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! :)

  3. You missed the point of that story completely. In the story, the mother burns her arms badly in the flames. As her daughter grows older, she notices the ugly scars on her moms arms. She asks her mother why her arms are so ugly, and her mom starts to cry. She is embarrassed by her terrible scars and how her daughter might think of her. She sits her daughter down an tells her of the fire and how she was burned saving her daughter. The daughter then tells the mother that her arms are the most beautiful she has ever seen. It was the sacrifice that made her so beautiful. The point is that Jesus made a sacrifice for us and carries the scars in his hands. They are the scars of love and sacrifice. Beautiful hands...

    Yeah, I was weirded out by leaving the baby home alone too... But the rest of the story is quite good.

    1. @Jay Snow: You're remembering a different story. In this version, both the mother and child die horrifically in the fire. Way to go, Uncle Arthur!

  4. This story (actually the tamed down version recalled by octobercountry) haunted me twice. First, when I read it at the dentist office when I was 7 or 8. I was bothered that the story was making the mother out to be heroic after she left the baby alone! I knew my mother would never do that. It was my first realization that books can lie.

    Years later, when I had a baby and was struggling with postpartum depression, I developed a terrible fear that I would have a lapse of reason leave my baby alone. When I left her at home with her dad, I worried that I had actually left her alone in the house. (Maybe he didn't understand that I was out of the house. Maybe he thought I was in the basement and he left the house without checking. Maybe I only imagined telling him that he was alone with the baby and he wasn't there at all!)

    Thanks, Uncle Arthur, for messing with my mind as a kid, and leaving the mess there to rebound in adulthood like chicken pox returning as shingles.