More About Mothers

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, and Memorial Day 2010

By Bette Dewing

Because columns, like exercise, diet and relationships, need continuity, here’s an update on the Share the Talk Club (“so nobody is left out,” remember?). It’s now my answering machine message, “and a little bell will ring to tell us we’re saying too much or too little.” Oh well, who needs those callers.

After nearly being discontinued, the annual Memorial Day commemorative ceremony is thankfully scheduled for Monday, May 31 at the magnificent Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, at Riverside Drive and West 89th Street. The U.S. Naval Band will be playing at 10 a.m. Scottish bagpipes will also be heard and I sure wish we could all sing along. Spoken tributes follow, along with various veterans and heritage group wreaths placed at this historic monument’s portals.

But lamentably missing is the “Gold Star Mother” wreath once placed there by an elder woman or two, who, not surprisingly, needed a steadying hand. Ah, if only Betty White would use her late-life stardom and untypical vim and vigor to push for greater understanding and help for the elder majority who need a steadying hand and support in general. (But please don’t call yourself an “old broad”!)

The Gold Star tradition was begun in World War I by Grace Darling Siebold of Washington, D.C., whose son George, 23, made the ultimate sacrifice. This mother’s profound personal loss led her to reach out to other bereaved for support, and to care for wounded veterans, who were often in hospitals far from home. The name came from the government-issued Gold Star patch families placed in their windows to honor a loved one who had made the ultimate sacrifice. Gold Star were officially recognized by President Woodrow Wilson and their numbers increased all over the land and through all the wars that so tragically continued.

Now, their numbers have reportedly dwindled. My hurried Internet search finds one listed email address and telephone number no longer valid. And Betty White, do remind the world that many elder persons don’t have the internet. Although, frankly, it might be better if nobody did.

What would be even better is if movies, in the words of the late Bette Davis, hadn’t “gone from silent to unspeakable.” “Unspeakable” is the word for too much entertainment and arts, like the play I read about because of the headline for Ben Brantley’s May 19 Times review: “Do You Have a Mother, Then You Have Someone to Blame.” Even this tolerant reviewer was offended by this especially hateful mother-bashing play written by a 19-year-old British woman. They loved it in London. Hmmm.

Brantley ruefully recalls the long history of mother-bashing “best selling memoirs” and plays, including Medea. And in films and TV, I add, when a longtime mother does appear, she’s usually “the problem.”

“This makes good sense,” Brantley wrote. “Crazy people, are, well, more theatrical than sane ones… and most people like to blame their folks for how they turned out.” An exaggeration, but still a factor in our knowing so little about heroic groups like the Gold Star Mothers or the Park Avenue bereaved mothers, who began the Memorial Trees Christmas tradition. And why was so little made of Lena Horne’s tragic double loss of both her son and her husband in the same year? Typically, her full-page obituary said nothing about the last years of her life.

If only Betty White dared to speak—even a little—to all that. And on a related note, the Gold Star Mothers’ official white outfits were chosen because “white stood for hope and purity.” We’re sure their dress code is still strictly “G-rated.” Don’t we also need that—and not only on Memorial Day! 

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