Wednesday, March 30, 2011
This is my little mirror, bought in a flea market somewhere long ago. It is a single piece of old beveled glass in a dovetail frame. I don't know its history, but I had long hair and a penchant for updos who needed a mirror to see the back of my head. As I moved to larger digs with better mirrors, it became a merely decorative item.
Then I read No Time On My Hands by Grace Snyder. If you haven't read it, but have an interest in pioneer living, pioneer women, or the history of the Great Plains, you need to read it. It's long, but well worth the journey. My first thought was that it made the Little House families look like wimps. My second was that much of the book takes place in the 20th century - the hardships aren't ancient, by any means. My third was that she changed my perception of my little mirror forever.
Grace Snyder was known as The Queen of Nebraska Quilters. She quilted from when she was a child watching cattle in the field. She married in 1903 and lived in isolation in the Nebraska Sandhills for basically her entire 100 years. She created one of the most famous quilts of the 20th century: the 85,789 piece Flower Basket Petit Point, shown here from the Nebraska Historical Society.
Her depiction of life in a soddy was so vivid that it has affected my relationship with my little mirror. Now whenever I look at it, I can see it hanging on the wall of a one-room whitewashed house, with curtains over tiny windows and the room divided by corners - kitchen, bedroom, sitting, dining table. I can see a husband planing and sanding the frame, meaning it as a present for a wife he thinks is beautiful. I can see her thinking carefully about where to put it - away from the smoke of the fire, but with good light and a pleasant background. I can see her straining to see the full effect of a bonnet she's finished or a dress she's sewn. I can see her polishing it with care at first but then, as she ages, not looking at it so frequently.
My family, on the Evans/Sheldon side, was also in Nebraska, but on the Eastern side of the state, in Douglas and Platte counties. So I don't have any personal ties to the world Grace Snyder inhabited. But I appreciate her stories, her quilts, and my little mirror all the more for that reason. Grace and these pioneer women, whether we are related or not, were extraordinary in their strength, their patience, and their ability to make a tiny thing like a scrap of cloth or a bit of mirror precious and important.