The Balloon Lady. That's what my mother called her. She sat on one of my mother's elegant end tables. She looked like a stranger in a strange land. Out of place in my mother's tastefully put together house. My mother seemed pleased when people asked which decorator she used. Oh, I did it myself, she'd say, the color rising slightly in her cheeks.
My mother loved modern furniture with a smattering of really good antiques. She taught herself about antiques, and knew what was worth bringing home. My favorite piece was the Shaker rocker she found at an estate sale. She began the weekend ritual of estate sales late in life, but she stood in line all morning along side the younger Saturday morning treasure hunters. She met collectors and dealers, and eventually had her own collection of beautiful and valuable pieces of art and furniture.
I hoped one day I'd inherit the Shaker rocker, but both brothers wanted that. It had been in good condition when she found it, only the seat needed re-caning. I liked to watch her sit in that little rocker. She looked so small, almost child-like as she sat and sewed. For her own reasons, it became the chair to mend things. Her sewing box sat on the floor by her feet, and she'd reach down, fumbling for just the right color thread. Sometimes she'd ask me to thread the needle for her. Your eyes are still young.
My mother had an eye for beauty and for things that were valuable. She could see and feel quality, a trait she tried to instill in me. As a teenager, I had little interest in any of it. Later in life, I appreciated knowing the difference between quality and shoddy workmanship.
But the Balloon Lady. She was there first. I liked looking at her, tracing my little finger over her shiny balloons. She sat among the high end antiques, and the Asian scrolls, looking sadder and lonelier than I suspected she was meant to. A sad looking old woman, selling balloons. One of my mother's most treasured objects.
I never knew what happened to it. I never gave it any thought. No one fought over the Balloon Lady after my mother died.
Today I walked by a shop and saw the Balloon Lady in the window. I gasped out loud. Oh my God, I said to no one in particular. I think I said it again. Oh my God. There she was, after all these years. My mother's favorite objet d'art.
Pedestrians walked around me as I knelt down and took a picture of her through the shop window. I thought about going in. Asking the shop keeper where it came from. How much it cost.
I don't know how long I knelt there on the sidewalk.
I wanted to trace my finger over her shiny balloons.
I wanted to rescue my mother's Balloon Lady.
Maybe tomorrow, I think, and fall into step with the crowd on the sidewalk.