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Columns | "A Balloon In Cactus"

Envelope Season

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
This is the long, long season where Awards shows give out their envelopes of excellence. I'm more concerned with another kind of envelope, the kind charities send back to you as follow-ups to your preceding donation. They are the Guilt Envelopes.

When you write a check or make an internet contribution to your favorite charity, you're helping worthy causes. You feel good. You have been useful. You'll get a tax deduction. What you'll also get is a lifetime of Guilt Envelopes. You can die, they still come. Guilt Envelopes are for people like Oscar nominees. And my Mom.

Mom sent donations to Catholic charities and they always sent back a Jesus picture with blood-dripping heart, and an envelope for another donation. The sight of the new envelope just sitting there waiting to be filled, instead filled Mom with something else — guilt by osmosis.

By succumbing to the Guilt Envelopes, Mom was considered a regular donor and sent a plastic saint. The more she gave, the higher the amount requested on the next envelope. No way to keep up.

The plastic saints were chintzy looking, kind of like the cheapest picnic forks you find at Walmart, the kind that still have the little tabs which once attached them until a factory worker cut them apart. These are hardly the Duck Dynasty bobbleheads so many pick-up trucks enjoy.

After mom died, my sister, unable to bring herself to throw the saints and envelopes away, gave me a box full. There were plenty, since Mom had died over a year before and still the relentless envelopes kept coming.

I didn't want them either. However, each time I picked them up and walked toward the trash can, I became paralyzed with guilt. What, I should simmer in Purgatory or burn in Hell? Is Mom looking down, disappointed in me, afraid for me? How can I trash saints like Bartholomew, Patron of Plasterers, Martin de Porres, Patron of Hairdressers, or Jesus with his bloody heart? I prayed for an answer. And I got one.

This is Hollywood, where superstition runs strong and deep, especially during the months preceding the Academy Awards. Film folk are always knocking on wood, throwing salt over their shoulders, and avoiding black cats and ladders. Very early one morning, I went to a Beverly Hills Church frequented by movie stars praying for an Oscar. I placed the figurines on the altar railing and left.

Would they be seen as a message? A mystery? A miracle? Would fondling them achieve an Oscar?

Those plastic saints on the altar each stand on a packet of G uilt Envelopes. I doubt the celebrities will ignore them at this time of year. Guilt is as important as football, as easily applied as lipstick and as lasting as this Awards season.


© Maggie Van Ostrand, January 22, 2013 column
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