My favorite cross – and Cub Scout Den Mother

The memory bank is on overload this week.
While most of Baltimore was obsessed with Orioles’ Opening Day April 4, I was more interested in the NCAA basketball final, which featured a star turn for Villanova by Mount St. Joseph grad Phil Booth. What made the night resonate was that I used to write about his father, a Coppin State star in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
I wore a golf tie to work that day, it being Masters week. This is 30th anniversary of an epic win by Jack Nicklaus at Augusta National. That 1986 Masters was the last my father watched, as he was dying from cancer. He grew up in Western Pennsylvania, home of Arnold Palmer, and resented The Golden Bear dethroning The King. As a 46-year-old Nicklaus took control, however, my father was on the edge of his recliner seat for the first time since Johnny Unitas had retired.
Sunday was equally poignant. I worked the 125th anniversary Mass at St. Athanasius, once my home parish. Making the rounds in the hall afterward, I went to greet Deacon Mike Dodge, who was talking to a man my age. “I’m Brad Thompson,” he said, “to which I immediately replied, “Is your mom around?”
“Miss Maggie” was seated a few feet away, alongside Lou, her husband of 67 years, the two having been recognized earlier that morning as one of the oldest married couples in the parish. I was thrilled to tell her about two heirlooms that have graced several Mac and Mary household foyers. The more recent is a framed $1 bill my father fished out of his wallet in 1985 after inspecting the first rowhome we were about to purchase, in full view of a real estate agent, no less (I inherited his negotiating skill). The other is a cross made of matchsticks, one I constructed circa 1964 in Miss Maggie’s kitchen in Brooklyn Park.

“You boys made them yourselves,” Miss Maggie insisted. “All I did was cut out the cardboard cross, and give you the glue and matchsticks.”
She had volunteered to be a Cub Scout Den Mother for Troop 188, sponsored by St. Rose of Lima, simply so that the oldest of her sons, Brad and Gary, had an opportunity to get into Scouting. She remained a Den Mother even when her boys were done with Scouts, and worked among kids for 20 years, in the cafeteria at Lindale Elementary School, and then for eight years as the cafeteria manager at Brooklyn Park Elementary.

The more we visited, the more it became obvious that Miss Maggie and her husband had a lot in common with my parents. Both had seven siblings. Like my parents, the Thompsons were married at old St. Martin Parish in West Baltimore, having met when both were employed as teens at the Montgomery Ward department store on Monroe Street. Like my parents, they set down roots and never budged. Miss Maggie and Mr. Lou put a $10 down payment on a house on Redmond Street before it was even paved.

That was 62 years ago. Before her husband built an addition, she had as many as nine restless boys seated around at her dining room table, working on Cub Scout projects. We made those crosses out of matchsticks, presumably during Lent. For Christmas, we crafted gifts for our mothers, Santa’s sleighs made out of a turkey’s breastbone – all while Miss Maggie’s attention included a baby, Roy, in a wheelchair.
Miss Maggie’s own mother had died in 1935, when she was just seven years old. Raised by an aunt and uncle, her formal education stopped when she finished eighth grade at St. Martin School, but she taught plenty. Both a son and grandson are graduates of Loyola University Maryland.
“I loved helping the kids in the neighborhood,” she said of her Den Mother days.
It’s an affection I get to touch every day, heading out the door.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.