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American Senior Citizens Remember Bygone Mother's Days - 2002-05-08

About 30 older folks, in their 70's and 80's, are seated around dining tables inside a one-story, brick building called the St. Martin's Senior Center in Alexandria, Virginia.

A bus drops them off each weekday morning for an exercise class on the carpeted floor, a free hot lunch, and a game of bingo. I asked them about their memories of Mother's Day, and 81-year-old Helen Davis of Houston, Texas, recalled the time in the mid 1920s that she bought her mom a special gift for ten cents.

"The Mother's Day I remember: I had a dime and got on the city bus and went downtown in Houston I was about nine at the most and I went to Woolworth's [department store], the five and ten cents store, and I bought a bottle of 'Evening in Paris' perfume, a pretty, little blue bottle and gave it to her and I don't know if she ever used it or not. But it was my present to her and it was special because I made the trip downtown to get it. Actually, the way I remember my mother more: she was the most devout person I ever known. She used to talk to God all the time. She's doing the dishes and she'd talk to God."

Baroch: "What would she say?"

Ms. Davis:"'God, you know my problem here. Now, I hope you take care of it. I leave it all to you.' That sort of thing. That's the way she was."

Ashley Coates, 80, is a native of Los Angeles, California, who says that in the 1930s, her mother used to dress like a movie star.

"Oh, I remember her so well. She looked like [actress Greta] Garbo. When she'd dress for a party or something, she'd wear a slinky sort of design that she'd made for herself, velvet, looked marvelous. And I used to feel so jealous of her," Ms. Coates said.

For Gertrude Ordon, 87, of Westphalia, Texas, memories of her mother intermingle with recollections of hard times during the economic Depression of the 1930s era.

"I had a wonderful life, childhood life. Of course, times were hard during the Depression. What little she had she would give me. We got along fine. Just about like two sisters, I guess," Ms. Ordon said.

Paul Hughes, 71, is a native of Tupelo, Mississippi.

Baroch: "Remember your mama?"

Mr. Hughes:"Oh yes. Very well. She was a good mother. She took care of us kids, one brother and one sister. She was a farm lady. Worked on a farm, she and my father."

Baroch: "What sort of things did she raise?"

Mr. Hughes: "Cotton and corn, vegetables, a big garden every year - killed hogs to eat. Farm life is hard. It's a good life, but it's hard."

Baroch: "Do you remember Mother's Day?"

Mr. Hughes "Oh yes, very much so. She'd always get a new dress on Mother's day. We'd get her roses out of the garden. She appreciated that, have a little cry and hug us all and told us 'she loves us very much.' Every morning before she went to school and at night before we went to bed, she told us she loved us. It was big thrill."

Baroch: "At some point, did you move away?"

Mr. Hughes: "I spent four years in the Marine Corps; got out in 1955."

Baroch:"You were [in the] Korea [n War]?"

Mr. Hughes: "A lot of my buddies got killed over in Korea."

Baroch: "Did your mother write? What'd she say?"

Mr. Hughes: "'Keep my head down, stay out of trouble.' She wrote, that she 'loved me very much and couldn't wait till I got home. She'd write me about one to two times a week."

Mr. Hughes celebrates Mother's Day by visiting his hometown of Tupelo and putting fresh flowers at his mother's gravesite.

Some senior citizens who attend St. Martin's Senior Center in Alexandria, Virginia, recalled the celebrations they've enjoyed for years - telephone calls, greeting cards, bouquets of flowers, a Sunday restaurant dinner - and the hugs and kisses of grown-up children.