Football plays big into Mother’s Day history

“My mother is someone who shows me how to live,” said Cathy Daigle, Grade 4, St. Joseph’s School, Maine. Say “mother,” “mom,” “momma” to a roomful of people and you’re likely to call forth a roomful of images.

Today’s mother may be a homemaker, an executive, a doctor, a teacher, a factory worker, or maybe an artist. She may choose a full-time career outside the home, one inside the home, or some combination of each. She may be a natural mother, or an adoptive mother, a stepmother, or a foster mother. However she gained the title and however she expresses herself, the woman who becomes a mother takes on the added responsibility of raising children today for a better world tomorrow.

A mother can exert a positive influence not only on her children but also in her world. Being a mother calls for a spirit of generosity that enables a woman to give children both “roots and wings.” Youngsters rooted in love will have the security they’ll need to move into a wilder world prepared to face life’s challenges. A mother must strive to balance the needs of her children, family, friends, business associates, and neighbors, with her own personal needs. A mother is someone “who shows me how to live,” as Cathy Daigle noted. And it’s a demanding role, no less so for the joys and regards it offers. And it can leave us wondering: What’s a mother to do?

We have all heard of the “Mother’s Day,” I wonder how many have heard of the “Father” of Mother’s Day? I am glad to come to a city like Wheeling, WV, that on National Road has a statue dedicated to Pioneer Woman and Mothers. How many cities’ can say that? How many know that if it had not been for football, there may not have been a Mother’s Day? I know that there are what some call football widows, who say they lose their husbands during the football season. I would suggest to you that the next time you complain about your husband watching football, that you remember that it was football that helped bring Mother’s Day to America. I also want to let you know that it was not just football, but college football that played a major part in bringing Mother’s Day to America. I know where I live, and I have a lot of friends that love their college football team, Ohio State, West Virginia University, Penn State, and many others, but it was Notre Dame that played the pivotal role in Mother’s Day in America.

Leontina Albina didn’t expect much special attention from her children on Mother’s Day. She didn’t raise the 64 of them to be like that. “Children grow up and they go away,” she said. “That’s a mother’s life.”

According to the Guinness Book of World Records in 1983, she was the most prolific mother alive. The book records 55 registered births before 1981 and she said she has had four since then. Six died at birth or shortly afterward. At that time she was 59, although Guinness puts her age at 62. Her husband admitted to being 73, but Albina said, “He’s really pushing 80.”

Albina said she reared her children to be independent. “I tell them, ‘Don’t worry about taking care of me.’ I’ve still got my own good hands to work with,” she said. “I tell them, ‘Try to end up better than me.’ Besides, you imagine if they were all still here! What a problem that would be!” A problem indeed. In the 1980s Albina, her husband, Gerardo, and the 18 children who remained at home shared a two-room wooden shack on the edge of a slum in Colina, a rural community 20 miles north of Santiago, Chile. The rickety house had electricity but no running water. The children bathed in a small, battered enamel washbowl in the dusty backyard, next to the outhouse.

Why, in such poverty would a woman have so many children? Albina said she and two brothers were abandoned as infants in neighboring Argentina to the care of a church-run orphanage. When she was 5 years old, her brothers were adopted. She remained behind, heartsick, and made a vow: “I told myself, when I become a mother I’ll always keep my children and never give them away.” She kept the pledge. At 12 years of age she left the orphanage to marry Gerardo, then a 30-year-old mule driver, she said. The children came quickly, in threes and twos. “I was a triplet myself. I think that’s why I always had triplets or twins,” she said. The first 21 children were boys, earning her an award from the Argentine government but leaving her dissatisfied. “I cried, you know? I really wanted a girl.” She had three children during the family’s emigration from Argentina to Chile in 1953. They crossed the Andes Mountains on mule, and she gave birth during the rugged two-week journey in a snowstorm: two girls and a boy. The boy didn’t survive the trip.

Will there be more? Albina shrugs. “If God send them to me, yes. But I’d like God to also consider me, now that I’m approaching old age.” It is said that she had another child at the age of 69 in 1995. She passed away on August 7, 1998 from diabetes. She was eventually investigated by the Chilean authorities and it is a question of whether she gave birth to all of them or if she was a foster parent to these children. They believe she took in some children off the street, some given to her, or some of them might have been relatives’ children. I think we can all agree that no matter how she came by them that still is a lot of children.

The father of Mother’s Day is Frank Earl Hering. By an Act of Congress in 1930, Hering was recognized as being the “father” of Mother’s Day! It was something he proposed in a speech that talked about his mother, Mary Elizabeth Neuer, where he was being recognized as the first paid football coach, and playing captain of the Notre Dame football team in 1897. The speech was February 7, 1904 (around Super Bowl time) at an English Opera House in Indianapolis. On May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a joint resolution of Congress recognizing national Mother’s Day. Frank Hering died in South Bend, Indiana in 1943. So when you open your Mother’s Day card, gifts, and flowers, always remember if it wasn’t for football you may not have gotten anything!

Editor’s note: Darrell Cummings is pastor of Bethlehem Temple, Wheeling, WV and Shiloh Apostolic Faith Assembly, Weirton, WV