of us remember our moms with affection, or occasionally, dislike.
But we always remember them, even when they're not around any more.
I turned out to be more like my mom than I could ever have expected.
I say the same things to my children that she said to me. "Careful
you don't tear the wrapping paper," I say to my kids as they open
their birthday gifts, "You can iron the wrinkles out and use it
It is at these moments that I realize the unthinkable has happened:
I have turned into my mother. How could this be when I, who rebelled
against anything with a mouth had valiantly fought against becoming
I loved my
mom but in all honesty, she could drive us kids straight to the
rubber Ramada. She didn't have to talk either. Equipped with an
inexhaustible supply of looks for every occasion, she could instill
guilt quicker than the Pope. She said she'd give up using guilt
when it didn't work anymore.
Mom's sayings turned out to be hereditary. "Save that dress, it'll
come back in style." To this day, my closets are full of outfits
I haven't worn since Lincoln's inaugural ball, and shoes I couldn't
fit into again unless I reshaped my feet in a pencil sharpener.
"Finish your dinner. Think of all the starving children in Europe."
When I tried that one on my son, he answered, "So send the meatloaf
I save one earring just in case the lost one ever turns up. I transfer
phone numbers onto my BlackBerry but still save the little pieces
of paper the originals were written on. I keep the rubber bands
that hold bunches of broccoli together, and save leftover bits of
wet soap to mold into one usable bar; this will come in handy to
combat soap shortages if Latvia ever attacks us on a charge of bad
I even caught myself repeating Mom's most famous line, suitable
for all catastrophic occasions: "It should be the worst thing that
ever happens to you." That line could really take the wind out of
your sails, since I thought that whatever was happening WAS the
worst thing that ever happened to me.
I have a drawerful of brand-new white cotton gloves because every
Easter for years and years she sent me a pair even though no one
wears them any more. Maybe she thought I'd need them if I ever got
invited to a cotillion at Tara, or decided to have a retroactive
coming out party. One day I'll donate the white gloves to one of
those brass bands you see marching in the Rose Parade every January.
I'd do it now except for the guilt.
I don't stop what I'm doing until it's finished, no matter how exhausted
because "If a job is once begun, never leave it till it's done.
Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all." Last time
I moved, I was so weary from hours of packing what seemed like ten
million books, I gave dozens of them away. It seemed like a good
idea at the time except I later realized I needed many of them for
reference. Mom's been gone for two years, yet I hear her saying
"I told you so" whenever I have to buy back one of my own books,
proving that a person doesn't have to be alive to be right. Watch
it, Mom, those raised eyebrows are hitting your halo.
I inherited the title of Scotch Tape Queen because of the way she
taught us to wrap packages for mailing. "You never know, the edge
of the paper could get caught on something at the post office and
tear the whole thing open if you don't use enough tape." Now when
I send someone a package, they need a flamethrower to open it.
I was taught to never throw anything away. Nothing. "If you do,
you'll want it one day and it'll be gone." In a moment of patriotic
abandon on VE Day, Mother had tossed a swizzle stick out the window
of the car on the way to a victory party. It was a stirrer she had
picked up at a New York speakeasy when she was Twenty and Roaring.
Three weeks later, she learned she could have sold it for over a
hundred dollars even before the advent of eBay. To this day, anything
I throw out, I need a week later.
In a pitiful attempt to declutter my office, I threw out a bunch
of old photos. Now I'm riddled with guilt that everyone whose picture
I tossed will die soon.
"Save everything," she taught. The other day I discovered touching
notes from people I can't remember and an ancient diary with a tearstained
entry about a boyfriend who had apparently dumped me, vaporizing
me into a state of suicidal melancholia. Too bad I didn't include
his name, since I have no recollection of who it was. So much for
the pain of parting.
I also found homemade mittens with the safety pins still attached
and an old Royal typewriter with the letter e missing. Although
I'm pretty sure I'll never write a column without an e in it, or
fit those mittens back on my kids' hands or get dumped by an insensitive
and nameless clod, I decided to keep it all anyway, "just in case."
There's no way I could ever forget conversations between Mom and
me through the growing up years:
I'm thirsty. - "So swallow."
Ma, can I go in the water now? It's been an hour. - "Not one of
I've got a zit on my forehead and tonight's the prom. -- "Wear bangs."
Johnny Apollo just cancelled our date. - "Thank God for small favors."
Mom, you're driving me crazy. -" Short trip."
And the really big one that every mom, dead or alive uses: "Just
wait till you have one of your own."
Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Thanks for the memories.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
8, 2008 Column
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