When my husband suggested that I start making my own kaleidoscopes, I was rather intimidated by the challenge. I never saw myself on the same plane as the creators of the kaleidoscopes in my aunt’s collection (because I’m not; not by a long shot). But after some consideration, I began poring over books on how kaleidoscopes work. In the end, I was relieved to discover that making kaleidoscopes proved easier than taking photographs of them.
Eventually I picked up my camera again and slowly began producing a consistently good shot, but it still wasn’t translating well onto paper. That hurdle was overcome with the purchase of a high-quality printer, generously given to me by my father. He believed in my vision from the beginning, (as a business man, endeavours and entrepreneurial success were a normal part of his everyday existence), and was happy to invest in its fruition. I bought the best photo paper I could afford, and before long, the walls and shelves of our home started displaying framed prints of my kaleidoscope photography. It took several years, but I had finally accomplished what I originally set out to do: preserve the interor images of my aunt’s kaleidoscopes. And to my amazement, the walls had photographs of kaleidoscopes I had made myself, as well. Who would have thought?
I could have chosen to hand the kaleidoscopes out to my cousins and never think twice about what they looked like inside or out. I could have not taken care to research the artists who created them, or not call the stores where she bought them to ask the owners if they remembered her patronage. (They always did, even several years after Aunt Betty died. I do remember your aunt and when she would come here to visit. She and her friend would come in to look at kaleidoscopes. I remember her as being very sweet and wearing a badanna in her last few visits. She always smiled. She bought alot of Wedding Scopes by David Kalish, probably as wedding gifts. They have a great story to them. A Wedding Scope has two ends, the idea being a couple can each look at the same cell and see different things…)
But I did. I did do all those things. The answer as to why I did is simple. Kaleidoscopes mattered to my aunt Betty. Aunt Betty mattered to me. Therefore, Aunt Betty’s kaleidoscope collection mattered to me.
Now, for me, it is very rewarding to be able to widen the aperture of my camera to these scopes in order to capture the transient refractions occurring inside. It’s nothing short of suspended indelibility.
There was never a quick word with my aunt, Elizabeth (Betty) Spoelstra. This, of course, was on account of her being a master at engaging. When I was with her, I felt like I was the most intelligent and gifted woman — she brought out the best of everyone she was with — and I never wanted our visits together to end. She was eccentric, engaging, and full of life even when she was full of death; her body inwardly decaying from cancer. Aunt Betty left behind a legacy of faith and joy and music, among other things, when she died 12 years ago. One of the things she left me in particular was a cabinet overflowing with kaleidoscopes. I had always admired her scopes when I visited her. I would take them out of her cabinet (there were over 60 of them) and go through them one by one, competely enraptured by the vision of light and colour that would scroll by in front of my peeping eye.
Shortly before she died, she told me she would bequeath the scopes to me with the instruction that I was to give them all away. So, one by one, I have been doing as she requested and gifting cousins on their wedding day, teachers on their retirement, and friends transitioning into new homes with kaleidoscopes from my aunt’s collection. One by one I have watched various scopes pass from my hand to the grateful receiever; scopes by Bennett, Chesnik, Karadimos, Knox, Paretti, Weeks, Van Cort, and many others.
Honestly, there is pain in the offering. But I know that’s a good thing. Gifts should cost us something if they are to be a true gift. And in case you’re wondering, the pain is not in parting with such costly collectibles. The pain is when I must take the scope in one hand and a cloth in the other, and carefully rub all of my aunt’s fingerprints off the scope before wrapping it in tissue and gently laying it into a giftbox. I’m not losing money or beautiful artistry. I’m losing another piece of that which remains of my aunt.
Today, only a few kaleidoscopes remain in the wood and glass display cabinet that Aunt Betty gave me, and I will continue to give them away as she requested. And as I hold her scopes in my hand and rub away the smudges and prints, I will remind myself of the gift I received that’s worth far more than her collection: The memory of a woman whose love and life shone brighter and more beautifully than any person I have ever had the privilege of knowing.