You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

Lou Charloff: The Two Treasures

Lou Charloff
January 2, 2013

by Lou Charloff

I was a little kid during the Great Depression and we were, of course, very poor. That was by no means unusual. Except for the rich people, everybody in America was poor.

My family did, however, own two treasures which I can still see if I close my eyes. They were The Bookcase and The Clock.

The bookcase was made of black wood except for the front, which consisted of two glass doors which opened in the middle. It stood about five or six feet high and the top corners were made of carved wood. It was about four and a half feet wide and its shelves were always jammed with books. For me, the greatest wonder among the bookcase’s contents was the Book of Knowledge. This was a twenty-volume children’s encyclopedia and I believe that, over the years, I must have read almost every word in those volumes. The bookcase was the main piece of furniture in the living room of every apartment we lived in.

Perhaps even more wonderful was The Clock. It was a rectangular box that stood about two feet in height and had four glass sides. Where the sides met in the corners, they were held in place by brass rods. The top of the box and its feet were made of heavy carved brass. The actual clock was a globe suspended inside the box. The front and back of the box were hinged doors. A heavy brass key lay on the floor of the box and was used to wind the clock every Sunday. Since I was the youngest member of the family, I didn’t get to wind it very often and each opportunity was a bit of a thrill.

Many years later I saw a clock here in California that resembled our treasure. Its brass was made into flat, thin shapes with none of the treasure’s heavy carving. However, although it was just A Clock instead of The Clock, there was a resemblance that I could not resist, and the poor version of The Clock is on display in the étagere in my living room.

I have no idea of how the family was ever able to afford to buy these treasures, but I am sure that each of us loved them as much as I did.

A couple of weeks ago, I turned on my television and tuned into a movie starring a young Debbie Reynolds. Co-starring with her was Barry Nelson, an underrated leading man who never became a great star. They portrayed a divorced couple and, in the scene that I saw when the movie came on, they were standing in the middle of the living room of his New York apartment. It was the apartment that I had always wanted to live in and knew that I could never afford. The living room was large and featured a beautiful fireplace and two couches that faced each other. There were several bookcases as well as shelves which bore vases, statuettes, and other decorative pieces.

The room was even more decorative than the young Debbie Reynolds, whose personality and talent I’d admired since Singin’ in the Rain. As I watched the couple standing in the center of the living room, I looked beyond them and there, to my utter astonishment, I saw The Bookcase. Well, not quite, but about 95 percent a replica. The top corners of which were carved slightly differently. In all other respects, including the crowded bookshelves, there stood our treasure.

Then the camera moved to the opposite wall and, absolutely incredibly, there on the mantelpiece stood The Clock. It was not a close resemblance; it was in every detail the clock which had been my family’s other treasure.

I was thrilled beyond imagination and remain excited by the sighting of the two treasures to this very day. I accepted a great many years ago that I would never co-star with Debbie Reynolds — but, to my absolute delight, my Treasures did.

Lou Charloff, 91, is featured in Old Jews Telling Jokes, both the website and the book.