Reflections of Life

A Mirror's Story

Lowell L. Getz

November 15, 2011. The United Van Line movers remove the bubble packing from around me, from around the large decorative wooden frame in which I am to be mounted and from the marble-topped dresser on which the frame will be attached. Colleen Getz (my new owner) with the help of her friend, Ardina, screw the frame onto the back of the dresser and insert the pegs that hold me in the frame. The dresser and I are together once again. We now are very far, in space and time, from our first home, an isolated small single story farm house in southern Illinois. Colleen lives in the very large thirteen story Riverhouse One apartment building in Arlington, Virginia, next to the Pentagon.

The small marble-top dresser and I were purchased in mid 1880 by Jim and Carrie Rigsbey, upon moving to a farm one and a half miles southwest of the small village of Chesterfield, Illinois. They had moved to Illinois from Kentucky, where they had been married a little over a month earlier, on May 13. We were purchased at Robert Oliver's furniture store and undertaker parlor in Chesterfield, along with a three-quarter size bed with a tall, flat, engraved wooden head board. I retain the original glass and quick silver, a little blotched, but still reflective. The bed, dresser and I were used first by Jim and Carrie, the beginning of a 130 plus year association with the "Rigsbey family." Five generations have looked into me and seen their reflections. What stories could be told, if those reflections in someway had been recorded so they could be viewed today. Since that cannot be, I will describe some of the images that I have reflected and what the bed, dresser and I have been a part of over the years. There have been sad times and there have been happy times, all reflections of life.

My first reflections were of Jim and Carie looking into me in the mornings, Jim to comb his hair and periodically trim his long dark beard (which he grew soon after their marriage), Carrie to "do" her hair. A few years later, the dresser and I, along with the bed, were moved to another bedroom and used by Jim and Carrie's first daughter, Orah, who had been born several months after Jim and Carrie arrived in Illinois. When their second daughter, Edna, was about five years old, she moved into the room with Orah, who by then was thirteen. Carrie continued to keep many of her clothes in the dresser drawers and looked in me from time to time during the day as she checked her hair and worried over an obvious tired look. Her health was not good.

I see clearly, Orah and Edna hopping around the room trying to get warm on cold winter mornings as they dressed for school. They would dress quickly and look into me as they combed their hair and tried to get their ribbons and hair-pins fixed "just right." I assumed it was not the teacher that they wanted to impress. They attended the grade school in Chesterfield, a long walk for two small girls, especially on cold winter mornings. It was not the long walk in the cold that bothered Edna, however. It was the thought of her teacher who was waiting there that made her hesitant to go to school. The teacher, Mr. William E. Followell, was a real tyrant. Orah, who also had suffered under Mr. Followell, understood. Until she died at age 70, Edna remembered with trepidation her fear of Mr. Followell. Fortunately for later Chesterfeld grade school students, Mr. Followell gave up teaching to become manager of the Chesterfield Grain Elevator. In the evenings before going to bed Orah and Edna would look into me, making faces as they tried to see in their reflections which they thought most attractive.

The girls home life was good. Jim was a successful farmer and Carrie a caring mother to the girls and their three brothers, Arthur, William and Edward. For the remainder of their lives, the children remembered their Mom singing to them, "Froggie Went A-Courtin'." All that changed, however, in the late 1890s. Carrie became ill and eventually was unable to take care of all the housework. Jim hired Annie Snidle to keep house and look after the children. Annie was somewhat demanding of the girls, insisting that Orah and Edna do much of the house-work. The two girls often were tired when they looked into me and tried to comfort each other as they went to sleep at night. When Orah married Horace Trill on January 1, 1889, Edna was left to bear the brunt of Annie's demands.

Carrie died on October 2, 1899, at the age of 39, when Edna was ten years old. On January 30, 1900 Jim and Annie married. Annie was an exacting step-mother. As babies arrived (four within the next six years), Annie insisted upon more and more help from Edna in caring for the children.

