Who’s Your Momma?

Shirley Tedesco has her hands full with eight children ranging in age from five to sixteen, but she loves being a mother. She’s also very practical about the whole endeavor and readily distributes hugs or spanks as needed to keep her brood of eight angels/hoodlums in line. In the chapter of my novel, The Tedescos, titled “Soul Food,” Shirley is feeling like less of a mother than she normally does. Her husband, Joe, knows she’s experiencing a bout of the blues, and his heart breaks for her. Joe springs into action with a Mother’s Day celebration sure to lift Shirley’s spirits and quite possibly earn him some points.

While writing, I knew that Mother’s Day had been established long before the year during which my novel took place, but the research provided some interesting history with which I’d like to honor mothers everywhere.

One of the earliest example of celebrating mothers came about with the Christian festival known as “Mothering Sunday.” This holiday fell on the fourth Sunday during Lent, and it was once a major tradition in England and parts of Europe. Faithful church attenders would return to their “mother church” (the main church nearest their home) for a special service.

Over time, Mothering Sunday became a more secular holiday. Children began presenting their mother’s with small tokens of appreciation or flowers. This custom started to fade in popularity, but it eventually merged with the American version of honoring mothers, Mother’s Day, in the 1930s and 1940s.

In America, the origins of Mother’s Day date back to the 19th century. Prior to the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis, a resident of West Virginia, helped start the “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” in an effort to teach proper childcare to local women. Later, the clubs served as a unifying force in areas of the country still divided by the Civil War. In 1868, Jarvis promoted reconciliation between mothers of Union and Confederate soldiers by organizing “Mothers’ Friendship Day.”

Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and suffragette, also provided an important aspect to what would become the modern Mother’s Day. In 1870, Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation.” Her call to action asked mothers to unite in promoting world peace. In 1873, she campaigned for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to be celebrated every June 2.

Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, was instrumental in promoting the official Mother’s Day holiday in the 1900s. After her mother’s death in 1905, Anna Jarvis regarded Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children.

John Wanamaker, a Philadelphia department store owner, provided financial backing for Anna Jarvis allowing her to organize the first official Mother’s Day celebration in 1908 at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia. Thousands of people also attended a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in Philadelphia.

Anna Jarvis, who never married or had children, started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and influential politicians in an effort to have Mother’s Day added to the national calendar. By 1912, many states, towns, and churches had adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday, and Anna Jarvis established the Mother’s Day International Association to assist with promoting her cause. Her perseverance paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure to officially establish the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

There is no set way to honor and celebrate mothers and motherhood. My experience has been that small, private celebrations or those grounded in faith touch a mother’s heart the most. It isn’t about what you can give to and/or do for your mother; it’s about maintaining the relationship throughout the year, and then taking one special day a year to say an extra “I love you.”

On Kingdom Mountain

On Kingdom Mountain, set in Vermont in 1930, revolved around the character of Miss Jane Hubbell Kinneson, an incredibly eccentric mountain woman who carved birds, ran a bookstore, and was the last of her family to live on Kingdom Mountain.   At first Miss Jane’s forthright nature can be a little annoying; she reminded me of Anne of Green Gables on steroids.  Still, when she used her wits to deal with her cousin, Eben Kinneson, as they battled over the road he and the town fathers wanted to run over her mountain, I found myself rooting for Miss Jane.

Intertwined with the battle over Kingdom Mountain was the story of Henry Satterfield, the rainmaking aviator and grandson of a thief who stole Civil War gold and supposedly hid it on Miss Jane’s mountain.  A charming romance between Henry and Miss Jane ensued, and they worked together to solve the riddle of the missing gold, which was bound up in the mystery of her long lost uncle.  Unfortunately, the biplane pilot’s heart was set toward finding the lost treasure more than it was on making Miss Jane his bride.

My only complaint with the story was Miss Jane’s overwhelming lack of respect toward God.  Her words and actions on that topic were rooted in arrogance and ignorance.  Then again, if she didn’t agree with the writings of a secular author, she simply penciled out what they had written in a book.  So, it probably shouldn’t have surprised me that she would do the same with a Bible.  Her inflexible nature caused her a lot of heartache, yet she never seemed to learn from it.

Many interesting peripheral characters were sprinkled throughout (the dog-cart man, Canvasback Glodgett, A Number One, and Sadie Blackberry) as well as rich history on the era and setting.  Rooted in his own family history, Howard Frank Mosher has written an often hilarious, sometimes melancholy tale about a simple way of life up against the encroaching threat of modernization.

