Let me share with you a few thoughts about old friends and old books.
Years ago—when I was young and cute and the mother of only two little boys instead of four, I was working at Weber Aircraft when I found myself suddenly in need of a babysitter. A friend suggested her neighbor, a woman named Connie, who herself was the mother of three young children, the youngest a boy the same age as my son, Michael. (Remind me to tell you some time of all the mischief those two five-year-old-boys would get into!)
Connie became my babysitter and more importantly, a close friend. She was godmother to my youngest son, Kelly, when he was born. Connie and I shared so many interests that it’s impossible to say which one was the most important—and we shared a love of books. One of our interests focused on the White House and anything Presidential; one time we bought a “lot” of used White House/Presidential books, sight unseen, from a woman somewhere in the Midwest. I think the books cost us about $50.00 each and when they arrived, we sat on the floor divvying them up.
We shared a love of cookbooks and began collecting them at the same time, in 1965, although Connie was a vegetarian and leaned more towards cookbooks of that genre. She was also “Southern” and shared with me a love of “anything” Southern. We shared a love of diary/journal type books and books about the Mormons—and religious groups that formed in the United States in the 1800s.
It was because of Connie that I started working for the Health Plan where I was employed for 27 years—I only went to work “part time for six weeks to help out”, and there I was, years later, retiring the end of 2002 with a pension. My job literally saved my sanity when I went through a divorce in 1985.
My oldest son and her youngest started kindergarten together, and her oldest daughter lived with me for about six months, as a mother’s helper, when she was in high school.
In 1999, Connie died of lung cancer. It seems incongruous that someone so devoted to eating healthy should die of such a terrible disease. One thing I have never been able to fathom; Connie and I quit smoking together, in 1971. Some time later, maybe a year later, I was at Connie’s and she lit a cigarette. I was stunned. “When did you start smoking again?” I asked her.
“Oh,” she said, nonchalantly, “I was at a party and someone handed me a cigarette and I smoked it”. It boggled my mind that we had QUIT smoking together and had tobacco out of our systems–and she returned to smoking a year or two later.
One night, some months later after Connie had passed away, her oldest daughter brought three boxes of books to the house, explaining that it had taken a long time to go through her mother’s collections—many of her books were divided up amongst her children and other friends, but there were some that Dawn thought I would especially like.
After Dawn left, I opened the boxes and began laying the books all over the coffee table and chairs. Books about the White House – some I had never heard of before! I wish I could have had them when I was writing about cooking in the White House kitchens year ago–Intriguing titles such as “DINNER AT THE WHITE HOUSE” by Louis Adamic, memoirs of the Roosevelt years, published in 1946, and “DEAR MR. PRESIDENT; THE STORY OF FIFTY YEARS IN THE WHITE HOUSE MAIL ROOM” by Ira Smith with Joe Alex Morris, published in 1949.
There is a Congressional Cook Book – #2 – and a very nice copy of “MANY HAPPY RETURNS or How to Cook a G.O.P. Goose”, the Democrats’ Cook Book which was the inspiration for an article that appeared in the March/April 2000 issue of the Cookbook Collectors Exchange. There were several books about soups that I have never seen before. One was “THE New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook”, another “The ALL NATURAL SOUP COOKBOOK”.
More books about Southern cooking – a few duplicates but others I was unfamiliar with, “RECIPES FROM THE OLD SOUTH” by Martha Meade, a copy of the “GONE WITH THE WIND COOKBOOK” – actually, a booklet – which was given away free with the purchase of Pebeco Toothpaste which is long gone from the drug store scene while “Gone with the Wind” is as famous as ever.
My friend and I drifted apart some years ago, after a difference of opinion –we remained friends but were not as inseparable as we once were. She made other friends and so did I.
But I was deeply touched that some of her treasured books came into my possession. Running my hands across the covers, I imagine that Connie had done the same thing, many times, dusting them, touching them. For in one aspect, if no other, we were kindred souls. We loved books. I still do.