Getting Intimate

In my childhood kitchen, there is a battle weary Joy of Cooking.

The pages are yellowed to the color, appropriately, of batter and flip agreeably over onto each other. Along with recipes, the pages have oily fingerprints and brownish stains - molasses, vanilla, raspberry jam? - on them. If you shake the book, baking powder from 1991 (a fine year for Indiana sodium bicarbonate and cream of tartar) may come out.

In my family’s Joy of Cooking, quiche, salad, chowder pages are the closest to pristine; coffee cake, drop cookies, and miscellaneous how to’s (how long to hardboil an egg) are heavily trafficked. Our family’s eating preferences are narrated across the recipes.

It’s a book you’d like to inherit. The recipes you could find online. But the humanness smudged and spilled over the pages brings you in close to the hands that used those pages.

And it is in the faded, softened state of used things that a quiet piece of the human story plays out. This piece is not dressed up for show; it is not the formal dining room for entertaining. It is the kitchen table where people come as they are. It is intimate.

This intimacy is not nostalgia - that pining for another time or place. This intimacy comes in closer, rubs up against the heart, tenders it. We see in The Joy of Cooking, underlined copies of Beloved, an old Swiss Army knife a piece of how someone lived in the unperformed moments when no one was looking. We see not who they thought they should be, but who they actually are. And in their unadorned selves, perhaps we see some of our own selves.

So a raised glass of iced tea (page 33, Joy of Cooking) to the yellowed and the stained. The faded and the worn. And the human life that is written across them.

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