Mother’s Day is big business, with last year’s retail spending for the holiday topping $28.1 billion. That’s a lot of flowers, cards and Sunday brunch.

Of course, most mothers will tell you it’s the sentiment behind the gestures and gifts that matter most of all. Flowers wilt and food is fleeting – but the messages and the handmade notes of love and painted handprints are never forgotten.

My own mother has been gone for over ten years now. She was everything you’d want a mom to be. Growing up in Jersey City, a few generations removed from the great Irish immigration surge in the middle of the 1800s, she instilled in her five children a love of the Lord, America and one another. She also said good manners were more important than a million dollars.

Joan Cummings Batura was devoted to her family. She seemed to always be in the kitchen. Whether baking, cooking or cleaning, our mom told us she loved us – but she also showed it.

But a decade since her passing, I realize more and more that her good mothering left clues. Exceptional parenting always does.

I inherited many of her books, and many of them are underlined or highlighted. There are books on the Christian faith, history, politics and biographies. Seeing what was important to her has been a reminder regarding what should be important to me.

In Arthur Gordon’s lovely bestseller, A Touch of Wonder, she had highlighted the phrase, “Those who appreciate life the most are given the most to appreciate.” My mom loved so many things, but especially the ocean, quiet time to read and interesting, even eccentric people. “Characters make life fun,” she said.

Another from the Gordon book: “The more things you care about, and the more intensely you care, the more alive you are.”

My mom was active in church and in her community, and was also hopelessly behind on everything. She would still be decorating on Christmas Eve at 2 A.M. “I’m just slow,” she would say. She also had lots of interests.

Our mother’s faith grew exponentially as she aged, and especially in her last decade of life. She attended seminary in her seventies, and always said she was shocked how little she knew despite a lifetime of worshipping the Lord.

I’m so grateful for the books my mother left behind, and all the clues they contain. As the digital world explodes, I wonder how and what future generations will leave their loves ones. How will their progeny know what resonated and what occupied their time and attention?

My mother also left behind letters, cards and notes. Her love notes to and from our father are formal and gracious – and full of hopes and dreams. In a letter dated September of 1954, just one year prior to their marriage, my mom wrote my dad, who had been drafted into the Army:

My Dearest Jimmy: I walked by the furniture store down by the corner and saw the record cabinet in the window that you admired last summer. I am making payments on it, and some day it will be ours. In our own home!  

I remember that cabinet. But by the time I came along, it was all nicked and scratched and scuffed, the reality of young children and overuse. But once upon a time, it represented the love and life to come.

Growing up in our Long Island home on Central Avenue in Baldwin, my mom liked to put sayings up on our kitchen bulletin board, which was on the door to the basement. Witty, pithy and wise were her criteria. Here’s one that I recall: “Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”

I recently found another clue – a paper tucked behind a photograph in my parent’s wedding album. It’s in my mom’s handwriting and it’s dated “11/12/47.” She would have been only 15. It’s entitled, “Advice” – and includes the following adages:

Do not always speak your thoughts.

Be courteous and friendly, but not cheap.

Maintain a firm hold upon your friends. Be aware not to take in everyone as an intimate friend.

Try not to become involved in an argument but if it is unavoidable, stand up for your rights and fight fairly for what you believe is right.

Listen politely, but do not say too much.

Listen to everyone’s opinion but judge quietly to yourself. 

Wear becoming clothes which displays refinement.

If you are true to yourself, you cannot hope but be true to your comrades.

I miss my mother, but I no longer grieve her passing. I know I will see her again. But I’m so grateful for the many gifts and clues she left behind, including this wisdom, which she culled from someone else.

If you’re a mother, be deliberate in leaving clues for your children and grandchildren, reminding them what is important to you – and what should be important to them.

And Happy Mother’s Day!