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Popek has successfully reacquainted several finds with their owners. One time, a hand-painted cloth bookmark signed by artist Ingrid Kirn appeared on the blog and was discovered, thanks to the beauty of a Google Alert that Kirn had set up for her own name; this past June, a woman in Scotland discovered on the blog a recipe for maple sugar that had been handwritten by her mother and tucked inside an old 1970s recipe book. She didn’t ask for it back, but Popek returned it to her nonetheless.
Surprisingly, Popek said, not everyone wants to be reconnected with their past. “I once found this couple’s entire history. Every anniversary is marked with little handmade books that the husband made for his wife,” he said. “All these letters showing love and affection over 30 or 40 years. I managed to track down one of the sons, who was a bus driver in Vermont. I spent literally hours finding this person, but he had no interest.… As far as he was concerned, it went in the estate sale. He’d moved on. I still have the box somewhere. I couldn’t toss it or give it to the Goodwill. It’s back in the storage building.”
Lest you think Popek is any different from the rest of us mortals, on the very day that “Forgotten Bookmarks” was published, he posted on his blog:
“Today’s post is a personal one, I came across this paperback biography of Ted Williams while I was sorting through our baseball section. There’s a gift inscription, from my grandfather to me, dated 1986. He passed away a few years ago…. I like to think he’d be proud of me today.”
The inscription reads, “to michael peter popek, give it your best — love you. Natan ‘Poppy’ popek.”
In a time when more and more of our interactions and memories are created and exist solely online, there is an added beauty to Popek’s discoveries. For when the generation of Facebook love-letter writers die, there will be no magical shoebox to end up in Popek’s hands, no way for future generations to pick up an actual letter penned with a real pen by a real person expressing a real sentiment.
Nicola Behrman is a playwright and screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles and runs the blogs www.poetry-post.com and weseehearts.tumblr.com.