They’ve been together so long I can’t think of one without the other. They were separated for a time. But they never looked right standing alone. Now they’re back where they belong, a matched pair.
For as long as anyone in the Thompson family can remember, the old mirror hung on the wall directly over the antique writing desk. They belonged to my grandparents, Dettmer and Bernice Thompson. In all my years, save the annual spring clean, they occupied the same space in the house. As if they had immunity from being rearranged.
Grandma kept her address books in the small drawers. A heavy black tray from the 1920’s held a handful of pens and pencils. Next to it a small brass postage stamp dispenser. The black rotary dial telephone sat on top. 272-4535 was the number to make it ring. There were six families on our party line. But that’s a story for another column.
After 58 years in the same spot in my Grandparents’ house and another 30 years in my parents’ house, the mirror and desk made it to our home in Texas. They now anchor a cozy corner that is my students’ favorite place in my classroom.
Working at my desk I notice Madi and Camille in front of the mirror, making adjustments to their hair bows. It makes me wonder.
Over the decades, how many ladies have checked their make up in that mirror? How many men took a quick peek to make sure their tie was straight? How many grandchildren made silly faces in this looking glass? How many young parents held babies up to show them their reflection for the first time?
How many Sunday dinners were reflected in this mirror? How many games of Scrabble and Rook? How many phone orders to the feed store and calls to the veterinarian were made by guys in dirty bib overalls and seed corn caps while standing in front of this mirror?
Working at my desk I watch students push the keys on my Grandfather’s manual Smith-Corona typewriter. Giggly teenage girls look into this old mirror while pulling their hair into a ponytail, talking about their upcoming Old Testament exam or their latest boy crush.
I routinely tell my students their future is like the passenger side mirror on their car. “Objects Are Closer Than They Appear”. The future is rolling up fast. Even as high school freshmen, in ten years or less they will be college graduates, three years into a career, and possibly married with a kid.
It never fails to get their attention.
I wish my students could hear from the people who’ve stood in front of this mirror over the past 90 plus years. I think they’d tell them to make the most of their days. I think they’d tell them the face in the glass looking back at them will get some wrinkles sooner than they’d like. That the blonde and brunette ponytails will someday show some gray. I think they’d tell them that life on earth is precious and all too brief.
I think they’d tell them to worry less and live, really live, fully every day.
Of all those who’ve been in front of this old mirror, I’m the only one my students will ever know. As the story teller, I look back for the purpose of helping them look ahead. It’s a duty I take seriously and with great joy.
I’m the old guy who tells them about life before smart phones, satellite television and I-Tunes. When my students say they’ve never heard of a “dial tone” or “busy signal” I wince and talk about life before the digital age. When they whine about not getting an internet wi-fi signal, I explain what it was like to do your Christmas shopping from the Sears and J.C. Penney catalogs. When they complain about typing out an essay paper on their MacBook I go old man on them and tell what it was like to flip through a card catalog and search the stacks in a library only to realize someone just checked out the book you needed.
I tell them the stories because I remember what I looked like in that mirror at 16.
I don’t look like that anymore.
Mirror, mirror on the wall…who’s the old guy staring back at me?
They’re adjusting their ponytails.
They’re checking their outfits.
They’re talking about their Homecoming dates and English tests.
It’s their present.
It’s my past.
Thank you, God, for the privilege of looking back to help them look ahead.
From where I sit at my desk, the future looks good on them.
“Teach us, O God, to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom.”
– Psalm 90:12
Todd A. Thompson – toddthompson.net