Friday, September 7, 2012

Mum's the Word

A Texas teenager just took me to task for not knowing what a mum is. 

It started with the text message, This is my mum so far what u think. On the screen of my decidedly not-smart phone, what I see is the fanciest first prize fair ribbon ever. Its head is three half-domes that might be full bloom flowers or might be those clusters of looped ribbon you stick on top of birthday presents. The top two are white and there's a green one at the bottom of what I think is a triangle but which I am informed is actually a heart, which I am sure matters, but I am already distracted by the streams and streams of green ribbons rushing from the heart like a unicorn's magical swishing tail. It's hard to determine actual size from the image, but even at postage stamp scale I can tell it is beautiful and grandiose and very green, except where it is white or where school-spirited gold words run vertically down the thickest ribbons in bold block caps. What I think is that it's amazing. What I can't imagine is what it will be when it's done. What I ask is: what is a mum?

A day later, on the phone, the teenager is still shocked.
"You don't know what a mum is?" she repeats.
"Like the flower?" I ask.
"You really don't know what a mum is?"
"Not unless it's a flower."
"Seriously, you don't know what a mum is?"
"I'm guessing it's not a flower."

Don't doubt yourself, dear reader: a mum IS a flower. Indeed, because it was for so long the specific flower given to a girl for homecoming, it is now the name for the whole wearable display that single flower has since morphed into. Reuters tells me it was somewhere in the 1970s to 1990s that things got bigger, and nowadays they can weigh as much as 30 pounds and cost as much as $500. If you don't buy one at the grocery store or make your own, there's a whole cottage industry at your service. LED lights or audio equipment can be built in. A harness may be required. Mostly it's a torso-length glory of ribbon and silk flowers, and clearly there is no broach or corsage to compare them to. I am duly impressed. And I am a little scared to go to the grocery store until homecoming is over.

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