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.



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.