Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Locket

 It is a quiet introspective day, a good, dark day to stay inside and think. While sitting on the sofa, my mind jumped to our bookcase with its long row of cup-hooks. On one, I have my grandfather's antique compass ... brass, I'd say, with the delicately balanced needle that swings forever north. I can imagine him using it in northern Michigan, deep in the springtime woods, immersed in mushroom hunting and pulling the compass out of his vest pocket to find the way back to his car. I remember him showing it to me as a child. I now own it as an adult. I do not mean to be coy when I say that I think it gives me direction. It is a golden link to my grandfather, gone now 41 years.

 Beside the compass hangs another golden object, hanging from its own cup-hook: a locket from the Civil War. There is a story held within its hinge that I can only dream upon.

 It is likely brass, too, and engraved with a circular arrow motif, three swirling clockwise arrows which must also give a direction of sorts. Six equal quadrants, like rays from the sun, shine engraved from the middle to the edge. The locket is identical on the front and the back. It has not been kept in a drawer these 150 years, but worn - carried in a pocket, perhaps, or palmed where a finger worked back and forth across the surface.
 There is a story in this locket which I can only guess upon. Open it with me.

Placing your fingernail in a slight depression on one edge causes it to unfold naturally, like a pocket watch, and you are met with the face of a young man - perhaps late teens, perhaps even early twenties. It is beneath glass, carefully cut to fit and slightly chipped along the edges from years of use. The photo is tintype, cut with scissors, made to fit the one and a half inch opening. I have never taken it out: I would love to know if there is something beneath ... a name, a place, a date?
 Have a closer look at this boy:

 He's probably wearing a Union uniform. Was the photo taken in some city that he was passing through on the way to a battle? His cheeks have a blush of rose; someone added a hint of life. He stares straight ahead, knowing where this photo will be sent. His hair is a little greasy. He looks tired and worn and proud.
 When I bought the locket (many years ago) I was told it was from an Ohio estate auction. Could the man be an Ohio Union soldier? If so, he may have lived close to where I now live. But it is too long ago; there is no way to know.
 At some time, the photo arrived in the mail. I imagine some young woman cried when she first saw it.
 But there was something else with the photograph: a lock of hair. I envision her handling it with care, tying it with a small piece of blue yarn, carefully saving it.
 But did things go wrong? Did the man die in the war. Did she ever see him again? I have a feeling that this is how the story went. She took a lock of her own hair - lighter and longer and tied it with a white thread. She wound the two together, intertwined them in another compartment of the locket. A part of she and he together forever, locked under glass, safe for the ages.

 These two locks of hair lie on a bed of silken blue fabric, cut as the tintype, to one and a half inches.
 I can hope for a happy ending. She saved the picture and the hair in the locket until the war was over, when he returned safe and sound. They married, had children, grew old together.
 But I think not. This locket holds a sad story, I believe. I can feel it. It is the more reasonable to think that I now hold a broken heart, encased in bronze, forever nameless as it made it's way to Pinehaven.