My bishop asked me to give a Mother’s Day talk in sacrament meeting in May. I spent five or six hours writing it out so that I could deliver it within the fifteen minutes suggested by the bishop. However, I didn’t get to give it because the speakers before me on the program used up all the time.
Before the meeting began, I told the bishop that it was likely a mistake on his part to ask me to give a talk. He said no, it wasn’t a mistake. When the meeting was over, I told him, “There, you see it was a mistake. The Almighty countermanded you.”
My bishop, set apart less than a year ago, is also my home teaching companion of five years standing. I’ve had a hard time learning to call him Bishop Hatfield rather than just Jerry. Needless to say, I love and admire him greatly. As I wrote in my talk, he “is a gentle, thoughtful person who leads more by example than by exhortation, being what he hopes others will be and doing what he hopes others will do.”
I’d like to summarize my talk here, but before I do, I’ll introduce myself. I was born and raised in Snowflake, a Mormon town in Arizona. I served a French mission during the mid-1950s. I married Althea Sand in 1958 and we have one daughter. I taught English at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, for thirty-five years. Upon retiring, Althea and I moved to Issaquah, Washington, in order to be near our daughter and her family. I occupy my time caring for my grandsons and editing Dialogue.
Back to the talk. In an early paragraph I defined the reason for Mother’s Day, “Isn’t it true,” I wrote, “that when we honor mothers we honor the great virtue which they embody, the nurture and affirmation of children? It is the time-honored principle of altruism, the principle of unselfish devotion to the welfare of others, applied expressly to that most vulnerable and most precious of all categories of human beings, our children.”
At seventy-one, I realize that I love my grandsons as intensely as I loved their mother when she was small. When I see a stranger with an infant in her or his arms, I realize I could love that child intensely too were I called upon to do so. I therefore went on in the paragraph mentioned above to write: “And isn’t true that many, many persons who are not mothers serve children, and many, many others would serve children if they had the chance? For that reason, I would like to praise and honor not only mothers but those persons who, regardless of their gender and station, nurture and affirm children and even to those who, though circumstance has denied them the privilege of nurturing and affirming children, would do so with good will and rejoicing had they the chance.”
I was paying my respect to the childless persons who inhabit many wards, men as well as women. They are the unmarried, the single. I’ve heard it over and over from single friends. Mother’s Day is a hard one to get through. So I was saying, on Mother’s Day, let’s honor the human impulse to nurture little children. Let’s praise everyone who feels it.
Nonetheless, I shaped most of my talk toward praise of the women who have or have had children. Predictably, I did it by praising my own mother.
I admitted that my feelings for my mother were complex. In keeping with the custom of her era, my mother resorted to whipping by way of discipline. Once when she was in her eighties, I confronted her with a memory I had of being required to go outside to the tamarisk patch by our house and break off a switch, bring it into the house, lower my pants, and receive a whipping. It was the lapse of time between my misdeed and the final punishment that struck me as unjust. My mother contested the accuracy of my memory. She agreed she had probably sent me out to the tamarisk patch for a switch but was sure she would have let that threat of punishment suffice. She wouldn’t have whipped me. I knew better than to insist upon my version of the incident. I already knew that memory is constructed of both fact and fiction. Furthermore, as we spoke, I felt pity instead of anger. She seemed so aged and frail and needy, and we were both so vastly beyond the circumstances that had given rise to my uncertain memory that I abandoned the matter.
I alluded to my anger toward my mother in my talk because I wanted it known that it didn’t diminish my respect and admiration for her. She was a good woman who did the best she could, and I realize fully that she made an immeasurable contribution to my life and well being. She bore me, she nurtured me, and she left no doubt that, despite recalcitrant, exasperating behavior on my part, she affirmed my being.
I recall from a very early moment sitting in a large ant pile in our front yard howling because ants were swarming over me and stinging me. My mother emerged from the house on a run and, plucking me up, brushed off the ants. Why I sat there passively allowing myself to be stung I can’t tell you. But the point is, over and over, this good woman rescued me when I needed to be rescued.
There, that is the substance of my undelivered Mother’s Day talk. Thank God for mothers. And thank God for the instinct for nurturing little children in whomsoever it may appear.