Toothpicks for Minnie

Nobody ever dreams of finding love in a toothpick. After all, it’s barely a sliver of wood. But sometimes the simplest things in life teach the biggest lessons. The trouble is nobody knows how or when it will happen. I certainly didn’t.


For years I had ribbed Mother about her habit of leaving toothpicks on window sills in the living room. Whenever I pulled back the curtains, I found toothpicks waiting for anxious teeth. They waited anxiously not at just one window but at nearly every window. Some even waited on the baseboard. I hated Mother’s toothpicks, and her idiosyncrasy began picking away at me.

Until one day, and it goes without saying what happened.

How it happened is still a mystery. Was it my subconscious? Was I thinking about Mother when my toothpick found its way to the ledge of my window? I don’t know, but I gasped in disgust. I had broken my vow never to be like Mother.

Suddenly, a brother’s accusation that I laughed just like Mother was no longer humorous. “Not so,” I had chortled then. Now I knew it was true—my laughter is a cackle facsimile of Mother’s. Toothpicks and laughter. Anything else?

There certainly was. Mother Nature had seen to that. I looked in the mirror and saw Mother in my high cheek bones. I saw her in my straight hair. I even saw her in the shape of my hands. Mother seemed to be everywhere.

The more I tried to deny my mother’s influence, the more that I realized we had in common. Both of us have “old” names. Mother’s name is Minnie. When Minnie was young, names like Dorothy, Betty and Margaret were the rage. While nearly every girl in my class was a Mary, Deborah or Patricia, I popped up as a Marion.

When I get up out of a chair, I smooth out my dress or skirt like Mother. We cook alike, both sending up an occasional smoke signal. I even keep house like Mother. We both believe it will keep until tomorrow, and book “Z” of the encyclopedia becomes fascinating reading at the sight of a dust rag.

But the toothpick incident teaches a lesson far greater than that of similarities between mother and daughter. It teaches a lesson of love. If I don’t love and accept my mother for who she is, how can I love and accept myself? Mother—whose reflection I am, was and always will be.

And Mother’s idiosyncrasy? Somehow, it doesn’t matter much anymore. Now I’m wondering about an old proverb. If it’s true that a child is known by his actions, does this mean Mother will know me by my toothpicks?

Copyright © 2017 Marion Amberg

3 thoughts on “Toothpicks for Minnie

  1. Barb Weiler Tomoson

    I never knew that about your mom.
    I do remember her well, I loved the twinkle in her eyes.
    I really enjoyed reading this.
    Take care, hope all is well
    Barb Weiler Tomoson


    1. Barb,
      Thanks for the kind comments.
      When the article was published the first time (around Christmas in the mid-1990s), I left a copy and a box of toothpicks in a gift bag under the folks’ Christmas tree before returning home. Minnie spotted it a few hours later and said, “Didn’t we open all the gifts?” You can imagine her surprise when she read the story! She always beamed when I told her the story had been reprinted in another publication.
      Here’s to our mothers — a generation of great women!


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