I watched a documentary on "Arrangement in Gray and Black No. 1" about artist James Whistler. Whistler changed the definition of art by depicting a state of mind, incorporating devout principle and prayerful hard work, which were in direct contrast to Whistler's own way of life.
Denounced for its austere mood in the late 1800s, this portrait of his mother became an American icon with its viewing on U.S. soil in 1934. But, as one art historian noted, as much as Whistler's painting of his Puritan mother once befitted the apt depiction of motherhood in America, now it no longer applied.
Are these views really true? Is mother, and indeed any elder, no longer viewed with respectable appreciation and admiration? In the heart of Shenandoah County, it appears so.
A recent grocery excursion with my 2-year-old left me in doubt of the character-building that occurs in the schools, but more importantly in American homes. As I bent to get a box of baby wipes on a low shelf, my son gesticulated with his entire body to a higher shelf where a box of Huggies on which his favorite character, Winnie the Pooh, smiled. He put his foot on the cart seat (the straps wouldn't fit around his tummy) and was about to hoist himself up for a better view. A passing teenager could not resist exclaiming, "You need to keep a better eye on yer child."
Turning to look at my assailant, I said, "You need to kindly mind your own business..." and would have said more about showing civility in public had her mother not decided to lambaste me.
To her, "don't talk to my daughter that way! I'm handling it," I simply said, "You weren't saying anything."
So evident in this encounter is that our children are not learning respect for elders, appreciation for the hard work of mothers with young children, and common civility. Gone is the image of Whistler's mother in the minds of Shenandoah County residents and here is a view of mother as incapable, unmindful, and worthy of unkind regard.