Mom's the word

The woman shelved her movie-star dreams to change your putrid diapers. This Mother's Day, send her a sonnet.

By Garrison Keillor
April 26, 2006 2:00PM (UTC)
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I'd like a word with you about your mother, and I want you to read this column all the way to the end, otherwise I will slap you so hard your head will spin.

I realize that Mother's Day is a fake holiday perpetuated by the greeting card industry and the florists, but it's here to stay, so make the best of it. The president is a fake, too, but we still pay our taxes. And it's time you did something nice for your mother.


I bring this up well in advance of Mother's Day so you can plan a little bit and not roll out of the sack on SUNDAY, MAY 14, and fritter away the morning and then dash over to Mom's and on the way pick up a cheap box of chocolate-covered cherries at the gas station, or a gallon of windshield cleaner, or whatever you were planning to give her.

Cheap chocolates are not appropriate for your mother, nor is a bouquet of daisies marked down 50 percent at the convenience store. What you owe your mother is a sonnet. A 14-line poem, in iambic pentameter, rhymed, just like Shakespeare's "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state." Look it up. You can do it, if you try.

Your mother loves you, she has loved you from Day 1, she loves you on your good days and your bad. She was on her way to Broadway and Hollywood was taking a look at her when your father got her in a family way and she put glamour and fame behind her and had you instead. Think about it. All that pain, and then out you came, not the high point of her day, believe me.


She changed your poopy diaper when the stench was such as to make strong men dizzy. And when you hopped up and ran off, leaving a brown trail behind you, she mopped that up, too. At a certain age, you put everything into your mouth -- dirt, coins, small toys, cufflinks -- and when she stuck a finger down your throat, you refused to vomit. Nothing would come up. All she could do was pour Listerine in you and hope for the best. But if she tried to coax you to eat green leafy material, then you would throw up quarts of stuff. And she'd clean it up and take you in her arms and comfort you although your breath was rancid.

You were not a bright child. I realize that you think you were in the accelerated group, and that was your mother's doing. Her great accomplishment was to protect you from the knowledge of your own ordinariness. The rest of us knew. You didn't. Nor did you realize the extent of your bed-wetting. Three a.m., you sat in a stupor, while Mom changed your urine-soaked sheets, tucked you in and sang you to sleep with "If Ever I Would Leave You" from "Camelot."

She loved you through the dark valley of your adolescence, when you were as charming as barbed wire. You surrounded yourself with sullen friends who struck your mother as incipient criminals. Her beloved child, her darling, her shining star, running with teenage jihadists, but she bit her tongue and served them pizza and sloppy Joes, ignoring the explosives taped to their chests.


When you were 17, when other adults found you unbearable and even your own aunts and uncles looked at you and saw the decline of American civilization and the coming of a dark age of arrogant narcissism unprecedented in world history, your mother still loved you with all her heart. She loves you still today, despite all the wrong choices you've made. Don't get me started. Go write your mother a sonnet.

It costs you nothing except some time and effort. Do not buy her chocolate. She doesn't care for it. She only pretended to, for your sake. Do not take her out to dinner. She has eaten plenty of dinners with you and one more isn't going to be that thrilling. She might prefer to snuggle up in a chair all by herself and watch "Singin' in the Rain" and have a stiff drink. (You do know your mother drinks, don't you? Ever wonder why?)


Get out a sheet of paper and a pencil. Here's an idea for a first line: "When I was disgraceful and a complete outcast." You take it from there.

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(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)


© 2006 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.

Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor is the author of the Lake Wobegon novel "Liberty" (Viking) and the creator and host of the nationally syndicated radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," broadcast on more than 500 public radio stations nationwide. For more columns by Keillor, visit his column archive.

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Motherhood Mother's Day