The hand mirror was so old the silver was degrading. The surface of a new mirror is flat, hard and perfect, the reflection is immediate. An old mirror, however, has depth. There are layers of obfuscation before the image is reflected back. It is as though time becomes revealed in the shadows and craquelure of an old mirror.
The hand mirror was once part of a bureau set. The owner received it as a wedding gift from her husband when she was 20 years old. The mirror was gold and had a long handle. On the reverse side of the mirror the surface was embellished with golden flowers, vines and framed with an intricate filigree trim. On the glass side, at the base of the mirror and just above where the handle was formed was a delicate golden bow. Each day she would hold the mirror and gaze into it, it reflected her own golden beauty. The mirror was perfect and she was too.
One day, several years later, she spilled some perfume on its surface by mistake. She quickly wiped it dry but some of the aroma must have seeped behind the glass. A few days later she noticed a stain of erosion in the mirror. When she held the mirror up the stain affected her reflection, it was as if a jagged line demarked her face. She still used the mirror but now she didn’t smile when she saw the reflection. She tried to avoid the imperfection but the adjustment was not satisfying.
As time passed she noticed the mirror graying. She wanted to whisk away the cobwebbed effect that lay beneath the glass surface, but could not. And yet the hand mirror was still beautiful, just showing a bit of wear.
One day she gazed into the mirror and noticed it was harder to see the details. The mirror had a new layer of smoke curling up and cutting into the reflection, like a cataract clouding a lens.
She still loved the mirror though, and remembered how it once perfectly reflected her image. A friend suggested she have the glass replaced or at least re-silvered to make it perfect again. She said no. The mirror was aging, just as she was, and within all the reflected layers she saw her life revealed.
You can’t go home again, it’s not there anymore. The house still may be standing but what made it home is gone forever.
Home was my room; with the two shelves my father hung that held my favorite books. It’s the window over my bed that looked out on the pear tree. It’s the big armoire with all my clothes in it. It’s my vanity; with a cut piece of pink painted plywood on legs and encircled with a pretty skirt. My mother, who was not a seamstress, made the skirt for me. A round mirror, like in Snow White, hung over the vanity.
Home was our living room; with a painting of a French street scene mounted in a white and gold frame. In our neighborhood, there was only one other family that had a real painting in their home. Ours was placed over our RCA TV/radio/record player console cabinet. We stretched out on the floor to watch our favorite shows. I would stay up late on Friday and Saturday nights to watch old movies. “The Al Jolson Story” was my favorite. Smoke from my dad’s cigarette would waft through the air as he watched the Western’s; Paladin, Gunsmoke, The Rebel and Wanted: Dead or Alive were our favorite Saturday evening shows. There was a desk between two chairs, in the drawers were photos from when my mom and dad were first married, my dad’s photos from World War II and a little tin of cowrie shells from New Guinea, one of the places he was stationed. There was a French provincial sofa that we were told never to plop on, only to sit on quietly. When we had company we would sit together with our hands clasped, like we were in church.
Home was the dining room; with the mahogany table that had fold down leaves and the china cabinet that Uncle Frank had made when he worked at J. B. Van Scivers in Camden, NJ. When we weren’t having holiday dinners at the table, I would set up the Remington Rand manual typewriter to type term papers, or fall asleep sitting-up reading history textbooks. There was a niche in the wall with delicate ceramic statuettes; it held a man and a woman, who looked like French Royalty, the man’s arm was broken and badly repaired – I don’t remember how that happened.
Home was the kitchen; we would all sit around the table and taunt, “He’s looking at me!” My Dad would say, “Eat more, talk less.” When it was just the kids eating dinner, my brother John would swap his steak for my brother Tom’s baked potato. Both thought they had made the best deal. The laundry room was off the kitchen, I would hear my mother in the morning getting our clothes ready for the day, the ironing board was always set up. She would make coffee then start ironing. She always made us breakfast.
Home was holidays and special events; it was waking up at four on Christmas morning and sneaking out to the living room with a flashlight to see what Santa brought, only to hear my parents say from their room, “Go back to bed!”
Home was also the seasons; we braved the storms like the Ides of March winter blizzard the night my brother was born, Hurricane Hazel, and electrical storms on sultry summer nights. Summer was also sitting on the back step eating tomatoes fresh from the garden with a little bit of salt. My Dad worked at Campbell Soup and he always brought home tomato plants during the time he called “tomato season.” My Mom and Dad always had a beautiful garden, each year they planted flowers and had roses, azaleas and Japanese maples. My dad planted a privet hedge and just before he died he looked over at it and said, "it’s coming in nicely.”
But before that day, my brothers and sister and I had all flown off like baby birds from the nest when it was time. Tom went off to the army and Korea, about the same time I went to New York. John and Robin left later, John to Okinawa and Robin off to college. But home was still there for us, even though we weren’t there.
After Mom died too, and the house was emptied and sold, after another family moved in, home became an abstract idea, like ancient Mesopotamia or Egypt. We each had our artifacts. John has the painting and armoire. I have my parents bedroom set and dining room table, Tom has the special eagle $10 gold piece and the cast iron skillet where Mom would make “toad in a hole” just for him. Robin has the Christmas decorations, the china cabinet and the good china that Grandmom had given my parents for a wedding present.
These artifacts would remind us of home, but like Humpty Dumpty’s shell, the pieces couldn’t be brought together again to make home. Home is different for everyone, even among the people who are there with you who make up family. My memories are not my sister’s or brothers’ memories, and they would not have been the same as my mother’s or father’s. We each tell a different story of Home.
Once it is gone, you can’t go home again, it’s not there anymore. All that is left are the memories that are carried within and the comfort of having once known home.
I joined Writers Bloc, a group of writers from Monmouth County, NJ, whose styles are as diverse as their backgrounds and interests. Here are some of my writings from our meetings.