The two of them had been browsing antique stores all morning and both had found some interesting items but had bought nothing. That is until he discovered the lamp. It was almost hidden away in a remote corner of a small store they’d never visited before. He called her over and asked her to bend down for her opinion.
The lamp was squeezed in between a porcelain elephant of indeterminable origin and a mid-century vase. She moved the lamp a bit to get a better look at it and looking up at him, remarked, “Early twentieth century, and probably middle eastern in origin. Some repair needed. Your guess?”
“No, you’re probably right. But what do you think? How much would you offer for it?” he replied, bending down beside her.
“It depends,” she continued. “If the shop owner has the broken piece and you think it can be reattached easily and won’t show, I’d offer five hundred. Maybe six, but no more.”
He nodded and asked, “What if he doesn’t have the piece that broke off? And we have to figure out a way to repair it.”
“Twenty bucks, max,” she countered, rising slowly and dusting off her dress. “In fact, I wouldn’t even bother. That base is probably pewter. Very difficult to find someone these days who can work with pewter.”
“Well, let’s go ask the proprietor. This could be fun,” he said, rising, too, with a gleam in his eye.
She shrugged as they both headed to the counter and the proprietor. “Hi,” he began, “We’re interested in the pewter lamp in the corner. The broken one. We were wondering why you would have a broken item for sale? Is there something special about that item?”
The proprietor was a smallish man in his seventies and was wearing a smock and a visor. “Ah, something special, you ask?” he replied. “Yes, something very special. And I do have the broken piece. People always ask if I have the broken piece.”
“Oh, so there has been some interest in that particular lamp in the past?” she wondered.
“Oh, my, yes,” the proprietor said, moving out from behind the counter. “I have sold that very same lamp many times over the years. Each time with the provision that if the buyer couldn’t repair it, I would take it back with a complete refund. It’s pewter, you know.”
The two looked at each other and he asked the next question, “So, is there a story behind that lamp which makes it interesting, other than just its aesthetic appeal?”
Moving towards the rear of the store, the two shoppers following closely behind, the proprietor looked over his shoulder and answered, “It belonged to a rabbi in Chicago during the nineteen twenties. Whenever a member of his congregation needed advice or consolation or spiritual guidance, he’d have them come into his office and sit down at a small table. And there on the table between them would stand that little lamp.”
“A rabbi’s lamp? Is there more to this story?” she prodded.
As the three of them got to where the lamp sat, the proprietor leaned down and retrieved it, blowing some dust off it as he did. “Well, the rabbi would instruct the person he was counseling to place their hands on the lamp and to tell the lamp the nature of their problems. It seems that the rabbi thought that he could get a more honest response that way.”
“So, let me get this straight,” she asked. “These people, these troubled people, would spill out all their problems, all their suffering, all their troubles to this rabbi through this lamp. Is that what you’re saying? And why does that make this little lamp any different from any other lamp?”
He handed the lamp to the man and responded, “Because, as the story goes, the lamp became the depository of all these emotions. It purportedly absorbed their troubles and all the rabbi had to do was gently help them on their way, trouble free. Now, is that interesting enough?”
The two looked at each other again and both shook their heads in disbelief. “Sounds a bit farfetched. Interesting, but unlikely. Anyway, tell us a little bit about how it got broken,” she said.
“Ah,” the proprietor continued, “One cold winter’s afternoon, a man came into the rabbi’s office and sat down with him at the small table. As he went about explaining his problems, the lamp broke. It seems that the lamp could absorb just so much suffering and no more.”
“Now that’s interesting!” she exclaimed. “And would explain why no one has been able to repair it. Wonderful story! I love it!” She looked at her partner with a big smile and asked, “Let’s just buy it and put it on a shelf without repairing it. When people ask about it, we could tell them the story. And we could have the broken piece framed and hung on the wall close by.”
He nodded his agreement, turned to the proprietor, and asked, “Would you take three hundred for it? And we won’t be returning it since we won’t be trying to fix it.”
The proprietor paused, looked at both of them, and replied, “Four hundred and fifty. Firm!”
The two looked at each other and then agreed. As they returned to the counter with their newfound treasure, the proprietor retrieved the broken piece and placed both the broken lamp and the piece in a box and wrapped it up.
“There you are, you two. I hope you are very happy with your new purchase and I would welcome you back in my store anytime,” the proprietor said, handing the box to the man.
As the two left the store, the proprietor went to the front door, closed it, and placed the closed sign in the window. With that, he retreated to a small storeroom in the rear of his store, turned on the light and closed the door.
There, on the shelves, were dozens of little pewter lamps, identical to the one he just sold.
Taking one down, he carefully broke off a piece from its base, blew some dust on it from his pocket, opened the door and turned out the light.
As he bent down to place the little broken lamp on its new shelf between the porcelain elephant and the mid-century vase, he trusted in his judgement that the two would never return to his store. No one who had ever bought one of these hot little items ever had.