I hated dusting that dresser. It was an intricate task of moving the trays onto the rolltop desk in the corner, dusting the back part of the dresser, moving the trays back, dusting the front, and then dusting the scrollwork of the mirror frame.

That mirror held many mysteries. So old that the corners had blackened, it seemed to reflect what people should look like, more than what they did. In that mirror, my grandmother’s olive skin was that of a girl, not an elderly woman, and her wrinkles softened to smile lines. Her eyes seemed to sparkle more, when we stood side by side in front of it, and she’d pick up various items, and tell me their stories.

About once a summer, we dove into the bottom drawer, where she kept the jewelry that was out of season (out of favor, we joked behind her back) or too fragile to wear – a cameo pin from Italy, worn by her grandmother, a necklace made of polished nuggets of lava and shells from Hawaii, a circle pin, leftover from when circle pins were trendy, a silver box full of old foreign coins, emptied from my grandfather’s pockets when he’d come home from his last tour of duty, and love letters he’d written over the years – including a series which included detailed instructions (never followed) on how to draw plants.

My favorite trinket from the bottom of the drawer, though, was a slighly pink crystal necklace and matching earrings. Allowed to try it on, I would prance around my grandmother’s bedroom acting the part of a princess, and practicing my regal wave (touch the crystals, lift my hand and gesture as if screwing in a lightbulb), and my best curtsey. My grandmother would watch me, smiling fondly, and commenting on how the stones sparkled in the light coming in the window.

“How it shines,” she said.

Sometimes I wonder if she meant something other than the crystal.

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