Two More Out of the Millions | Page 74 | Newberry

Two More Out of the Millions

It isn’t always apples and acupuncture needles in this land of encyclopedias and polka records. I’ve mentioned before the romance and mystery that can be read into people’s lives from the treasures they drop off. Sometimes the clue is a sixty-box collection of books about Kentucky and sometimes it’s a ticket to the world premier of Woodstock tucked away as a bookmark in a textbook.

But now and again they send over individual volumes of their autobiography. Two of these volumes came in this week (and it’s only Wednesday morning.)

Let’s call the hero and heroine of this small leather volume Jenny and Oliver. Oliver gave the book to Jenny for Christmas in 1971. We have a collection of postcards and photographs which record a trip along the East Coast. A pair of postcards from Boston and Cambridge feature a psychedelic border which really sets us in our decade. We follow Jenny and Oliver through Massachusetts to Washington, D.C. and then to a beach in New Hampshire. We move from sweater weather to bikini weather, all the while smiling at the camera. The only captions give us the names of the towns.

The skies are blue, Jenny and Oliver are young and having a good time, and Oliver went to some trouble to put this all together as a memorial of it. And everyone who has looked at this volume has demanded to know why anybody would let this book go to a Book Fair after forty-two years. Memories of their own sweet summers make them cradle the book gently and I have had to pry it from their hands.

With the other biography, the common reaction is “Why did somebody KEEP this for eighty years?” Some books demand a little more study before the romance becomes obvious.

What we have here is a check register from an Illinois bank starting at check #1 in May, 1931 and ending in April, 1932 at check #272. This is not the last of the stubs, but all the rest are blank. The owner has also kept financial notes in the margins and on the backs of the checks. He rented out something or other: sometimes the rent was paid, and sometimes he has noted “new low” behind a renter’s name.

He must have been doing well enough: he belonged to the College Club and paid his season ticket at the Civic Opera. He is paying installments on a trip to Paris. His payment to the County of Cook for taxes came to over $2400. He shopped at “Carson Pirie”, “Mandel Bros” and “Marshall Field”, but only rarely lists what he bought: “clock” or “silks for Europe”. There are checks to the Blackstone and to the Vanderbilt Hotel. His phone bill came to $4.10 in September.

I think I know his last name, or at least the first initial of it. I’d like to find out what he did for a living. (Why does he write so many checks to names on his list of renters? But I sort books for a living: maybe this is simple business practice.) Or maybe I can sell it to somebody else who’d enjoy the research. The Book Fair might once again be a footnote to a footnote in some great work of scholarly revelation.

The one clear thing is that these bits of autobiography won’t earn a lot of money. But they gave me something unique to read while I was eating that apple.

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