Monday, August 31, 2009

My Grandmother's Gift

I was twenty when she died. My mother’s mother was living with my parents and I was in college when she finally lost her battle to pancreatic cancer. Her name was Lessie Alford and she was the oldest of ten children, born to a farmer in eastern North Carolina. She was also, according to everyone who knew her, a saint.
She didn’t make the news or have wealth or fame. She was not important in politics or church history books. She didn’t invent any great medical cure or write a great treatise. She was a school teacher, a Sunday School teacher, a farmer, a neighbor, a wife and mother and grandmother. And she was the kindest, most loving, faithful person I have ever known.

After her death, the family gathered to divide Grandmother’s few belongings. My sister chose her quilts. My cousins wanted some of her pots and pans and the sewing machine. My mother wanted to keep her wedding rings, her mother’s few pieces of jewelry. My dad asked for her Bible and my brother wanted a few pictures. When I was asked, I knew immediately what I wanted. I chose my grandmother’s mirror. It was part of a set; but I don’t know what happened to the brush and comb. I suppose I got them as well; but I didn’t keep up with them. The mirror has a long handle, gold-plated, with a well-faded fabric backing. Like my grandmother, on the surface, it does not look that remarkable.

For more than twenty years I have never really understood why I chose the mirror. After all, I never remember my grandmother actually using it. She was never one to wear much make-up or worry too much about her looks. She was definitely not vain; she rarely checked a mirror and I don’t recall that this mirror was that significant to her. And yet, I have always known that upon Grandmother’s death I truly wanted the mirror. And for all of my adult life, having relocated more times than I can count, I have kept the mirror on my dresser, prominently placed so that it was always near.

Recently, during my weekly housecleaning, as I was dusting the bedroom furniture, I picked up the mirror and decided to look at myself. I put down the dust rag, held the long handle in my hands and turned it over to see my reflection. And without having any real clear idea of why I was having this revelation at that particular moment, it was just at that time that I finally understood why I chose my grandmother’s mirror.

I have never thought of myself as being special or important. In fact, I would have to say that I have spent much of my life feeling inferior, insignificant, even worthless. Mine, I have learned, is a constant and familiar battle for many people, that struggle of never quite feeling good enough. As I stared at myself in that old and well-worn mirror, however, I realized that I never felt that way when I was with my grandmother. She always made me feel special and significant and beautiful. She said only good things about me, always told me that I could do anything, that I could be anybody. And I realized as I stood looking at myself in my grandmother’s mirror, more than twenty-five years after her death, that this was the reason for my choice. This gift meant more than her jewelry or her hand sewn quilts or her sewing machine or even her pictures. I wanted to keep with me for as long as I live my grandmother’s image of me. I have always longed to see myself as she saw me.
And so, I keep the mirror close at hand, always in sight. It will never bring me money or fame or even great wisdom. It will, however, bring me what nothing else can, a reflection of myself, created in love. It holds the best of me, the view from my grandmother’s eyes. It is her greatest gift.

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