The Looking Glass

Have you ever held an antique camera in your hand and thought about all the places that camera has been? Thought about all the pictures that camera has taken? What about a vintage book? Have you ever thumbed through its yellowed, dog-eared pages and thought about all the souls its passages have stirred?

I wonder. Antiques always make me wonder.

I have a vanity sitting beside my bed that I use as a nightstand. It was originally purchased by my paternal great-great grandmother as a gift to her daughter (my great-grandmother) when she got married. Then my great-grandmother handed it down to her daughter – my grandmother. Then my grandmother handed it down to her daughter – who is my aunt.

I  am named after my aunt and so now it resides beside my bed. I am the fifth generation to gaze into its mirror.

I know. That’s a lot of hand-me-downs. Bottom line: it is really REALLY OLD.

And I wonder. That antique mirror and vanity always makes me wonder.

I wonder what my paternal great-great grandmother was feeling the day she purchased it for her daughter who was about to get married. Was she joyful or was she anxious? And did my great-grandmother squeal with delight over the gift or did she reach for her handkerchief as she teared up?

And I wonder about my paternal grandmother after it was handed down to her. How many times she must have gazed into that mirror while my grandfather was storming the beaches of France during World War II, worried about his safety. Would he come back?

He did come back. Wounded. And he would never be the same.

And I wonder about my aunt, after whom I am named. Did she ever gaze into that mirror and wish for a daughter? Has she ever been disappointed in me – her namesake?

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. And it is such an other-worldly experience to gaze in to a mirror and know that your ancestors sat on that exact bench and stared into that exact mirror and that the reflection currently staring back at you used to be theirs. As I gaze at my own face, stare curiously into my own eyes, I imagine looking deeper … looking beyond … seeing into a past now forgotten … gazing into THEIR eyes and into THEIR souls.

And I swear … sometimes I catch a wink and a smile that does not come from me.

But then again, I am a Southerner.

And we Southerners are known to exaggerate.

My Collection Addiction

I was born with an overly enthusiastic “collecting gene.” I have repeatedly implored my doctor to remove such from my DNA but apparently it is rather difficult to pinpoint.

Over the years I have collected everything from books and Barbie dolls to Coca-Cola memorabilia and antique cameras. Now don’t go calling me a hoarder because I’m not. Hoarders tend to buy anything and everything – that they absolutely DO NOT NEED – and then proceed to unceremoniously dump such wherever they can find a square inch of space in an overly crowded and ghastly unorganized room.

And me – well I ABSOLUTELY NEED 537 books, 72 Barbie dolls, 142 pieces of Coca-Cola memorabilia and 56 antique cameras.

Or at least I did at the time I was collecting such.

And – lest you still not be convinced that I am not a hoarder – let me add that I have gone to great lengths to organize and display such over the years. Many a shelf, hutch and curio cabinet has been employed in my home.

But those displays come and go; I buy … enjoy for awhile … and then I sell. Mostly on eBay. Or at least I used to sell on eBay. Nowadays I’m too lazy to list and ship so I tend to just give stuff away. Not nearly as cost effective.

My current obsession – other than my closets stuffed full with holiday décor – is Rae Dunn pottery. I just can not get enough of those adorable coffee mugs with cute little sayings on them. Mugs that say “THINK” or “CREATE” or “EXPLORE.” Or mugs that say “GOAL DIGGER” or “BEE KIND.”

That’s just inspirational AND cute. And who doesn’t need more of that?

Which led me to also collecting the dinnerware … the canisters … the bath ware … the baskets.

Good Lord, I need to stop.

Except that I can’t. I just came across a gourd shaped coffee mug with the words “OH MY GOURD” on it.

Click. Add to cart.

Wake-Up Call

Back when I was in high school, I had a huge crush on a football player. A crush which had no basis in reality, mind you, for I didn’t really know him at all. We didn’t have any classes together nor did we have any of the same friends, so my crush was simply based on how sweet and funny and smart my mind imagined him to be.

Not that it would have mattered if he had indeed known that I even existed for my parents would have never allowed me to go out with him anyway.

Why?

Because he was black.

I distinctly remember asking my mother one day if I would ever be allowed to date a black guy. Her reply started off with a, “not that we’re racist … but …”.

You can rest assured that anytime anybody ever says anything that hinges on a “but,” that whatever statement they just made can be completely erased.

“Oh sweetie, not that I don’t like your new hairstyle … but …”

“Oh darling, not that those jeans make your hips look wide … but …”

“Now I’m not saying your bourbon chicken wasn’t good … but …”

“Not that we’re racist … but … we just don’t think it’s appropriate for a white girl to date a black boy.”

For years I tried to figure out a way to confront the racism exhibited by my parents without also being disrespectful to my parents. It’s a difficult journey to navigate – you know, what with the whole “let he who is without fault cast the first stone” bit drilled into my head.

And then one Christmas – several years post graduation and marriage and children – my own thirteen year old son did the trick. My mother offered him a certain chocolate-covered, cream-centered candy that a lot of my family had always simply referred to as “ni**er toes.”

My son’s reaction – with a disgusted, intense stare – was like an arrow straight to her heart:  “Nana. I. Am. So. Disappointed. In. You.” Each word singularly punctuated to further lodge the blade.

To my knowledge, she has never used that word since. And thus was the beginning of a long, complicated journey of coming to terms with and trying to remove herself from the prejudice history from which she came.

My father comes from a very similar history with his own mother having a penchant for the very same candy. She even referred to said candy by the exact same name.

We’re all still on that long, complicated journey. We. Are. ALL. Still. On. It. I may not use derogatory terms and I have no problem with my daughter dating guys who aren’t white but there are still times when I catch myself … judging.

Judging things I don’t understand. Judging culture that is not mine. And it is then that I remind myself – different is different – but it’s not better or worse.

If only we all accepted each other for who we are, regardless of skin color or sexual orientation or religious affiliations or political leanings. It’s a lesson we all need to learn.

Even when that wake-up call comes from a thirteen year old boy.

“Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of color to deal with it. It’s up to all of us – black, white, everyone – no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out.”

— Michelle Obama