In 1900, Jim bought the old Duckles farm a mile to the east and moved the family there. The bed, dresser and I were moved to the new house and put in the upper south bedroom. This was Edna's room. The other children, slept in the downstairs bedroom with Jim and Annie and when older, in the north and northwest upstairs bedrooms. Edna's burden of being essentially a "nanny" for Annie's kids continued. Apart from when she was in school, there was almost no time for herself. Her dad did not intervene in her behalf. There were more reflected disheartened, weary looks.

In 1904, when she was 15, Edna began attending social meetings at the nearby Albany one room grade school and Saturday night dances at the homes of families in the Albany neighborhood. At these gatherings she met Tom Dowland, who lived with his two sisters and two brothers a mile south of the Rigsbey house. They "hit it off" almost immediately. Both loved to dance and cut a "mean rug" together, as was said in those days. Now, Edna had a smile and a gleam in her eyes when she looked into me. She was in love. In 1905, when she was 16 and Tom was 21, they married. Tom and Edna spent their wedding night in "our" room before leaving by train to St. Louis for their honeymoon. About the same time, Jim bought a farm a mile and a half northeast of Chesterfield and he, along with Annie and the kids, moved there. Tom and Edna purchased the farm Jim and Annie had just left and moved into the house. Edna and Tom slept in the downstairs bedroom. The bed, dresser and I remained in the south upstairs bedroom that was used by overnight visitors.

In November 1907, Tom and Edna's daughter, Evelyn, was born. She slept with her mom and dad in a crib in the downstairs bedroom until old enough for a room of her own. Then, she took "our" south upstairs bedroom as her room. Once again a young girl looked into me to see that her hair was "just right" and her ribbons in place before she went to school. And, as she became older, to make certain she looked her best before going out on a date. She dated some of the boys in her high school class, mainly Teddy Duckles. More often, she would go with several boys and girls to a movie in Carlinville. Most of the time, Evelyn was happy, but there were the usual frowns and tears when courses at school went badly (especially algebra, which she failed her senior year and had to complete a large workbook the following summer, before receiving her diploma) or she and her current boyfriend were at odds.

In the spring of 1923, when Evelyn was a sophomore in high school, a seasonal farm hand from Missouri, Carl Getz, came to Illinois to work for Tom. He slept in the back (northwest) upstairs bedroom. Evelyn and Carl visited during mealtimes, but had little chance to interact at other times as he was working in the fields from sun-up until sun-down. In the evenings Evelyn was either studying in her room or out with her friends or on dates. Eventually, they began to notice each other more closely. Carl had seen Evelyn at her worst, at breakfast before she "made up" her face and dressed for school, and at her best, when dressed for an evening date. They never admitted as to when they became interested in each other, but as a surprise to their friends, and to Tom and Edna, Carl and Evelyn became engaged when she finished high school and shortly thereafter were married, on August 18, 1926. They, too, spent their wedding night in "our" room, before leaving by car on their wedding trip to Missouri.

For a few years Carl and Evelyn lived with family friends while Carl worked on their farms during the crop seasons and cut trees for railroad ties in the winter. During these years, once again "our room" was Tom and Edna's "spare" bedroom, with only infrequent overnight visitors. It was so quiet after years of reflections of Evelyn as she grew from a grade school student to a high school student and finally to a young bride.

In December of 1930 Carl and Evelyn were made an offer by Bob Rigsbey (Edna's uncle) to farm on the "halves" the farm which Jim and Carrie had first brought me, the dresser and the bed to back in 1880. "Uncle Bob", as Carl and Evelyn called him, had purchased the farm from Jim in 1900 and was now retiring from farming. Earlier, Bob had replaced the old house in which Jim, Carrie, Orah, and Edna had lived with a new one. What was left of the old house was now the work shop. When Carl and Evelyn were furnishing the house, Evelyn asked her Mom if she could have her old bedroom set. Thus, we were moved "back home", albeit to a different house. Carl and Evelyn used us for a few years in the downstairs bedroom. Eventually, they bought a regular size iron bed and a larger dresser and began sleeping in an upstairs room. Although I again was in the "spare" bedroom for overnight visitors, Evelyn kept many of her clothes in the dresser drawers and looked into me while "making up" her face. There was no other handy mirror downstairs in the house.

