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Columns | "A Balloon In Cactus"

Turning Into Mom

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand

Most 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 again."

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 like her?

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 to Latvia."

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 meatloaf.

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 MY hours."

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.

© Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
May 8, 2008 Column

Maggie Van Ostrand's related columns:

  • An Overdue Mother's Day Gift Of Amends
  • An Evening In Paris With Mom

  • Related Topics:
    On Mothers | Fathers | Columns


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