My Great-Grandmother’s Mirror

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In packing up my aunt’s personal belongings before her house is sold, my mother and I came across a very precious item. My mother was overwhelmed because of who it had belonged to and how long it had been since she last saw it. I was a bit stunned that we found it. I’ll say why in a moment.

mattie mirrormattie mirror back

This is a mirror that hung in my great-grandmother’s house.

I never had the good fortune to meet my great-grandmother because she died of pancreatic cancer in 1956, when my mother was eight. Even the coldest older members of our family almost break down when asked about her. Grandmother was sweet, grandmother was quiet, grandmother was always working, grandmother always had her head down.

Well, with the jackass she married–and I’ve heard plenty about HIM–I don’t doubt she kept her head down.

wedding mattie charlie crop

I was told that she made her wedding dress. Then she became a farmer’s wife. She lived in a tumbledown farmhouse and had seven daughters and a son. They all lived, even my grandmother who had diphtheria as a kindergartener.

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After all the children were born, my great-grandfather sold this property and moved the family into a nice “modern” house. And that is where my mother remembers seeing the mirror.

The mirror is rounded, dim, and distorted, but you can still see yourself in it. The first time I looked into it, I had an unsettling sensation. My great-grandmother looked into that mirror. It doesn’t seem to be the style of mirror a woman would have in her bedroom. Did it hang in the hallway, near the front door? Did my great-grandmother stop, look into it, and adjust her hat before she went out? Did my great-grandfather pause before it, take a comb from his pocket, and run it through his hair? Did she wish for something prettier, more stylish? Where did she get the mirror?

These are things I will never know. I’m going to add sturdy hardware to the back and hang it over our sideboard, and then I will always be drawn to look down that dim tunnel, and wonder.

Edit: I forgot to explain why I was so shocked that we found the mirror. My grandmother, even though she was the second-oldest child and the oldest girl, she got almost none of her mother’s belongings. Sadly, a couple of her younger sisters cleaned out the house before my grandmother got there. All she had (and we still have) was an old bottle with a cork, a foot-long hatpin, and a rhinestone brooch. We had no idea she had the mirror. She must have kept it put away, and my aunt found it after her death.

Family members can turn greedy and do things you wouldn’t expect after a death, especially the death of someone like my great-grandmother who held a very large extended family together. My grandmother loved her sisters, but at the same time, she carried the hurt of being left out of the dividing up of her mother’s things for her entire life. We live in my grandparents’ house. I suppose bringing the mirror home made me feel that my grandmother knows somehow and it made her happy.

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