These were the depression years and most times when she looked into me there was the look of fright and helplessness in Evelyn's face. The farm supplied sufficient food to eat, but money for anything else, especially saving for when they were old, was almost unavailable. She also had health problems that weighed heavily on her mind. Evelyn looked so much older than the teenager who had looked into me just a very few years before, with such happy expectations while "primping" for a date. The reality of life.

Eventually the war broke the depression and money stresses were relieved somewhat. However, now there was no one to help Carl with the field work. All the young men were in the service. Evelyn drove the tractor during the day. Carl rested during the day and did field work at night. Now, when Evelyn looked into me, there was exhaustion in her eyes. Soon, the war was over and the field work once more was done by hired men. In 1946 Carl and Evelyn moved to another farm a couple miles to the north, but only for a year, before moving to yet another farm just down the road. At both houses, we were placed in the room used by their son, Lowell. He did not spend much time looking into me, only to brush his hair in the mornings.

Soon, Lowell went off to college and I was used only by infrequent overnight visitors and by Lowell when home on holidays. These visits became few and far between when he married Mary Ruth Clardy soon after graduation and went off to the Army, in Massachusetts, and then to graduate school at the University of Michigan. In 1956 Carl died and Evelyn moved to a house in Chesterfield that had been left to her by an aunt and uncle. The bed, dresser and I were put in the upstairs bedroom. Lowell and Mary Ruth used the room on their visits home, which became less frequent after they moved to the University of Connecticut. When later they moved back to the University of Illinois, the visits became more frequent. However, because there was a mirror in the bathroom downstairs, no one spent much time looking into me.

Evelyn passed away in 1985 and her house was sold. We were left to Lowell, but he had no place for us, so we were moved back to Edna's and Evelyn's old south upstairs bedroom in the house where they had grown up. Evelyn's brother, Wendell, now owned the old farm, where we had been after Jim and Annie moved there in 1900. I was back "home" again, where I had seen Edna growing from a young girl to a very young bride and Evelyn as she, too, grew from a young girl to a teenager and finally a young bride. Only infrequent over-night visitors looked into me as they fixed their faces and hair before going downstairs in the mornings.

In March 2004, Wendell died and six months later his wife passed away. The house was sold and Lowell moved us to Champaign. He removed me and the frame from the dresser and stored us, along with the bed in his garage for seven years, until giving us to Colleen. The United Van Lines movers came, took me from the frame, enclosed us in bubble wrap, boxed all of us and put the boxes in a moving van leaving for Arlington, Virginia. Colleen now has the bed headboard at the head of her queen sized bed and will look into me as she makes sure her blouses and jackets fit correctly and her jewelry match the clothes. Colleen is the fifth generation of "Rigsbeys" I have reflected.

So, here we are in an apartment, far removed in space and time from when we first joined the Rigsbey family. Where we are now, near the Nation's Capital, is a place beyond anyone's comprehension when we were moved to the Rigsbey farm back in 1880, into a farm house at the end of a quarter mile dirt lane and one and a half miles over dirt roads to the very small village of Chesterfield. The only means of transportation at that time were horses and buggies and horse-drawn wagons. The roads were not paved, dusty when dry and muddy when wet. Now, from outside Colleen's apartment building comes the din of speeding cars on nearby expressways and Interstate 395, the roar of jet liners coming into and leaving Ronald Regan National Airport and the loud popping sound of helicopters as they skim over the apartment building when going into and out of the Pentagon heliport. We are very near the Pentagon, with its twenty-three thousand workers supporting a military the size of which we could not have imagined back then. And, there is the frantic bustle of Washington, D.C., not much farther away than was the small village of Chesterfield .

