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.