April 17, 2024
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April 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

My father loved tchotchkes. Perhaps this was because he didn’t have much to call his own, growing up as one of seven siblings in a poor household. Maybe he just liked accrueing stuff. But, for as long as I can remember, my dad would come home most nights from his store, with pockets and bags filled with goodies, none of which had any relationship to need or affordability.

Some of the objects he presented with panache (as in, “Come quick. Look what I found just for you,”) consisted of relatively inexpensive junk, like the wind up toys or the flying planes that were hawked on the grimy sidewalk near our subway stop on Delancey Street.

Or his taste might gravitate to the faux exotic. I remember the shock on all our faces when he unrolled a pseudo Persian, looks like velvet carpet, with gold embossing; which years later graced my Sukkah wall, impervious to rain, wind or the passing of time. Every once in a while, a real treasure did magically appear from those pockets. Who wouldn’t love the beautiful gold watch he fished out from its hiding place, bought especially for my jewelry averse mother who looked at it with alarm, already worrying about its cost.

He even schlepped home by subway and by bus toting a large oil painting of an anorexic looking hasid that some customer in the store had convinced him to buy. That one is out of public view on the top of my staircase. Still my Dad bought it for us, so I can’t throw it away.

Because of my father’s penchant for collecting, our apartment grew a bit cluttered and we had a living room decorated with unusual knick knacks. Certainly, not one of my friends had a huge black and white ceramic dog perched on top of their T.V. console. This dog, named Fido Stevenhower the third (bowing to the politics of that era), had a wide-open mouth filled with pointy canines, poised to bite. Then again, his olfactory senses were no doubt damaged because he had a chipped nose courtesy of my mother. She sweetly explained that we weren’t allowed to have statues in our home unless she first chipped off a piece of it but I guessed that she was probably just venting her frustration at my father. Mom always had a hard time wasting hard earned money on what she dismissed as narishkeit (frivolities).

And let us not forget the smoking stand. Although my father had not smoked in years, he was unaccountably proud of this object d’art, a stand alone, gold footed and amber glass ashtray that we weren’t allowed to touch, and as we married and grandchildren began to appear, to even approach….because we would break the wobbly, strange looking thing. My father loved it.

More than any of the other tchotchkes, the one that stays in my mind the most, was purchased at great expense when my sister got engaged and the machatanim were coming over for a lechayim. The groom came from Jamaica, Queens, after all. So my dad did what he did best to make himself feel better, a habit that I have certainly inherited. He went shopping.

This time, he visited the fanciest store in the neighborhood, La Corte Florist and Gifts, on the then upscale Clinton Street. My father proudly arrived home flourishing a shiny pitcher and goblet set from which he would pour and serve the Concord grape wine. The pitcher wasn’t silver, it was chrome and I don’t remember ever using it after that night. But more than 60 years later it stands proudly in my curio cabinet. The two remaining goblets, from a long lost set of eight, grace my Seder table every year, no matter where Pesach might be celebrated; one cup for Eliyahu and one for me.

Over the years, my sister and I both developed a love of tchotchkes as well. Displayed in each of our homes are curiosities both small and large that we have amassed or inherited over the years. Whenever we visit each other, we admire our new “toys,” and usually preface our comments with “Daddy would have loved that.” My fondest childhood memories still center around how thrilling it was for me when my Daddy came home, after a 13 hour work day, tired to the bone. In he’d stride, wearing a big smile, eager to share his latest gift with our family. The objects themselves were not always pretty or very useful, though sometimes he surprised us with his choices. Still, we prized whatever came out of those pockets and bags because we so loved the huge heart of the man who doled them out.

Estelle Glass, a Teaneck resident, is a retired educator who is now happily writing her own essays.

By Estelle Glass

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