In general, I carry a heaping bushel of disdain for holidays and their seemingly contrived celebrations. I’m not talking about Christmas or the candy carnivals of Halloween and Easter. I’m talking about The Days: those observances that fuel the greeting card industry and its pre-packaged platitudes of gratuitous homage.
Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and, for those not taking part in the biology of a family but who have one nonetheless, Parents’ Day. There’s also Boss’ and Secretaries’ Days and Administrative Professionals Day—the catch-all for the real movers and shakers of the world.
To my way of thinking, observing such Days is a backhand way of saying, “I’m thinking of you today, but you’re out of sight, out of mind for the other 364.”
This year, Mother’s Day for me came on April 5. It was a day that I learned something new about Patricia Louise Hogan that made her even more special and raised my esteem and respect for her to a new height.
That’s not to say she isn’t great by the usual yardstick. She read to me early and often from books that shaped my life (“But if I ran the zoo,” said young Gerald McGrew, “I’d make a few changes. That’s just what I’d do…”); she expected impeccable table manners at all times; insisted that “please, thank you, no sir, yes ma’am” (and every applicable combination thereof) were among the first words out of my mouth when addressing elders or strangers; and she had little tolerance for sloppy grammar. She demanded honesty and integrity, even when it backfired (she once caught me slipping caramels out of the Brach’s display, gave me a quarter and made me confess to the Safeway cashier and offer to pay for what I had eaten, to which the cashier responded, “Oh, don’t worry about it.”)
I got a Mach 2 head start from my mom.
Her love of Colorado and skiing introduced me to this great state and a sport that I’ve relished for 40 years. And thanks to a continuous regimen of swimming and gym time, she still fits into her pool-table green, one-piece Bolle ski outfit bought new in 1971 and which she wore last winter. She summited a 14er for her 70th birthday.
As an adult, I’ll never forget how she danced on a table (allegedly so she could see) during a Johnny Cash show at the Boulder Theater.
That’s not to say I don’t have issues. Like giving me up for lost when I blew off college to be a ski bum, or scoffing at my brief stint as a philosophy major, or giving away my 1955 Cadillac Coupe de Ville a mere two months before I was to graduate from college (because she was tired of looking at it hiding behind the apple tree in the yard).
All things considered, I was pretty sure my mom was as good as they get. Until she told me something I never knew.
One of the handful of exceptional educators I had as a teenager was my eighth-grade science teacher, Mr. Snow. Not only did he make science interesting, he took time to connect with smart-ass discipline problems like me. Consequently, I learned, and remember still, the things he taught.
Long after I passed through his class, Mr. Snow was accused of “making unwanted advances” toward a teacher. Because that teacher was a man, my mother—who was a school board member—was told that Mr. Snow needed to be fired. My mom wanted to know why. He had never acted inappropriately with students and was regarded as an exemplary teacher (evidenced by the droves of former students who stopped by to say hello years after graduating).
Regardless, the issue was brought before the board for action and my mom was the lone dissenting vote.
In the 1980s, being gay remained taboo in the Dark Ages mentality of Independence, Mo., despite its nascent acceptance on the coasts. But my mom had the guts and the bravery and the integrity to do what was right, not what was easy or what would keep her from being a pariah among her peers.
Hearing that story and getting to tell my mom how proud I was gave me a reason to celebrate the greatest woman I know with words and feelings that flowers or a smarmy card could never touch.
Moms are the architects of civilization and humans evolve only as much as mothers grant permission to do so. And every time I get to share a story like this about my mom, it’s Mother’s Day.