The Dressing Table

A few weeks before Christmas, my oldest son, not always tactful, walked in the house and asked, “What is that decrepit piece of furniture doing in our dining room?” I took issue with his characterization and explained that it was my mother’s dressing table, something she had used all my life and probably most of hers. My father had sent it to me and I was going to put it in the bedroom I share with my husband. My son shrugged and proceeded to the kitchen.

The dressing table is something my mother knew I would always keep. Some of my earliest memories are being with her while she was sitting at the dressing table getting ready for a special night out, taking off her make up before bed, or preparing for a regular day. She used it every day and night of my life including the night she fell. For us, the dressing table facilitated ordinary talks, vehement arguments, and revealing conversations. Some parenting gurus suggest talking to teens in cars because they talk more easily when adults are not looking directly at them. The dressing table served the same purpose. As a child, I felt freer to talk while her attention appeared to be focused on the mirror.

In middle school, I wanted a dressing table and was given one. I used it some but I never loved it the way I loved hers. Given the age, my dressing table was a place to construct a mask using the latest the eye shadow trick learned through Seventeen Magazine. As I felt less need for masks, I left behind the dressing table that had been given and have never bought another one. It was my mother’s dressing table that I wanted all along and that I am grateful to have now that she has left us.

Granted such a desire may seem strange. After all, it’s not 1964 and I am not a woman who spends time carefully preparing for a leisurely day of bridge and shopping. These days the dressing table seems a relic from another time, full of memories perhaps, but in no way a necessity. And truly, my son is correct; the dressing table is a little decrepit. It has a chip or two, a drawer nob that should be replaced, and it could use a good refinishing. Perhaps some day soon, I’ll send it out for a face-lift. For now, I’ve polished it and put in in my room. It holds a lamp, various elixirs, some treasures from my children, and a picture of my mother. Moments at the dressing table gave my mother, and I hope will give me, a daily chance to reflect on choices big and small, the ways we present ourselves to the world, time passing, and the chance to think of others while taking care of ourselves. But new habits take time. Right now, it feels strange to sit at her dressing table. In fact, this object that I thought of as such a symbol of elegance and ease, one that I had so long wanted, looks a little lonely and forlorn without her reflection in the mirror. Or perhaps that’s just me.

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