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  • Columns | "A Balloon In Cactus"

    An Evening In Paris With Mom
    A Mother's Day Story

    by Maggie Van Ostrand
    Maggie Van Ostrand
    Someone was wearing Evening In Paris perfume the other day. The scent of it instantly reminded me of Mom; I haven't smelled Evening In Paris since we lost her, yet its fragrance transported me back to my childhood and to the Mother's Day when I spilled a precious bottle of it.

    To me, when I was a little girl, my Mom was an angel, a goddess, a beautiful lady who didn't say "perfume," as did her elder sisters, Aunt Marti and Aunt Mae. She said "fragrance." I wanted to be just like her.

    If I can only make myself look like her, I thought, maybe I can become her -- I could sometimes be found clumping around in her high heels, scrunching my toes into a ball in an unsuccessful attempt to keep my feet from sliding all the way down into the pointy toes.

    She had beautiful hats, too, which I dearly wanted to try on, especially the ones with veils, but I couldn't reach them all the way up on the hall closet's top shelf where they perched on faceless wooden heads.

    One particular Mother's Day, I sneaked into forbidden territory -- my parents' bedroom -- to practice becoming Mom. I intended to apply to my face the contents of various tubes, jars and bottles of lady stuff, using cupsful of red and brown pencils, of fat and skinny brushes. All these tempting items lived on her dressing table and I had watched her use them so expertly that you couldn't tell which eyebrow hairs were hers and which were pencilled in.

    I can remember smearing her lipstick across my mouth; some color actually made it inside the lip lines. I attacked her huge pink container of powder, and its fuzzy puff made a scented pink cloud as I vigorously pummeled my face with it.

    Standing regally in its prominent position on a special shelf above the dressing table was the cobalt blue bottle of Evening In Paris perfume, her favorite. Dad had given it to her that morning for Mother's Day.

    In my zeal to become Mom, I didn't notice that each time I reached for another Momifying cosmetic, the dressing table jiggled and the Evening In Paris bottle wobbled precariously closer to the shelf edge. Unaware of the bottle's movement, I gave a frightened start when it came crashing down, striking the glass tabletop.

    The fragile bottle smashed into a million blue shards; everything was in smithereens except the silvery stopper. In a frantic effort to stop the perfume from cascading over the table's edge and onto the carpet where a reminder stain might last forever, I panicked, clutching at the wet pile of broken blue glass and gashing my fingers. I can still feel the sting of the perfume as it flowed over the new cuts, and onto the carpet.

    The concentrated scent was heavy, more like a year in Paris than an evening. It no longer smelled the way it did when Mom wore it, when it became a part of her, the graceful, beautiful part. The sound of glass shattering plus that heavy odor traveled downstairs reaching my parents. Ever after, Dad called that scent Essence of Mischief. It was also the first of many occasions when Mom said she hoped I'd one day have a daughter of my own just like me. I didn't know what she meant by that until I had one.

    When it comes to Mother's Day presents, my daughter and I are alike, just as Mom hoped. Sometimes it seems impossible to please a Mom with Mother's Day gifts, no matter how much you love her. Mine preferred the flawed presents I made when I was little, like the flowered apron with the pockets accidentally sewn shut and no ties to go around her waist. She used safety pins to hold it on.

    Or the year I made an artsy, colorful collage using canned food labels and nobody knew what was inside the cans without labels to tell them, not even when they shook the tins next to their ears in an effort to identify the contents by sound. Meals got all mixed up and Cling peaches sometimes took the place of stringbeans at dinner. Once we had stewed tomatoes for dessert. The only canned contents we were sure of was tuna fish, though Dad thought it could've been cat food.

    She loved the Mother's Day card I made with photo cutouts of the heads of my father, sister and self, even though she later had to try to match the heads with all the pictures of leftover torsos that remained in her big blue quilted photograph box. My sister, the white sheep in the family, had made the flawless box for Mom the year before.

    When I was old enough to earn money to buy Mother's Day presents instead of making them, they no longer pleased Mom. No matter how she tried to hide her disappointment, I can still see the fixed smile on her face as she opened up her Ginsu knife, "the only kitchen knife she'll ever need," the ad had said. What she really wanted was a pair of white gloves.

    She had the last Mother's Day laugh years later, when my adult daughter gifted me with a pair of white gloves, not in my size but in her own. Since they didn't fit me, she kept them. I suspected, by the merriment in their eyes as they exchanged glances, that there had been a conspiracy, because they both knew that what I really wanted was a Ginsu knife.

    It's almost Mother's Day again and I've already received a priceless gift -- from an unknown someone wearing the fragrance, Evening In Paris. For one shining, vivid moment, a stranger gave back to me my lovely mother.

    Who could ask for anything more?

    © Maggie Van Ostrand,2002 column
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