A patch of four-leaf clover grew in the field outside my fourth grade classroom. Still years before ninth grade biology, before I understood genetics, I had noticed that four-leaf clovers grew together, spreading their luck to each other, so there would always be one there for me. I went every day after school to find one, when it wasn’t winter. During the winter months, I looked through my classroom window and could see them waiting for me under the glaring snow. I didn’t tell the other kids you could find four-leafers there. I just brought one home every day and gave it to my mother, Alice, hoping she would smile. She
slipped it between the heavy glass top and the wood veneer surface of her dressing table.
Two mirrors always graced this dressing table: a standing, three-panel mirror and a heavy, hand-held one, whose silver back and handle surrounded an oval of beveled glass. I was a little girl, with Alice, in a junk store when she found the smaller one. She could see through the dirt and tarnish to the nymph with the long flowing hair spread across its back. But she didn’t let on as she bargained the shopkeeper down a buck and cut its price in half. In the car she explained silver to me, how it tarnishes when exposed to air, how they paint it onto one side of glass to make mirrors. Sometime long before Alzheimer’s disease brought Alice into my home, the glass top of the dressing table was lost, tossed after it cracked, perhaps, leaving the wood veneer exposed.
Now the table and mirrors are with Alice in memory care. Move-in instructions say things like “label everything,” and “we are not liable for property that gets lost, damaged, or stolen.” Clothes come and go, and so do her hearing-aides. My sister and I had to choose which things should move with her. It’s hardly a choice of the magnitude of the one King Solomon posed to the mothers or the desperate choice of poor Sophie. But still, it’s a balance of well being—hers and ours. If that hand-held mirror stays there with Alice to ground her, we will likely lose the chance to hold it in our hands and feel her after she is
gone, looking at us through its glass.
No doubt, the old Alice would tell me to get the mirror out of there. The new Alice would have a variety of answers depending her response to the person who helped her dress and undress that day, to the person who combed her hair, after her bath, while she sat at her dressing table. So the mirror stays on. We can’t imagine her at her table without it.
Glass once again covers the dressing table’s wood veneer surface, Plexiglas this time. Alice had started peeling the veneer off the table’s naked top. Personal nakedness, on the other hand, poses no problems for Alice. The other day, when I called, I asked her how she was, a reflexive question, born of my own discomfort.
“I’m great!” she said. “I just took a bath and I didn’t have to do any of the work.”