It’s strange how when one ages, old memories come bubbling up at odd times, often completely unrelated with what might be happening at the moment. Since I am now tightly trapped in the “When One Ages Club” I was surprised while dining at a local seafood joint with our Besties that I suddenly and mentally focused in on the top of my old grandmother’s dresser. I had not seen it in well over 50 years, maybe 60, but being blessed with the Gift of Gab I was able to continue on with our table conversations while my brain was aimed tightly and in great detail on all the wondrous things old Grandma Anna Elizabeth Wolcott Scott kept on the top of her mahogany dresser. I could see every single detail most vividly, all the gleams, glows, shines and glitters; I could smell her perfumes and powders, and even feel the bumps and silks and bristles and magic of her beloved gewgaws and tchotchkes.
I’ve been most fortunate to have been able touch on and hear about lots of life genres in my 80 years, a bit of the Victorian, the Great Depression, Art Deco, too many wars including The Big Ones, those crazy Fifties, the Hippie era, --- everything. Which have I enjoyed the most? All of them.
But because of my old grandmother, I got to see a lot of the fading out Victorian era when I was young, and what held my interest the most was her dresser top. All sorts of fascinating things were spread atop a thick and starched lace dresser scarf, a pattern so intricate and involved I could see new designs in it every time I looked. As was the style of the day, Grandma Scott had matching sets of hair brushes, combs, nail files, button hooks, hand mirrors, face powder tins, assorted jars that contained strange potions, tiny silver rouge jars, white elixirs for her face and body, nail buffers, a silver encased pin cushion, toothbrush holders and scissors to name just a few. The matching parts were the silver backs on most these tools of her trade. The designs were strangely puffy, as if one could push down on them if one wished, the way today we push down on bubble wrap, but one did not. The puffy silver designs were hunting scenes with strangely compliant deer waiting to be arrowed by a proud hunter, there were birds and flowers, angels and butterflies, begowned women playing harps and flutes, tiny horses and goats gamboling about in the backgrounds and fish leaping from a shining creek. None of it made any sense but the clutter and stories of all those scenes was seriously enchanting.
I must have inherited the need to always have a clock in front of me and on every wall because my grandmother had 4 on that dresser all pointing in different directions so she would not have to move anything but her eyes to see the time. Just as I do now! They were all silvery of course. And back then no clocks were battery driven, so someone had to wind all of them along with the other ones throughout her Victorian home, including the one in the belly of a small white marble unicorn statue standing proudly in front of the huge mirror attached to her dresser.
I never quite knew what that nail buffer thing was all about. It was around 6 inches long, thin and sort of pointed at each end and there was a kind of silver handle at its top. But the buffing part was intriguing. It was soft, thick and suede-like material beneath that ran the length of its silver top, and Grandma Scott would rub it vigorously on her nails to make them shine. It never worked on my nails. They remained dull. The bristles on her hair brush were sort of beige and thick and I never knew how she cleaned that brush because of its silver back. Her big comb was tortoise shell (oh please, let it have been imitation) and I don’t know how she cleaned that, either. But after she died I loved seeing her long white hairs remaining in those hair implements. Crystal glittered all over the top of her dresser too---small dishes into which she would drop her jewelry-of-the-day, small lidded jars to hold any number of anything at all, deeply cut crystal perfume decanters stood on a gleaming glass tray, there were tiny vases for real flowers and several small cut crystal angels stood on that dresser top. Guardian, I suspect. When the sun streamed from tall windows and beamed down on all the things on the top of that dresser, rainbows slid gently all over the room and it was simply beyond magical. No matter what age I get to be, I will never forget the beauty and enthrallment of the top of my grandmother’s mahogany dresser.