tales from a dressing table
I dusted my dressing table this morning. It was very dusty, but more importantly, I have an essay due in this week, so dusting the dressing table was an imperative and most valuable form of procrastination.
As I began lifting off each item, gently dusting it and placing it on the bed, it occured to me that I’ve been playing this same game for as long as I can remember. When I was a little girl, I had a white Queen Anne style dressing table – it even had touches of gold – it was the seventies :-) Neatly arranged on top were wee jewellery boxes, important trinkets, little statues sent to me by my grandmother, a Catholic relic or two, all with their own doilies – I had pink and white crocheted ones.
My dressing table, however, lacked a mirror – quite a profound oversight. My mum had a beautiful dressing table – silky oak, with a lovely, tilting mirror with little drawers on either side for her jewellery. I aspired to a dressing table such as this.
When I left home, I also left the white and gold number. I was grown up now and in need of a proper dressing table. Indeed it was one of the first pieces of furniture I bought for the really ordinary little flat Julian and I made home for the first years of our life together. Julian wasn’t overly interested in my dressing table fetish so enlisted the help of my Dad. He and I often did our shopping together on a Saturday morning, so, one week, we first trawled the antique stores of Brisbane looking for the perfect dressing table.
It had to have a big mirror, some form of little drawers or cupboards on either side of the mirror, Edwardian or older, in nice timber, with deep drawers for my clothes. After a whole day’s searching we found it at The Collector’s Corner in Stones Corner – newly arrived from England. I laybyed it – it cost 6 weeks salary – oh my, it was such a lot of money.
Now as I dust it, so many stories from different stages of my life wander through my mind, each piece triggering a new picture. There’s the shopping for the dressing table itself – my Dad is no longer in our lives. He behaved badly, pissed off, behaved badly for a few more years and then disappeared completely. He didn’t even return my sister’s phonecall when she left a message to let him know her second babe was born. This makes me sad. I don’t necessarily want MY Dad back in my life – there’s so much unpleasantness – but I feel sad that my Dad gave up on us and that Abby doesn’t have a grandfather. I look at the relationships my uncles have with their children, and that my grandad has with his seven children, and I envy those children, I envy the love, the interest, the concern, the joy in their very existence their dads show them.
On the left hand side of the mirror, there’s a small gouge in the wood. This happened when Julian , Rob and Scott (lovely friends from university) were carrying the dressing table from the front flat to the back flat (much grander!) and snagged it on the Hills Hoist. It took a few deep breaths to get over that one.
Then there are the trinkets – some of them even began their lives with me on the white and gold dressing table. There’s the little blue wedgewood jewellery box – this was a present to my mum and she passed it on to me when I was very small. It still holds my silver bluebird bracelet and the little gold bangle I wore as a child. Do you see the crack with the stained brown glue job? I threw it, in a temper, against the wall as a little girl. What a dreadful little girl I must have been! Mum was furious – I was devastated – she glued it back together for me. The other box was given to me by my Mum’s friend Sherida for my 21st – they met when they first started work together as telephonists at the Post Office in the mid 1960s.
There’s a photo of my much, much, much adored Nanny and Grandad at their 50th wedding anniversary (fabulous night!) in a beautiful papier mache frame given to me by Aunty Anne, flanked by the Lotte salt and pepper shakers Nanny gave me from her collection. Nanny has a marvellous collection of Lotte, and so I have collected my own because in my mind, special family meals should always be served on Lotte.
There’s the statue of St. Francis of Assisi my Mum gave me when I made my Confirmation, and a tiny little wooden lady from Bavaria. We bought her whilst on a camping trip when I was 11 – I stood in an Aladdin’s cave of a store – filled to the roof with wooden people and houses and puppets – we were allowed to choose two small treats as a reminder of our time in Bavaria. I would have cheerfully dragged the entire collection home. She used to hold a letter in one hand (a tribute to my Grandad the postmaster) and a bunch of flowers in the other – I still think she’s exquisite despite her chipped paint and empty hands and have carefully carried her with me for 31 years. The second treat – a small, painted chest of drawers that now holds the silliest pieces of paper and IDs and badges from my teenage years – all completely unthrowawayable.
There are the crystal jewellery bowls (filled with odd little pieces and treasures) and tray from my Nanny – Mum has a set too. I grew up thinking that all dressing tables came with crystal trays and bowls. A more recent addition – a little mirrored box from Aunty Anne for my earrings, and a vintage, bakelite mirror – my very first purchase on Ebay – what a portent!
There are, of course, photos of Abby – little Abby, big Abby reminding me how quickly she has grown from a tiny thing in her Christmas Paddington Bear pyjamas to a long and lanky high school girl!
And a little turquoise plate from CarolAnne holds the amber pendant Julian and Abby gave me for Christmas ten years ago, and my wedding ring that has a tendency to get stuck so is waiting for a trip to the jewellers to be stretched. Tsk! Tsk!
I finish dusting the dressing table and each piece is carefully put back. Not always in the same spot. I can never quite remember where it was before, so each time the arrangement is a little bit different.
I travel along this road, carrying with me the things that are precious – the things that tell my story. Some get lost along the way, others break and are discarded, others chip and are mended. Every time I settle down, the arrangement is a little bit different – the picture has altered slightly, the story may have taken a twist, always there are new elements, new characters, new experiences.
And yet there’s a wonderfully reassuring sameness – a timeline of family and friends, of love, sharing, and good cheer. Despite that one element of sadness – all life comes with sadness – I like dusting my dressing table – it’s a good story.