Stained Glass Girl

My grandfather is a craftsman, always creating something or other.  I have heard fables my entire life of his homemade cinnamon rolls, though he hasn’t made any in over twenty years.  I have watched him in his woodworking shop, conducting masterpieces together out of simple wooden boards.  I have eaten the fruits of his garden, lovingly cultivated from the soil.  Many years ago, when my mother was growing up, he dabbled in stained glass.  For longer than I can remember, one of the brilliant results of that dabbling has hung in the north window of my family’s living room, a testament to the longevity of his creations.  He made it for my mother before she graduated high school and it has been a focal point in every home she’s had since then.

It is a simple thing, only about a foot tall with a minimal wooden frame.  Inside of that frame stands a young woman in an elegant blue gown and ivory gloves.  Her hair is sculpted into a knot on the back of her head and held fast with an austere gold-toned comb.  She is turned to look out the window, her right hand perched atop the back of a plush elegant chair and her left rests lightly on her hip.  Over one curling arm of the chair is draped a different, indistinct dress that meanders to the transparent wooden floor.  In the daytime, when light streams through the window, the colors are bright and vibrant.  As the sun starts to set, they become more opaque.  The woman’s dress shifts from a crisp cerulean to a soft navy while the one on the chair changes from periwinkle to delicate lavender.  The chair that is a rich pink in sunlight turns almost white as the sky darkens.  She is constantly shifting and changing, even as she remains permanently in her post.  The light tosses waves and casts shadows around her, but she is resolute.

This young woman has become a friend of sorts over the years.  When I was younger, I spent many a sick day lying on the couch and gazing at that woman, inventing her story.  While my mother fixed me a bowl of soup and a glass of ginger ale and watched a soap opera in the background, I would wonder intently at the stained glass girl.  I studied the way the back of her dress fell in a cascade of glass fabric about her shoulders.  My eyes traced the folds and twists of her hair, wondering if my mom could ever make mine look like that.  I soaked in every detail of those glass fragments and then I began to wonder about them.  Who is the girl gazing off to a place far beyond the yard that she faced?  Why is she there?  What is she doing?  And when I began asking questions, the eagerly creative little girl that I was found it impossible to resist finding answers for them.

It always seemed to me when I imagined that young woman’s story that she was not alone in the room, that someone outside of the frame had just entered, not quite disturbing the wistful thoughts of the girl in the beautiful gown.  Something outside her window had caught her attention and held it fixed as she looked on.  Perhaps it was a guest arriving for the ball that night, the one she had been nervous enough to change her dress for.  Earlier in the evening she had been wearing her old but beautiful lavender dress, but it was too safe.  For this ball, she would need to look absolutely stunning and so she had carefully unfolded the blue dress and slipped into it, still amazed at the luxury of the cloth that clung to her.  Maybe the person outside of the window was a handsome hero, glancing up to see her silhouetted by the hazy light of her room and falling in love at first sight.  Or perhaps she has already met her perfect suitor and he is the one behind her, patiently anticipating the moment she realizes he’s caught her in a day dream, but not wanting to give up the moment of watching her at peace just yet.  He loves to see her so quiet and lost in thought, so he leaves the roses he brought on her dressing table and slips out again.  But of course, the mystery person in the room could also be her exasperated mother standing there in the doorway, talking the poor girl’s ear off, trying desperately to convince her to just come downstairs and fraternize with their guests instead of standing defiantly up in her bedroom wasting away.  She argues that all of that finery is silly and pretentious, but secretly she knows she is looking forward to it.

Countless scenarios I played out in my mind for that young woman.  Some days, her posture was hopeful, some it was weary, others she looked powerful.  No matter what the placement of her hand or the stance of her shoulders exuded in the moment, she was always who I wanted to grow up to be.  She was a fairy tale dream that I wove for myself.  My head was stuck in the clouds and every book I read, every story I heard became a part of this world I constructed when I looked at the stained glass.  Every adventure she had, I was having right along with her.

That elusive young woman will likely spend as long as my parents live in that house staring out that exact window.  That’s okay with me.  That house is where I grew up outside of the fairy tales, each stage of my life passing underneath her sentinel presence.  I have grown and changed over the years and the young woman in the window became has become a completely new person several times over just as I have.  She grew up with me.  She grew up with my mother too, carrying the workmanship of my grandpa’s hands.  Perhaps one day a daughter of my own will get to grow up with the girl in the window.  Will get to question her mysteries and copy her posture.  For my grandfather’s sake and my mom’s and mine and for the girl in the window, I hope so.  For while she is forever a mystery, she is also forever a familiar comfort and a shard of home.

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