In my apartment building I take the elevator to the basement to wash my clothes, key card in hand to pay for the machines that scrub out the dirt and dry my clothes. A standard ritual for urban dwellers. To make the experience more pleasant, the Co-op Board installed a book exchange. People can drop off books they have read and others can pick up them up to read.
I have both contributed and retrieved, but what intrigues me is who discarded the books and why. It’s fairly logical why a 1982 edition of Let’s Go Greece shows up, but what about a 1946 edition of The Good Housekeeping Cookbook. This is a gem. It has weight, not just because it’s a heavy hard cover, but because it reflects a piece of social history from 68 years ago.
Why has it been cast to the laundry room bookshelf? Is it a routine cull or has the inhabitant of the apartment passed away? It provokes a string of queries. How old was he or she when they purchased this book? Was it given to a young bride or did the daughter of the once young bride inherit it? It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma and if I was a screenwriter I could concoct a tale from a cookbook.
My story begins:
It is a rainy afternoon, the heroine decides she is going to make brownies for her children. She opens the cookbook and a photo leaps out of a couple, each wearing a suit and hat. On the back of the photograph there is written: “August 15, 1940. The day we met”.
A yellowed newspaper article flutters to the floor. It is dated August 16, 1951 and the headline blares “Leonine Dafjater Dies. Daughter Inherits Millions”.
The heroine goes back to the brownie recipe. In the margin, barely legible, is the word cyanide.
I’ll have to find another old book so I can write the next scene.
In the meantime I have discovered that there is a bookstore in Manhattan that is devoted solely to vintage cookbooks, but I am going to keep my Good Housekeeping Cookbook and try making those brownies one rainy day.
Can’t wait for that rainy day!!!