I’ll Drink to That

ill-drink-to-thatWhen you ask people about Prohibition in the United States, the response they most readily provide is that for some strange reason it became illegal to drink alcohol of any kind. This is usually accompanied by mystified looks and slow shakes of the head.

Unfortunately, what many don’t know is why this occurred and that it was actually part of our Constitution at one time. So, here’s a little history lesson born of my own need to understand Prohibition more thoroughly for the sake of my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles.

By definition, Prohibition was the legal prevention of the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States from 1920 to 1933 under the terms of the Eighteenth Amendment. Note that the consumption and private possession of alcohol was not illegal, so what a person already owned could be enjoyed in his or her own home. Just drink responsibly and sparingly as it was now tougher to resupply one’s stash.

The National Prohibition Act, known informally as the Volstead Act, set down methods for enforcing the Eighteenth Amendment, and defined which intoxicating liquors were prohibited, and which were excluded from Prohibition (e.g., for medical and religious purposes). The Amendment was the first to set a time delay before it would take effect following ratification, and the first to set a time limit for its ratification by the states. Its ratification was certified on January 16, 1919, with the amendment taking effect on January 16, 1920. For the following 13 years Prohibition was officially in effect, though the ability to enforce it was limited by the Volstead Act and by corrupt and complacent politicians who overlooked illicit manufacturing and smuggling.

The Anti-Saloon League’s Wayne Wheeler conceived and drafted the bill, which was named for Andrew Volstead, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who managed the legislation. The Anti-Saloon League was the leading organization lobbying for Prohibition in the United States in the early 20th century.

So, why all this hatred toward alcohol? The Eighteenth Amendment was the result of decades of effort by the Temperance Movement in the United States and at the time was generally considered a progressive amendment. The Temperance Movement, which went back as far as the late eighteenth century, was born of the concern for alcoholism and how it played into spousal abuse, family neglect, and chronic unemployment. However, the desire for cheap, plentiful alcohol led to relaxed ordinances on alcohol sales, and the problem persisted.

A tract published in 1784 by Benjamin Rush detailing how excessive use of alcohol was harmful to one’s physical and psychological health. Many people got on board with the idea, initially proposing temperance rather than abstinence, but like most well-meaning organizations, political in-fighting stalled the group.

Throughout the decades, the Temperance Movement received support from various religious denominations and temperance groups, but it also took a back seat to issues such as slavery during the Civil War. It wasn’t until the third wave of temperance that any movement achieved success. With the formation of The Anti-Saloon League by Rev. Howard Hyde Russell in 1893, the Temperance Movement found footing not by demanding that politicians change their drinking habits, only their votes in the legislature. Under the leadership of Wayne Wheeler, the Anti-Saloon League stressed political results and perfected the art of pressure politics. The Anti-Saloon League’s motto was “the Church in action against the saloon,” and it mobilized its religious coalition to pass state and local legislation, establishing dry states and dry counties.

By the late nineteenth century, most Protestant denominations and the American wing of the Catholic Church supported the movement to legally restrict the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. These groups believed that alcohol consumption led to corruption, prostitution, spousal abuse, and other criminal activities. Brewers and distillers resisted the reform movement, which threatened to ruin their livelihood, and also feared women having the vote, because they expected women to vote for Prohibition. The Anti-Saloon League achieved its main goal of passage of the Eighteenth Amendment on December 18, 1917.

Just after the Eighteenth Amendment’s adoption, there was a significant reduction in alcohol consumption among the general public and particularly among low-income groups. Consumption soon climbed as underworld entrepreneurs began producing rotgut alcohol, and the speakeasy quickly replaced the saloon. Likewise, there was a general reduction in overall crime, mainly in the types of crimes associated with the effects of alcohol consumption, though there were significant increases in crimes involved in the production and distribution of illegal alcohol.

Those who continued to use alcohol tended to turn to organized criminal syndicates, who were able to take advantage of uneven enforcement, suddenly overwhelmed police forces, and corruptible public officials to establish powerful, murderous smuggling networks. Anti-prohibition groups arose and worked to have the Amendment repealed once it became apparent that Prohibition was an unprecedented catastrophe.

The Amendment was repealed in 1933 by ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment, the only instance in United States history that a constitutional amendment was repealed in its entirety.

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