Convex mirrors and Yerbamata tea

My father’s inventions were not restricted to spools, batteries, metal clasps, and burglar alarms. Oh, no. I can still remember the stash of convex mirrors under the sturdy cardboard boxes and below the gelatin archives; they were tucked into a corner on the floor of the closet and wrapped in the same soft brown paper that seemed to envelop everything else.

Aunt Libby says that when they were new, they were truly beautiful to behold. Even twenty or thirty years past their prime, they were impressive. Each convex mirror was framed in white or gold, with a twist of gold braid to add a touch of elegance to the frame.

Despite my father’s apparent inability to get over the hump that separates prototype from merchandise, his own craftsmanship had apparently so impressed him this time around that he talked Aunt Libby into meeting a buyer at the Marshal Fields Department Store who, knowing a fine product when she saw one, ordered a dozen. Before Marshal Fields could put in a second order, though, my father had already moved on to something else.

For a while, Yerbamata teas held his attention. Decades before the masses had been mesmerized by the siren song of caffeine-free-this and all-natural-that, my father was importing these teas from South America.

His invention to advertise his tuxedos was also ahead of its time. On the second floor of Deluxe Tuxedo Rental at 4003 West Madison Street in Chicago, Samuel Reuben installed a vertical-slat sign, which sat on pivots. A different message was advertised on each of the sign’s three-sides, and as a motorized timer rotated the slats, multiple messages were alternately displayed in a space designed for only one.


According to Uncle Jack, my father had also briefly operated a photographic studio. This may or may not have had something to do with the pink and sapphire mirrors in his closet. I had always known about his fascination with cameras, which explained why the entire family was frequently subjected to endless sessions with light meters, reflectors, keg lights, and tripods on which expensive Rolleiflexes perched. As we waited with frozen smiles, whining, “take the picture already,” Samuel Reuben was nobody’s husband and nobody’s father. Behind the camera, he was an artist and a photographer, unamused by our irreverence, our impatience, and our pleas.

Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit

Copyright © 2008, Shelly Reuben.

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