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Columns | "A Balloon In Cactus"

An Overdue
Mother's Day Gift Of Amends

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
Dear Mom,

It pains me to know that I never thanked you for all the wonderful memories you left in my heart, as vivid today as when you created them. They are an unacknowledged legacy.

I remember when you told me I didn't need to have a play house like other kids, I could actually make one the same way your mother had taught you, so I followed your "homemade tutorial." We laid squares of bricks on the back lawn, making a floor plan of my "house." We had to be sure to leave openings because that's where the doors would be if it were real, and I wasn't to cheat by stepping over the bricks because, if I pretended correctly, I'd know that, though they might look like bricks on the grass, they were the walls of my house. What you really gave me was more than a "house" to play in, you elevated my imagination to new heights.

You helped me make dolls out of clothespins and you said wasn't I lucky that they seemed to have little heads already and all I'd have to do was make their clothes out of the rag bag. We made the dolls sitting at the kitchen table, together. I would rather be sitting at that old table with you right now than any other place in the world.
Clothespin dolls
Clothespin dolls
From a 1950s English magazine Smart Sewing

You taught me to make my own Christmas cards. You told me people would love to get a personally drawn card designed just for them, with no two alike. You set up the card table from your Ladies Bridge Club and let me use that to work on. I got so good at sketching, you never had to tell me to stay inside the lines like you did when I was even younger and had coloring books. You'd said, "For little girls, there are no lines."

When I was about seven years old and invited to sing at a Fourth of July party in a neighbor's back yard, you made a bouquet for me. A red rose in the middle, encircled by small white flowers, and an outer circle of small blue Japanese Irises. Though I never told you how beautiful I thought it was, it is the one thing I remember from that day and all the Fourth of Julys in my life.

Creating a garden went unnoticed and you had to ask, "Did you see the new Azelea plants in front? Aren't they beautiful?" I said "Nice," and kept on walking. I had no idea of how hurtful that must've been for you, when I could've stopped and admired the work you'd put into beautifying that insignificant spot. I didn't understand then, but I do now.

How I wish I'd listened more to those stories about New York at the turn of the last century, the Depression, the Jazz Age, how you and your sisters all slept crosswise in the same double bed. You're gone now and I will never know those things that made up your life. I didn't pay attention. You actually saw Seabiscuit race in the 30s, but I can't ask you about it now; I missed my chance. I didn't know then how much I'd want to know those things one day.

You were a self-educated woman, the best speller and grammarian, could discuss history, current events, and every sport known to man. "How do you know so much?" I remember asking. You said, "I read."

In those days, you read the New York Daily News, New York Herald Tribune, New York Sun, New York Mirror, the Journal American, and the Long Island Daily Press. Those are only the ones I remember. You read fiction and non-fiction books. You listened to every baseball game on the radio, and your favorite teams were interchangeable from the New York Giants to the Brooklyn Dodgers to the New York Yankees. You loved them all. I thought sports were boring, but you flabbergasted all the uncles at Christmastime by knowing every prizefighter's stats since, it seemed, the beginning of time.

You corrected my homework, spotted misplaced punctuation, and spelling errors. You'd say of a misspelled word, "Get the dictionary." I'd say,"If you know the answer, why don't you tell me?" You'd say, "It won't stay in your mind if you're told, but it will if you get in the habit of looking things up for yourself." Or I'd say "How do you always know when the grammar is wrong?" and you'd say "It doesn't look right." You always nailed it. I don't remember ever telling you how smart I thought you were to know so much. I didn't say it then. I'm saying it now.

Thank you a million times.

Isn't it ironic that I was always considered "Daddy's Little Girl," but the person I think about every day isn't him, it's you.

Love
Maggie


© Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
- May 10, 2018 column


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