In my apartment building I take the elevator to the basement to wash my clothes, key card in hand to pay for the machines that scrub out the dirt and dry my clothes. A standard ritual for urban dwellers. To make the experience more pleasant, the Co-op Board installed a book exchange. People can drop off books they have read and others can pick up them up to read.
I have both contributed and retrieved, but what intrigues me is who discarded the books and why. It’s fairly logical why a 1982 edition of Let’s Go Greece shows up, but what about a 1946 edition of The Good Housekeeping Cookbook. This is a gem. It has weight, not just because it’s a heavy hard cover, but because it reflects a piece of social history from 68 years ago.
Why has it been cast to the laundry room bookshelf? Is it a routine cull or has the inhabitant of the apartment passed away? It provokes a string of queries. How old was he or she when they purchased this book? Was it given to a young bride or did the daughter of the once young bride inherit it? It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma and if I was a screenwriter I could concoct a tale from a cookbook.
My story begins:
It is a rainy afternoon, the heroine decides she is going to make brownies for her children. She opens the cookbook and a photo leaps out of a couple, each wearing a suit and hat. On the back of the photograph there is written: “August 15, 1940. The day we met”.
A yellowed newspaper article flutters to the floor. It is dated August 16, 1951 and the headline blares “Leonine Dafjater Dies. Daughter Inherits Millions”.
In the meantime I have discovered that there is a bookstore in Manhattan that is devoted solely to vintage cookbooks, but I am going to keep my Good Housekeeping Cookbook and try making those brownies one rainy day.