In a buying spree that will be exceeded only at Christmas, sons and daughters are being urged this week to ply Mom with perfumes, chocolates, blenders, books, jewelry, blouses, linen, watches and microwaves.
Don't even think about it.
All those seeking a profit from this Sunday are "charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest, truest Movements and celebrations."
Well, perhaps just some flowers?
Be advised that florists "would take the coppers off a dead mother's eyes."
Would even a card be allowed?
Fat chance. "Any mother would rather have a line of the worst scribble from her son or daughter than any fancy greeting card."
These sentiments sound as if they're being uttered by a Scrooge more bitter than even Dickens could dream up, but they're actually by Anna Jarvis -- the founder of Mother's Day.
Jarvis, who died in 1948 at the age of 84, was the eighth of 11 children. Seven of her siblings died before reaching adulthood. Her outgoing mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis, was a Sunday school teacher in Grafton, W.Va.; mother and daughter, a family friend said, loved "each other with a love which was more than love."
"She could not let her mother die, because she'd never been honest with her during her lifetime," says Brooklyn College historian James P. Johnson. "Rather than say, 'my mother had a good life and has now passed away,' Anna could not accept her death. It was an unhealthy relationship."
After her mother's death in 1905, Jarvis had only one goal: getting a day set aside when people could pay honor to the woman who brought them into this world.
"She was very attached to her mother, and apparently felt very depressed and guilty when she died," says historian Kathleen Jones of Rutgers University. "The Mother's Day campaign let her use her ample drive and organizational skills -- things her old-fashioned mother wouldn't have approved of in a woman -- to both honor her mother and assuage her guilt."
In an era when women were agitating for the vote, who could object to such a pleasant, nonthreatening idea? State governors stumbled over themselves to issue proclamations commemorating the second Sunday in May -- the anniversary of Anna's mother's death. In 1914, President Wilson made it official for the whole country.
"In a time of labor unrest, concern over immigration and the increasing power of the Socialist Party, Mother's Day became very popular because everyone could celebrate it," says Jones.
"But if the holiday was one way of saying everyone in the country shared something in common, the mother being honored was a certain kind. She was not a career woman -- it was the basic self-sacrificing, stay-at-home, pious mother. Mother's Day was used to reinforce the status quo."
Florists and gift manufacturers seized on the idea. The holiday is now responsible for a $6 billion annual market; this year, the nation's 70 million mothers will rack up an average of 2 1/2 gifts each.
Jarvis saw it coming, and she didn't like it one bit. "They're commercializing my Mother's Day," she complained in a letter to newspapers. "This is not what I intended."
When she was accused of being unfair -- after all, no one was unethically profiting from Mother's Day, and Jarvis herself had originally urged people to send cards, telegrams and white carnations to their mother -- she admitted the contradiction.
"You're telling me that my success is also my defeat . . . " she said. "That happens to be the paradox of my life."
Advancing age only increased her bitterness, and she wrote hundreds of press releases attacking those who had "feasted on our cause." In 1925, she was arrested while trying to break up a convention of War Mothers, whom she had accused of profiting from the sale of white carnations. Seven years later, she threatened to sue the sponsors of a big Mother's Day celebration in New York City, forcing them to call it off.
Jarvis never married -- the result, a friend said, of a disastrous love affair in her youth -- and eventually her inherited fortune was gone. Her last days were spent in a sanitarium in West Chester, Pa., still lamenting that she had created the holiday.
The final irony was cruel. Unknown to Jarvis, her worst enemy, the florists, had donated the funds that kept her alive.
The New York-based Mother's Day Council prefers to ignore Jarvis' later years. Instead, it concentrates on creating "the proper environment for the observance of the holiday."
"We do for Mother's Day what the churches do for Christmas: We create awareness and excitement," says executive director Ted Kaufman.
The council, whose members are primarily gift manufacturers, is also a little more enthusiastic about the idea of presents.
"Our admonition is to give mother a gift of love," Kaufman says. "But if people want to give her something else, that's fine . . . What's so wrong about mother being happy because someone brought her a gift?"
Probably nothing, most people would agree -- as long as the gift is accompanied by affection, and is not a substitute for it.
"Live this day as your mother would have you," Jarvis said. If you couldn't actually visit mom, she recommended a letter or having someone else's mother for a guest.
"She was extremely disappointed that Mother's Day had turned commercial. It was her personal thing," says historian Johnson.
"But her life can at least remind us to be honest with our parents while they are here."