the sound of the drawers sliding in and out

I’ve been thinking ahead about winter. I don’t expect the current pandemic protocols to change much so I know there will be months at home, the fire quiet in the kitchen, a few quilts in progress, and what else, what else? Writing of course. I hope to do some final edits on a collection of essays (more on this as it evolves), I am thinking about making another essay chapbook (because I found that process so completely lovely last February when I put together Museum of the Multitude Village just before, well, everything else), and I have in mind organizing my vast and untidy recipe collection. Not the cookbooks but the scraps of envelopes with notes jotted down, methods detailed, lists of possible buttercrunch recipes but one of them so soiled you can barely see whether it’s one cup of butter or four, the file cards with cassoulets and roasted carrot salads from Matthew in Wiltshire (now in Yorkshire), Edith Iglauer’s hazelnut torte which she’d bring for dinners, often birthday dinners, the delicious gratin of turnips (I know!) surreptitiously scribbled on the back of a shopping list from a cookbook in a bookstore: anyway, those. Brendan made me a recipe box in grade 8 shop class but it only holds about half of what I’d like to organize.

So in Brentwood Bay on Monday, during a quick trip to the Island to help Angelica celebrate her birthday, we were in an antique store, looking around, when I saw this:

recipe box

Well, before I saw this one, I saw a tall card catalogue cabinet, made of beautiful golden oak, as tall as I am (5’6”). I pulled out its drawers and imagined each of them containing information about a library’s holdings. I loved browsing the card catalogues in the libraries of my youth. The ones in the vast rooms at the corner of Yates and Blanshard Streets in Victoria where we went each Saturday to choose the week’s books, the ones at UVic when I was a student, and in every library in the years between those. Part of the pleasure was what you discovered after you found the book you needed. You jotted down its call number and then, if you had time (or even if you didn’t), you began to read the cards before and after that one.

So I lingered by the tall cabinet and rummaged through the boxes of lead and wooden type, texted John who was nearby in a cafe:

Me: they have some wooden initials, some lead type too.
J: I have all the type I’ll ever need.
Me: they have spacing materials and lock-up stuff!
J: I don’t need any of that.
Me: they have a small paper cutter!
J: Ok, I’m coming.

And then I saw the small version of the cabinet. Just two drawers. Honey oak, said the card. The drawers moved smoothly in and out. I’d already told John I wanted to organize my recipes this winter so he encouraged me to buy it. And the paper cutter? He bought that. (For years we used the one at the college where he taught as well as the one at the local high school. But then he retired and so did every teacher we knew at the high school so we were left without a cutter. We’d always looked for them at printing supply places but never found one that was the right size. The owner of the store brought out some paper as well as card so John could make sure it was in good working order. And it was.) Angelica found the type drawer she wanted and so we packed our prizes into the car. Yesterday afternoon, arriving home, I brought my card catalogue into the house first thing. What was it used for? A small collection of books? Maybe the entire library of the tiny 1908 one-room schoolhouse preserved with love in Brentwood Bay? A list of parishioners at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church not very far away? I love its soft glow, the lovely brass label holders on each drawer, and the sound of the drawers sliding in and out.

11 thoughts on “the sound of the drawers sliding in and out”

  1. Lovely! I look forward to photos of your recipes neatly installed on cards. That’ll feel good. I have a single drawer, the same lovely blonde wood, that I use to store postcards. Just what everyone needs – a recipe drawer, a postcard drawer.

  2. It was really beautiful. After seeing a photograph of my small one, my older son asked where I’d found it. He said they’re very popular with hipsters right now! (So the wine guy was prescient!) That’s me — (aging) hipster.

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