Sunday, May 13, 2007

Almost on Oprah on Mother's Day

A few years after I'd written The Mommy Guide, book sales were lagging and I wanted to jump-start them again. So I talked to a friend in public relations and we decided that I should become the Mothers Day expert--primarily because no one else was.

So...I researched Mother's Day and learned that it was started by Anna May Jarvis, the ninth of eleven children born in 1864 in Webster, West Virginia. When they moved to Grafton, a town four miles aways, her mother, Ann Marie, taught Bible classes at a local church. When Anna was twelve, after her mother finished teaching one of her lessons, she folded her hands and said, "I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it."

This had a huge impact on Anna. In 1907, two years after her mother's death, she organized a church service in her mother's memory. She then organized a letter writing campaign to try and turn the event into a national holiday. In May 1914, at her request, a joint resolution was introduced in both Houses of Congress, and approved by President Woodrow Wilson, naming the second Sunday in May as Mothers Day. Later, it became an international holiday although in some countries and continents, it's celebrated on a different day.

Steeped in Mothers Day history, we sent out press releases to television and radio shows proclaiming me as the Mothers Day expert. We said I could speak on Anna May Jarvis and the history of Mothers Day as well as doing a piece on the best and worst Mothers Day gifts. To make a very long story shorter, I was interviewed on two radio shows, and one TV show. And I auditioned for a spot on Oprah.

Although we had sent out the releases six weeks before Mothers Day, an assistant producer from Oprah didn't call until three three days before the Mothers Day show was to be taped. The purpose of the call was to determine if I was entertaining enough to appear on national TV. Since I was a bit hypomanic, as I remember, I talked for ten minutes straight, without taking a breath. She seemed impressed and said another producer would get back to me the next day. Since this was before the advent of cell phones, the next day I sat and waited by the telephone for six hours. When no one called, I figured that was it.

But the following day, when I was practicing my speech for a local radio show, a higher level producer from Oprah called back, and we talked for a half hour. I guess I passed the test because she invited me to fly to Chicago the next day, which was Thursday. The show would be tapping on Friday, which was two days before Mothers Day.

The downside was that I would have to pay for my own airline ticket and accommodations. They couldn't promise that I would appear because the show was already "locked in." However, if they were running short, I might get to do my bit.

While I was feeling okay at the time, I wasn't well enough to try and get new props together at the last minute. The gifts I had chosen for the local show were cute and funny but that wouldn't wash on national television. And I was overwhelmed at the thought of finding someone from a high-end department store who could put together new props the next morning.

The cost of booking a flight at the last minute was prohibitive. The logistics of arranging for a rental car, hotel room, and all the rest was daunting--particularly without a guaranteed appearance. The thought of having to rewrite all my material without having time to fully practice it was extraordinarily stressful. So I regretfully declined, the producer said she understood, and promised they would consider me in the future (which, of course, never came to pass.)

But at 6:00 in the morning on Mothers Day, when my son was still in preschool, I did appear on my local NBC affiliate. Unfortunately, I think my husband and mother were the only people who saw me. My son has never been a morning person--even when he was a baby. Book sales didn't soar as a result of my appearance, which my son watched later on videotape, but I did get my 15 minutes of fame.

So did Anna May Jarvis although I must admit that her life didn't end well. Once the retail industry saw the potential in Mothers Day, they turned it into one of the most commercial holidays of the year. And Miss Jarvis spent the remainder of her life trying to turn back the tide and recast Mothers Day as the more spiritual holiday her mother had envisioned.

What's the moral of this story? If you do something nice for your mother on mother's day, you'll be punished!

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