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By LC Van Savage

Who's The Fairest? You?

What would life be like without mirrors? Pretty bad, right? Weíd go to work in the AM not having a clue that stuff is on our faces or hanging from us somewhere else, or if our oatmeal is still jammed between our teeth. Mirrors are essential to our lives.

We ought never to leave home without looking into one. Itís why we smart people always have a mirror right next to the main door to our homes so we can glance at our faces when we leave our dwellings. If we do not do that, then our friends and neighbors might run away from us which would hurt our feelings. For those same reasons, we check our faces again when the doorbell rings before we open it. Come on, you know itís disconcerting and upsetting when people wince when they first see us, so we must look our best. Thus it should be obvious we canít really do without mirrors.

Or can we? Well, maybe. We could for example try staring into a smooth pond if thereís one handy, but there are just too many other things that have to fall into place in conjunction to make a water reflection work; weather, not too much wind is good. No ripples. No ice. No horses or buffalo, snapping turtles, hippos or those gross, slimy mudskipper fish that climb out of ponds and walk around sucking up mud looking for more water. All those creatures would make pond staring impossible. No, glass mirrors are a whole lot easier, and the best part about them is that theyíre usually inside.

Mirrors have been used in medicine, in wartime or anytime someone wanted to send a message by angling a small mirror at the sun on top of a mountain and sending the flashing signals to the top of another mountain. But first you have to arrange for a person to have a mirror on top of that other mountain. Next you have to climb your own mountain. Next you have to have no clouds. All this is way too tedious. Mirrors should probably just be used in cars and homes, telescopes and bathrooms. Ceilings, if thatís your bent.

Have you ever stared into a very old mirror? One that needs resilvering on the back, if thatís what they still do? One with a big ornately carved frame, maybe over a fireplace or in a great hall somewhere? If youíve stared into that ancient mirror for a long time, have you seen a shadow or a form, or a misty something flitting across the room behind you? Have you whirled around and nothing was there? When you looked back into the mirror, did that floating see-through specter reappear? Disappear when you again whirled around? Me too. Creepy, right? Theyíre watching us, you know. Oh yes they are. Woo woo.

But as youíve looked into that old piece of glass, have you ever thought about what that mirror has seen in its long lifetime? Did a lovely young woman stand there adjusting the bustle on her backside, wondering why on earth women wear them? Did she push at the huge pile of hair on her head and wish she could cut it all off? Did she wonder when or if sheíd ever be able to throw her viciously torturous corset away, and maybe even eventually be able to vote? Did she stare into her own eyes and wish she could do more in her life rather than making those endlessly boring quilts and samplers?

Did this mirror stand guard over the open casket of someone who was dearly loved and was laid out in that very room? Did our mirror ever see a crime committed and see the persons who committed it? Did it see young lovers exchanging a first kiss? A great Christmas celebration? A birth? A little girl with her first kitten? Did it watch a family dog steal and gobble down a birthday cake and then gak it up on the velvet couch during the party? Did a young flapper stand in front of the mirror, proud of her rouged knees, bobbed hair, flat chest, short skirt and spit curls? Did she practice the Charleston in front of that mirror? Did parents talk about divorcing in that room while the mirror silently watched and the children also silently watched from behind the railing at the top landing? Did a young teen aged girl teach herself how to flirt in that mirror? How far back did that mirror go, when it was first hung? Do you wish it could talk and tell you all about the history itís seen and heard?

Who invented mirrors anyway? Whatís the story of those pieces of glass and silver paint that have seen so much human history? Itís most interesting. For example, there are a whole lot of myths around mirrors and reflections. Here are a couple; remember good old Narcissus? He saw his reflection in water, didnít understand that he was seeing himself and fell madly in love with, who else? Himself of course, and he passed his great sense of self-love on down to far too many of us.

ďSnow White and the Seven Dwarfs,Ē written by the brothers Grimm had a very important mirror in her life. Although she didnít know it at the time, it surely would have helped her cause had someone bothered to tell her. It was the one owned by the wicked, jealous old queen who kept badgering the spooky weirdo in her magic mirror to tell her repeatedly that she was the fairest woman in the land, and the spooky weirdo in the mirror always lied and complied. Anyone know where I can get me one of those? Iíll check the Internet and Iíll pay top dollar. Anyway, as we all know, eventually the being in the mirror Ďfessed up and told the old helhag that Snow White was really the fairest in the land, and thatís when Ms. Whiteís real troubles began.

OK, so where were we? Pond surfaces were the first mirrors, and next came polished stones. Hard to believe, right? But it happened in stone age Turkey and pre-Columbian Peru. Then in Egypt came polished bronze and copper, silver and tin. Whoever got the job of polishing those metals so milady or milord could see themselves has my greatest respect. When I was growing up, one of my jobs just before the holidays was to polish the sliver so as to impress other family members who were relieved they didnít have to do it at their homes that year. So I can sympathize with those folks trying to polish pieces of metal so brightly they could see their faces in them. I hated that job. Iíll never do it again. Our company today has no clue that I have or ever have had ďgoodĒ silver. They dine on stainless regardless of the spots on it, or they donít dine.

Rome, good old Rome invented the first glass mirrors somewhere around the first century AD and some samples still exist. I think Pliny the Elder or the Younger or whomever looked into a mirror at some point in their lives, but thereís no recorded evidence as to whether they recoiled or smiled at what they saw. Itís said the Romans really perfected mirrors which accounts for their great vanity regarding fancy hair styles, make-up on men and women both, and the competition of who could appear in the sexiest and most trendy togas.

We do have some evidence today that a few of the worldís great ancient leaders had gigantic, wall to wall mirrors installed in certain rooms of their palaces where theyíd hold pretty big and interesting wham-bam orgies, so everyone attending could enjoy the show from all angles. Those guys really knew how to throw a great debauchery.

Renaissance mirrors began to appear but a lot of mercury mixed with tin was involved in making them reflect things. Uh oh. Mercury fumes. Not good. Was it not Louis XV who was responsible for the indescribable Hall of Mirrors at Versailles? Or was that XIV? I forget. Wouldnít it be fabulous if those seventeen huge mirrors could talk? Theyíve seen so much history, and they still stand, now just staring at millions of tourists in shorts, Birkenstocks and Hawaiian shirts who stare back.

Ever wonder why we see things backwards in a mirror? Itís beyond me, but Iíve read that there are ways using a couple of mirrors set side by side at the right angles which would allow us to see ourselves properly and Iíve also read when this experiment is executed itís so disorienting that people get nauseous. I kid. But using mirrors set up like that, men do have a terrible time shaving. Lots of blood.

Today we simply take mirrors, all mirrors for granted. We know some mirrors can trick us and as we stare into them from one side, someone is creepily staring back at us from the other side and we donít know it; police interrogation rooms etc. Mirrors are essential in telescope use and for jazzing up country and western singerís stage outfits. Mirrors are used today for security reasons, theyíre used to keep us from crashing into each other around corners, we can carry small ones to check our visage before a job interview, they allow store owners to watch when folks feel inclined to stuff a lot of unpaid-for merchandise into their pockets or strollers so they can get nailed outside the store where everyone can see. Embarrassing, right? Mirrors have become very big in the perp business.

Huge history, mirrors have. Smile at yours next time you pass by. As for me, I never look into them unless I absolutely have to. Iím 70 now and even if I turn off the lights and squint painfully hard, I donít see a 20 year old LC looking back, so I just walk on by and let my mirrors reflect other people and their stories.

Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.
Email LC at
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10:30 AM Saturdays


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