few days before she died she and I were spending some time together just reminiscing about our time of growing up together. We both loved hummingbirds and as we reminisced, we watched the tiny birds at her feeders by the window. She told me that after she was gone, she wanted me to think of her everytime I saw a hummingbird and I promised her I would. At the time of her Memorial Service the next week, I wanted to share that with everyone but did not feel up to repeating it myself, so I wrote it down and the minister read it aloud for all to share. I even told it to my friends on a Quilters Chat on the Internet. Even today, these many years later, I have several people all over the USA & the World who E-Mail me to tell me they "saw a Hummingbird today and Yes, I thought of you & Marilyn". The people who attended her Memorial Service also tell me that they still think of her whenever they see a hummingbird, whether it is the feathered kind or just a fingurine, note pad or on a greeting card. I have two feeders outside my bay window so I think of her often every time they come to feed and when I put new nectar out for them. It is very comforting for me and I whisper her name "Marilyn" whenever I see one. I have pictures and trinkets of Hummingbirds in every room of my house so Marilyn is with me every day and will be until I join her in Heaven.
Comment by Lee Wilder on May 7, 2011 at 9:22pm
what a lovely story -- you with Happy Mother's Day wishes from your sister and brother and a beautiful legacy for all to enjoy, thanks to Margaret Thrower.
Comment by JOYCE MARIE BUCKNER OGLES on May 5, 2011 at 6:50pm
My beautiful little mom was one of the most supportive people I know.  She loved to help and encourage people.  I remember so many times when I was growing up, she would buy enough of something for the 5 of us..my dad, my brothers, me, and her and all of a sudden, she no longer wanted it..she would give it to one of us or split it between us, so that we could all have a little more of something that we may not usually have....she was tiny in size, but mighty in wisdow and love..she passed on May 31, 2002..it seems like an eternity ago sometimes..then other times it seems like yesterday.  I know she is in Heaven with the King of Kings, but I miss her and wish I could wrap my arms around her, call her, kiss her little cheek, tell her one more time how much I love her...Mom, I miss you so much....
Comment by Brenda E Meyers on May 4, 2011 at 5:15pm
My Mother Carrie was the greatest mother.  She was taken too soon.  She was only 62.  She died on March 3rd, 1992.  I miss her everyday.  Now that Mothers Day is coming around it is hard for me sometimes because the Hallmark commercials come on and they make me cry and now that my husband has lost his Mother last June this is our first Mothers Day without celebrating it.  My Mother in Law Eleanora was a wonderful person.  She always treated me like a daughter. I miss her as well. Its so hard to be without my Mother all this time it was especially hard whenever i was getting married.  To know she was not going to be with me physically was so sad...but i carried a pic of her and my dad in my bouquet :)
Comment by Brenda E Meyers on May 4, 2011 at 5:15pm
My Mother Carrie was the greatest mother.  She was taken too soon.  She was only 62.  She died on March 3rd, 1992.  I miss her everyday.  Now that Mothers Day is coming around it is hard for me sometimes because the Hallmark commercials come on and they make me cry and now that my husband has lost his Mother last June this is our first Mothers Day without celebrating it.  My Mother in Law Eleanora was a wonderful person.  She always treated me like a daughter. I miss her as well. Its so hard to be without my Mother all this time it was especially hard whenever i was getting married.  To know she was not going to be with me physically was so sad...but i carried a pic of her and my dad in my bouquet :)

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