Where I will go from here? Will Colleen pass us on to her family or will she sell us? Wherever we go, others will look into me, but will they ever stop to imagine all the faces I have reflected? Carrie as a young mother, the concerns for her children as she was dying, Orah and Edna as they felt the demands of Annie, the smiles of Edna as she thought of Tom, their wedding night, the excitement of Evelyn as she got dressed for a date, her wedding night, and later, worried looks because of money trials of the depression and exhaustion from the field work during the war? And, Lowell and Mary Ruth as they took a quick look at their hair before going downstairs? Or, Colleen adjusting her clothes and jewelry before going to the Kennedy Center for a ballet? These will not be seen, but I will remember. It will be all right. Maybe I will reflect other happy faces. Or, maybe sad faces.

Whatever will be, I will have the memories of over 130 years and five generations in the Rigsbey family. What more could a small mirror, attached to a small dresser manufactured in 1880, expect? I have had a satisfying life. I have reflected life.

Figure Legends:

photo of mirror

Fig. 1. The mirror and dresser purchashed by Jim and Carrie Rigsbey from Robert Oliver's furniture store and undertaker parlor, Chesterfield, Illinois in mid summer of 1880.

photo of headboard

Fig. 2. Headboard of the bed purchased at the same time as the mirror and dresser.

photo of couple

Fig. 3. Wedding photograph of James and Carrie Rigsbey (May 13, 1880), first owners of the mirror and dresser.

photo of couple

Fig.4. James and Carrie Rigsbey and family. Orah, about nine, in middle; Edna, about one, baby. Boys: William, left; Edward, right.

photo of couple

Fig. 5. James and Annie Rigsbey. Older children (mother, Carrie), left to right: Edward, Edna and William; Orah had married by the time this photo was taken. Younger children (mother, Annie), left to right: Alvena, Vivian, Jim, Jr., Cleo. The family is in front of the "Duckles house." The mirror, dresser and bed were in the second story room (to the left in the photo) from 1900-1930 and 1985-2004; the two windows of the room are behind the limbs of the tree.

photo of couple

Fig. 6. Carl and Evelyn Getz, 1932. The room directly behind them was where the bed, dresser and mirror were kept from December 1930 until March 1947. The house in which the bed, dresser and mirror first came to this farm in 1880 was located 50 feet to the southwest of this replacement house.

photo of couple

Fig. 7. Lowell Getz while on active duty in Massachusetts.

photo of couple

Fig. 8. Evelyn Getz and Colleen Getz, on Evelyn's right, (around 1968) in back of the house in Chesterfield in which the bed, dresser and mirror were housed from 1956-1985. The second floor room, the small portion of the window shows, is where they were placed.

photo of couple

Fig. 9. Colleen Getz, last "Rigsbey" to own the mirror and dresser.

photo of couple

Fig. 10. Location of houses in Illinois in which the mirror, dresser and bed were used. First site was the small white dot straight south of the large house/outbuilding cluster midway north-south and about one third in from the left margin. Jim and Carrie and later Evelyn and Carl used the bed in this location from 1880-1900 and 1930-1947, respectively. Later Jim and Annie moved the mirror, dresser and bed to the barely visible first house site on the left side of the highway, about 1.25 miles straight south of Chesterfield. The dresser, mirror and bed were here from 1900-1930 and from 1985-2004. Carl and Evelyn moved the bedroom set to the second house on the north side of the road running east-west from Chesterfield, at the very top of the photo, 1947-1948. Later they moved it to the next house to the left, on the south side of the road, from 1948-1956. Evelyn moved the bedroom set to her house at the very northeast edge of Chesterfield, from 1956-1985. The house is the very small white dot on the south side of the highway at the very edge of the vegetation. (From Google Earth)

photo of couple

Fig. 11. Final location of the mirror, dresser and bed: the three-wing apartment building, Riverhouse One, in lower left corner of the photo, on the fourth floor, at the very end of the upper right wing. The Pentagon is at upper right, with expressways, I-395 and parking lots between Riverhouse One and the Pentagon. (From Google Earth)