Cologne

The air in the room is heavy with the argument. He doesn’t understand where she’s coming from. He wants only a little it won’t even be noticeable if he uses just a dab. She is adamant. No he cannot at all ever use it under any circumstances. He crosses the room to take the little box it’s kept in from her hand. She warns him that he better not dare to remove it from its safe place nestled among the satiny fabric. He ignores her, placing the box down before reaching his hand in to grab it. Smack. His fingers jerk away from the tiny bottle of cologne as if he’s been burned. He turns to face her, indignation showing clear on his face.

The cologne contained in the bottle really wasn’t all that special in its early days. Just one of many mass-produced copies of the same liquid in the same bottle. Her grandmother, however, saw it as more than that. She saw it as a part of her husband. It was the cologne he had used all through the many years of their marriage, and this was the last bottle of it she had ever bought for him.

The little bottle had always been there throughout most of her childhood, tucked away into a little box that she had painted herself. It usually went unnoticed. The box containing it was generally hidden somewhere in a draw, and her hand would brush it slightly as she grabbed clothes. That was the way it usually was, just in the periphery of her mind. Except for the times when she was all alone and her sister wasn’t in their shared room. On these rare occasions, she would carefully take the box from its draw. She would open it lovingly and take out the tiny little bottle, smiling at the opaque yellow liquid within. Gently unscrewing the cap, she would take a deep breath. She would let the familiar scent wash over her, a delicate reminder of days past with a grandfather that she adored until his passing. It was like a magical charm. If she closed her eyes and tried hard enough, she could almost feel his big hands lifting her up into the air the way they had as a toddler. She could nearly hear his deep voice rumbling, and her mind’s picture of his face lost some of the blurriness it acquired over the years.

The Carousel

My parents are going through the attic, sorting old boxes, and find my great-aunt Gertrude’s wooden carousel. They ask if they can throw it away. How could they? This carousel will make me always remember Aunt Gert.

Never would one expect such a generous woman out of a family of immigrants who made their fortune from the credit business.

As a young child, I visited my Aunt Gert, and was mesmerized by the beautiful ornamentation of her apartment. Her stories would always capture me, but the best ones were about the artifacts she kept around her: a piano, a wind-up mandolin, a statue of a dog. But for a long time, the story behind the centerpiece of her dining room table– the gold-trimmed wooden polished carousel– remained a mystery. The hand-carved pieces on the carousel were beautiful– horses, mainly, but also some exotic creatures from the African savannah.

Aunt Gert gave me many gifts. She said that she wanted to spread beauty to her family, knowing that she would soon leave us. Her carousel is the epitome of that beauty. It’s intricacy is reminiscent of the complexities of our family’s history and strength.

Aunt Gert was very committed to her family and cared about all of us very much. She was the eighth of nine siblings, older than only my grandfather. She carried over her older-sister protection of my grandfather to my mother, her youngest niece. Aunt Gert was always giving of herself– material possessions, yes, but more importantly, family stories, interesting anecdotes and facts about our history. My middle name would be meaningless if she hadn’t allowed me to hold the gavel of Judge Benjamin Glass– her husband, and the man my middle name is borrowed from– as she explained his personality and history to me.

The carousel had one quirk: it was not musical. Not that this is shocking– few wooden carousels had music attached to them when it was built. No, the surprise was that my great-aunt, a woman who reveled in the joys of her piano, flute and other instruments, would keep a silent version of a musically-involved object.

Aunt Gert’s carousel represents the turning of time, yet the repetition of our family stories, the same “horses” moving round and round. It represents the circuitousness of time, how we repeat ourselves through our children and our stories. The spinning carousel plays Aunt Gert’s grand piano and reminded me of my Juliard-educated grandfather, who never pursued his dreams of becoming a musician. It plays the mandolin to the tune of my mother’s envy for her cousins for having such riches. It tells the story of our ancestors who left everything in Europe to make a new life in America.

The carousel is in my room on Long Island, but I can always come back to it, wherever I am, by closing my eyes.


“Once Upon A December” by Liz Callaway

my statuette

A group of old, gruff Russian men are sitting round a rough oak table. They’re smoking cigars telling stories about the old days and laughing uproariously. Eventually Sasha yells “Ey, Vasya, davay, pit hochetcya! Gde butilka!” He wants to drink and is asking for his friend vasya to bring out his bottle. Vasya, a thick man with an even thicker mustache turns around and grabs a statuette behind him. It’s of an old Russian soldier who looks much like him. He is wearing a fur hat, has the clothes of a high ranking officer from the mid to late 1800’s. underneath the man, there is written, in golden letters, VODKA. Vasya pulls off the head of the statuette and a strong odor of alcohol permeates the room. He starts pouring shots around the circle and they all toast to good health and start drinking heavily.

 

VODKA!

I go to the cabinet in the living room and open it to look for spare change: quarters, dimes, nickels, etc. The first thing I notice is the bottle of Absolut vodka sitting there, waiting for someone to take it from its quarters and drink it for recreation or out of a desire to hide their pain. I resist the allure of this vodka and look only for the change that I know is there. And yet, I take it out to look at it to remind myself of why I don’t use it in the first place. The alcohol is not as innocent as it appears. Substances like that led to spousal and child abuse in my paternal family when used in large quantities. The strong socioeconomic problem of poverty drove my grandfather to use vodka to drown his sorrows, but instead led to the release of aggression and pent up rage on my grandmother, father, and his siblings. These constant beatings may have roughed up my dad physically, but they taught him to be morally and ethically upright with his own children. To this day, I use this anecdote to justify not drinking more than I should. I already exhibit temperamental behavior and don’t want to make it worse on others and myself by pushing that behavior to alarming levels through the use of alcohol. Furthermore, I don’t need to drink to have fun. The people who I hang out with provide me with more than enough fun and enjoyment than any such substance could ever provide me with. I put the bottle down and close the cabinet with a grin on my face. Nothing that smells so abhorrently and behaves so evilly will ever tempt me into ruin.