Blumenfeld store, St. Paul Minnesota, 1950sAround 1977, my mother inherited a collection of novels her grandfather David Blumenfeld had written. His assumption had been that as a published, award-winning writer, she would appreciate his work and know what to do with it. However, she looked at a couple of the novels, dismissed them as amateur works, and resealed the box. After a few years, she asked me whether I wanted to take custody of the manuscripts. I knew little about him other than he was a haberdasher in St. Paul, Minnesota and had a book or two vanity-published. Collector that I am, I jumped at the chance to check out these manuscripts. However, I had much the same reaction: I thumbed through a few volumes, and disappointedly resealed the box as a curiosity that someday I would delve into further.
David, my mother and elder brother, circa 1924Dissolve to 2008. We were in the process of moving, and I was triaging boxes the basement. I finally took a look at the Blumenfeld cache. The titles (such as A Torn Family Reunited, A Woman’s Grit, and The Tigress-Hearted Mother) and the opening paragraphs sounded very old-fashioned. They read like treatments of silent movies, with broad characters (the wicked shiksa, the humble Jewish peasant who rises to be a New World captain of industry, the betrayed spouse, the wise rabbi) and they had melodramatic, wildly improbable plots of biblical convolution and moralization.
Suddenly I did a double-take — the title of the next manuscript read simply Diary.
In the last several years I had become a genealogy buff, and this was just the thing to jolt me awake. Was it really a diary, or was it just an uncharacteristically short title for another novel?
At first, it did not take diary form or tone, but read like an historical novel. I was suspicious but intrigued: while not recognizing any of the names, slowly I realized that many details matched the little I knew of my mother's ancestors. I then saw that the next manuscript in the box was Part Two of Diary. I could see that it segued about halfway through into pure journal form and by the end was using names I recognized: David’s sons and daughters, Al, Belle, Helen, and Mose, and my mother’s cousin Lorraine — although the hero and his wife retained the false names “Nate” and “Rosaline.” I dropped everything and began to read from the beginning in earnest.
I soon found that no one — not David’s immediate family, nor any living descendents — had had any inkling of the existence of the diary. My mother had not gotten that far in the box. Neither Beth’s late cousin Belle nor her husband Abe had mentioned it. It was like I had uncovered the Dead Sea Scrolls.
To be continued...