Right 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.