Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories: "Mother Love"

image Herbert Rudeen
I don't understand why this story was ever written, ever published, and certainly ever read to me before bedtime, but when it comes to childhood nightmares, Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories is the gift that keeps on giving.

The story begins: "Here is a very sad little story, and I hope you won't shed too many tears as you read it."  Then why are you telling us this story, Uncle Arthur?  Why?

Daddy is dead to begin with, so Mother only has Little Margaret left in all the world.  One night Mother wants to go shopping, so she puts Little Margaret to bed and tiptoes out to the market.  While she is gone, the cat knocks over an oil lamp and starts a fire.  Although the story initially paints a picture of Mother as a wonderful, loving parent who agonizes over the fact that there was no one available to sit for her child, here it points a blaming finger: "Had someone been there to pick it up quickly, all might have been well, but there was no one to help, and poor pussy did not understand."

Now the fire is described in exquisite detail: the smoke, the chaos, the burning.  Mother returns home and, although the firemen warn her that "no one could live a moment in those flames," she plunges in to grab her baby.  The firemen later find their charred remains, the mother still clutching her baby.

Here the story takes an unusual turn.  Although one might expect a lesson here about a mother illegally endangering her infant by leaving her alone unattended, instead, the blame seems to shift to... Little Margaret?  Or at least children who are ungrateful for their mothers.

It reads: "If you were ever in such a dangerous place, your Mother would rush to help you, even though it cost her all she had and her own life as well... And if that's true, and you know it is, don't you think that while you have the chance you should show her how much you love her, too?"  And while the story notes that a child could certainly run into a burning building to prove equal affection, it ends with what is perhaps a more reasonable suggestion: "Why not try washing the dishes for her next time she's tired?  I'm sure she would appreciate it just as much!  Anyway, it's worth trying, isn't it?"

Lesson learned:
Wash the dishes for your mother once in a while or you and she both will meet a fiery death.

Source: Maxwell, Arthur S.  "Mother Love."  Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories. Vol. 1.  Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1964.  86-89.
 Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories: Volume 1


  1. I found this story to be so disturbing. I had a picture in my head of a dead mother and baby at the bottom of some stairs. I also thought of the poor cat who died in the fire too. I love cats.
    I also have to remember that many years ago it wasn't uncommon for parents to leave their babies tucked in their cribs and go visit a neighbor or grab something at the market. So different from now.

  2. Just found your blog--I can relate! I bought a copy of the 1950 edition I found at a book sale, so I have the joy of re-traumatizing myself all over again. The stories are so patronizing and yet hilarious in a dark sort of way!

    Interestingly, I noticed the book comes with a "Lesson Index"--Mother Love is found under "Love, How to to Show". As a mom now myself I'm really not sure how I feel about that categorization! :)