Through the Looking Glass

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.”


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7 Responses to Through the Looking Glass

  1. So lovely! I love your reflections – mirror-wise and otherwise and, of course, your humor which both deflects and allows sentimentality.

  2. danawalrath says:

    Thank you, Sarah. You are so right that laughter keeps us in the moment and lets us feel whatever it is that comes up.

  3. Of course the mirror stays with her. How could it be otherwise? In these posts, every single time it’s possible to give to her, that’s what you do. Another beautiful entry, Dana. You cover so much with so few words. I’m filled with admiration. Thank you again.

    • danawalrath says:

      I’ve missed you and your Alice, Andrea! I am heading over to your page as soon as I finish replying. So far the mirror is still there and Alice is holding steady.

      Though I’ve been quiet here, Alice has been out in galleries, installed with sound files. I’ve embroidered haloes into the images and her shoes as well.

      Alice always liked mending…

      Thanks as always for you kind words and steady support.

  4. Sharyl Green says:

    Dear Dana,
    I can see Alice flying with her own special cape, just like Faith Ringgold’s Harriet Tubman and her young heroine in Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky. When the tough and centered are troubled, they take to the skies, or look up to see their loved ones in the trees.

    My father has Lewisheimer’s now and over these months your work helps me remember that this time, this passage is worth celebrating, too. The stories take on new twists, and as his wife Mary has said (I’m paraphrasing) “We can tell he’s still in there.” He’s cognizant in the moment, knows us in person and on the telephone, and rises to many occasions: concerts, visits, grocery shopping, restaurants and then safely home, he’s finished.

    Your work here is encouraging, delightful, and ever so insightful. Thank you.

    • danawalrath says:

      Thanks so much, Sharyl, for the beautiful comparison to Faith Reingold’s Harriet Tubman. It is so good to know that the work encourages others on their journeys.

      I am sorry about your father but can hear in your words that there will be many touching and tender moments in the Lewisheimer’s journey for you and yours.

  5. Pingback: Los recuerdos del corazón : Gerontologia

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