When I was a child, I remember the men’s society at our church would sell carnations before and after Mass on Mother’s Day weekend. My dad, always the gentleman, would buy a carnation corsage for my mother and another for my grandmother (his mother-in-law), and they would in turn buy him a carnation boutonniere. They would fuss and giggle as they pinned them on each other.
I always asked for a carnation, either a tiny corsage with a sprig of baby’s breath or a long-stemmed beauty, but my mother would scold me that they “were for grownups only” and hurried us into the church for Mass.
One year, as we walked out of the last service for the day, the men’s society announced that a few flowers hadn’t sold and were free to anyone who wanted one. I ran to claim a freebie before my mother could hold me back. While others chose a corsage or boutonniere, I plucked a lonely, long stemmed carnation that sat by itself in a bucket filled with water. I would have preferred a red beauty but I was happy with my white carnation.
As I walked back to my parents, I noticed that my flower had tiny red speckles on the edges of the petals. This may have been why it hadn’t sold.
My grandmother said that wearing a red carnation on Mother’s Day meant you honored a mother who was still living and a white carnation meant you remembered a mother who had passed away. To help me remember, she said mothers in heaven wore angelic white gowns, and that was why she and my dad wore white flowers and my mother’s was red.
My mother scolded me for taking off without permission and – horrors! - for choosing a white carnation. I should have gotten a red one. I defended my choice, saying it looked abandoned in the bucket by itself. I wanted it for all the mommies who didn’t have someone who remembered them that day. I was allowed to keep it but not without a scowl.
This Mother’s Day, I am going to buy bunches of white carnations. They will probably be the least expensive because everyone will fight over the reds or the most colorful. I am going to trek out to the cemetery where we buried my dear grandmother, then my handsome dad, and just a few months ago, my formidable mom. I want them to look down from heaven and know I haven’t forgotten them.
I am going to cover their lonely graves with white carnations.