I walked up the steps in front of you
stopping before the smiling lady with a basket of red and white flowers.
“There is an old tradition of wearing red or white carnations
to honor our mothers on Mother’s day:
wearing red if our mother is living;
white if she is not.
Is your mother living, honey, or has she passed on?
I looked up at you standing behind me,
a gentle expression of love on your face.
I turned back to the lady and smiled.
But as I reached into the basket and selected a red flower,
a tiny bit of terror lurked in the back corner of my heart.
I stood very still
while you pinned my bright red carnation to the shoulder of my dress.
During the service I looked around,
noticing who wore red flowers and who had white ones.
I bent to sniff the spiciness of the carnation
and carefully fingered its soft petals.
Then I reached out and caressed your familiar hand,
thankful for my mother,
that you were still alive.
In those early years,
nothing seemed darker,
than being without a mother.
But as time went on and I grew less dependent,
the horror of being left alone dimmed.
I was big enough to move away from you,
to take care of myself,
and later to marry and become a mother,
caring for children of my own.
But you always remained precious to me.
Others listen to my tales of joy and woe,
and I find contentment in their attention,
but no one has ever had a deeper interest in my life,
a more genuine concern for my welfare than you.
if we were to pass out flowers in our little church,
I would take my first white carnation.
The sign of loss.
I wonder if I would cry
or bravely hold back the tears.
Writing here in the privacy of my home,
it is safe to feel the loss,
the emptiness you left behind.
To think again of the debt I owe you.
To be thankful for the loving imprint you made upon my life.
This year I understand more
about the people who must wear the white carnation.
So I have written this for them, too.
For all of us who have that empty place of honor
that no one else can fill.
We take the white carnation and say,
“Mommy, I still love you.”
Written on May 7, 2013 by Arlene Ussery
Dedicated to my sister and brother, my niece and nephew
who also, this year, first take the white carnation
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