An Old Family Friend

 

Discovered hidden at the bottom of an old cardboard box hastily
packed during a move, a close family friend finally come home.

“Are you sure you’ve not seen it?” my wife asked, each time with
a bit more sadness in her voice as she searched throughout our home
for her well-traveled and trusted cookbook.

Over the course of several months, she’d made dozens of eager
phone calls across the country with the hope that, just maybe, her
cookbook had accidentally been left behind while visiting family over the recent summer.

And with each fruitless answer on the other end of the telephone,
I could feel a growing resignation in her voice that this simple book—
which I’d never realized was such an important part of her kitchen—
just might be gone forever.

I’m sorry, but I just didn’t understand why this item, which she
rarely relied on to cook from, could be so important her. I even had
thoughts of going to the bookstore and replacing it with a similar
edition—thinking simply that a “cookbook was a cookbook.”

How naive I was.

Last Saturday afternoon, as I looked down on the kitchen island
and slowly thumbed through the pages of the special book, I realized
that it wasn’t what was printed on the pages that was important but
rather what was hidden between the covers that had made it such a
valuable and trusted friend to her over the years.

Stuffed between the spiral-bound pages that struggled to stay intact
all these years, the true heart of the book was not what the publisher
had included for the final printed version but rather the collection of
small, loose scraps of paper with personal, hand-written recipes that
brought and gave the book the breath of life.

As I turned to one particular page, I was greeted by two simple but
powerful memories that helped underscore the unique and emotional
contents held between the tan pages.

On a worn, yellow Post-It note, I found a hand-written
list of ingredients for “Mom’s Pie Crust.” Yet another held the recipe
for an old family version of “Scottish Shortbread” handed down
from my grandmother just before she’d passed away.

Gently unfolding the stiff newspaper pages wedged between the
index and main cover, I scanned the top of the pages for datelines. As
I recognized the years and different towns from which they had been
collected, I smiled as I thought warmly to where we had been during
each stage of life.

A page from The Kansas City Star reminded me of how two young
people learned to “live with one another” as newlyweds in a small, one-
bedroom apartment right out of college. Another page, one from the
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, brought back the sometimes-comical memories
of us as we struggled and discovered how to become parents for the
first time. As I pulled one from western Pennsylvania, I remembered the
harsh cold of those winters and the shock we’d experienced when we’d
first heard the snow accumulation forecast in feet rather than inches.
Other pages fell aside from Georgia after we discovered the magic of
Brunswick stew and a very special recipe for Bread Pudding.

As for the cold, exacting recipes that the original book publisher
had authorized for printing, they must have needed a couple of
changes—as the hand-written comments along the side of the pages
hinted to.

Next to recipe titles were special codes known only to my wife—
two asterisks for a good recipe and an “X” for ones that didn’t seem to
be worth going back to again.

Suddenly, it came to me, as I worked through the final pages, that
this worn and road-weary book my wife had agonized over the prospect
of having lost was not just a collection of recipes to be taken out when
needed; it was a deep collection of personal memories that could never
be replaced with a simple trip to the local bookstore.

With a new respect for this simple item, I carefully closed the cover
and walked down the wooden hallway in search of its talented author.

– 30 –