It is fragile and worn. As familiar to me as my own hands. I can't remember a time when it was not there. It sat on my mothers bureau on a fresh, crisp dresser scarf, hand embroidered, with crochet edges. My mothers bedroom was always neat, dim, with drawn shades. Cool and quiet. No one just went in there. Only for a special reason. Usually there was a babies crib, and a toddler bed. And the ironing board. When it was my turn to iron, I could go in there, in the dim quiet and iron the basket of clothes. That was the Wednesday job. Everything was ironed. Sheets and pillow cases. My fathers under shirts, Handkerchiefs. All the little dresses with ruffles and puffy sleeves. I loved ironing day. I always took a few minutes to stand looking at the beautiful box.
The box had a story. It was old, already then. It had belonged to my great aunt Annie, my namesake.She had only had one child, a boy who had died when he was only a toddler. It had been a life long sorrow to this Annie. She had never given up her grieving, for her only child. My mother had told me stories about visiting this home that had cute things that she was not allowed to touch, because they had belonged to the boy who was not there. There was a picture of Annie. She sits in an ornate chair. Her dress is long and has much fancy work. Lots of white lace, and a cameo at her throat. Her hair is held up with a large bow. Her skin looks smooth and soft. Her face is serious.
I think about her. I admire her box. I would not dare to open that lovely clasp, but I have seen my mother open it. Inside it is pink velvet. There is a brush and a mirror. They are off white celluloid, with pink and blue flowers. They have slots where they stay safe in, and there is an empty one for a comb, that was lost somewhere along the way. The mirror handle has a crack. The box is made of some kind of paste board and is covered with embossed paper. The smiling colonial boy on the top, with his powdered wig and lace jabot intrigued me.
I know, now, that this was just a poor girls beauty box. But to a plain girl like me, it was the most beautifulest, fanciest thing I had ever seen. It did not fit in our plain house. I knew that was why it was relegated to the dim bedroom, where no body went. We moved, to a different part of the country, we lived in several different house. The beautiful box always stood in its proper place on the tall bureau. The boy still smiled , he had been happy for a hundred years.
When I am a grandmother my self, and a great aunt Annie, I am in the dim, quiet bedroom with my mom and my sisters. My mom, now fragile and worn, and still beautiful opens the box once more. We hold the brush and mirror in our hands, again, and she tells us the story of Aunt Annie. She puts the things back in, carefully and shuts the box, closing the clasp. "When I am gone", she says, "then you shall have this Annie".
I know that I won't have her for very long, any more, but it hurts to hear it. I want that beautiful box to stay on the bureau for many more years. When the others leave the room, I stay there, again staring at the box and remembering. Did she somehow know about those times I just stood there, my ironing done, admiring the fancy beautiful box?
Now it has come to me. Carefully wrapped in tissue and sent over the miles by the US mail. It sits on my bureau. Still beautiful. Still shabby. Still ready for a silky skinned girl to brush her long hair and admire her reflection. The pink velvet s threadbare. The mirror handle had broken completely off. The clasp is tarnished, with many years. It is still the beautifulest, fanciest thing .
A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever