The Mystery is Solved

23 Jul

I probably will never be able to pinpoint the exact moment in time that I knew I wanted to become a writer. Nor, for that matter, will I be able to pinpoint the precise reason. All I know is that when I was a kid I loved to read and I want to write books for other kids of that age to help them love reading as well as I did.

There were many places – both real and unreal – that fed my love of reading. Narnia, Middle Earth, Walnut Grove, Prince Edward Island. And there were authors: Susan Cooper, Madeline L’Engle, Enid Blyton, Author Ransome, Elizabeth Goudge. There were characters I fell in love with, and pets, there were styles of writing that I adored, and others that I found irritating or dull. There were turns of phrase, and words too, that changed my vocabulary, causing one friend in college to remark, “Gretchen, you have an entirely different vocabulary than I do.” Which, while untrue in many ways, was, perhaps, tinged with truth. I like to think that I never used those words to sound pretentious (the word I had used in that conversation was “vernacular” – not such a bizarre word, I didn’t think) but, perhaps, without meaning to, I sometimes did…

I recently returned from a wonderful vacation out on Orcas Island, Washington. I’ll post more about that in days to come. But for now, I’ll set the beaches and mountains and reunions aside to tell you about one small incident that occurred on the vacation that made my day…or, rather, my decade. At least in a literary sense.

For about ten years I have been searching for one of my favorite childhood books. Every so often I’d think of it and go to the internet to have a search. Only trouble was, I couldn’t remember the title, let alone the author. I thought the title was “The Mystery of the Hidden Staircase.” But every time I searched for that – or any variety thereof (The Mystery of the Lost Staircase, The Hidden Stairs, The Mysterious Staircase) – my search would come up with Nancy Drew books.

Not what I was looking for.

I even went so far as to inquire from a bookseller once if the book he was selling was set in Quebec and contained chapter titles about staircases. He never responded.

For, you see, those were the two of the four things I remembered about the book. I remembered the setting, I remembered the stairs, I remembered that somehow whistling came into play, and I remembered that the protagonist was a little girl and she solved the mystery of the stairs.

Beyond that I was stumped.

I did hold out one glimmer of hope over the years. My niece. She told me that she had a box of children’s books in storage and that when she could, she’d pull it out for me to look through. Finally the stars aligned and I was in Washington when the book box was available and so was I. Turns out there were actually two boxes. My hopes grew…yet I dared not hold out too much hope…it just seemed too much of a reach to think that they would have held on to that book for so many years.

I opened the first box. Lots of great books!! But not THE book.

Then I opened the second box.

I lifted out a book. Nope. Then set aside a few more, knowing they weren’t IT. Then I took out a gray, thin, hardback book.

The Mystery of Lonsome Manor, by Harriet Evatt.


My heart began to race. Could it be?

I turned to the Table of Contents. Quickly scanned, my hopes grew.

Then I turned to page one, chapter one. The words, “French Canada” jumped out at me. I flipped a few more pages. An Indian – yes, that sounds familiar, albeit politically incorrect – a sledge, a girl, the old manor house. Suddenly I knew and I shouted out in the middle of my niece’s living room, “This is IT!!!!!”

I didn’t cry. I didn’t hug it to my chest. What I did was stand up from my place on the floor, walk to my purse, put the book in my purse and zip it shut. It rode home with me in my carry-on, not in the large Huggies Diaper box full of books that we checked as luggage.

Filled with books - from the sublime to the absurd.  But all worth the search.

Filled with books – from the sublime to the absurd. But all worth the search.

You may be thinking that I read it as soon as I possibly could.


I savored it first. Reveled in the anticipation. I even finished the book I was currently reading first (I was almost done with it) simply because I loved the feeling of KNOWING I had it. I even let my daughter start reading it on the plane.

And then, the afternoon of our first day home, I began to read. I finished it before bed.

And no, I was not disappointed.

Oh, it’s a little politically incorrect, as I mentioned, and it’s a wee bit old-fashioned (it’s copywrite is 1962) and it’s very abrupt in its mystery-solving (no prolonged searches or plot twists), but it was simple and sweet and a wee bit exciting and definitely a little mysterious.

I love it.

And that’s why I write. So that someone, someday, when he or she is 43 and wracking their minds for a good book for their daughter to read, or desperately searching for that book they loved as kids, will think of my book.

And be glad.


15 Responses to “The Mystery is Solved”

  1. treadlemusic July 23, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

    One of the best reasons to write I’ve ever heard stated!! Writers, by virtue of what they are called to do, leave a ‘footprint, a legacy, that is needed in order for us to go forward in a positive healthy manner that we might be much richer for those little (black) marks on some type of surface. Marvelous post! I am so in awe of such talented creativity! Hugs……

    • Gretchen O'Donnell July 23, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

      Thank you so much! Yes, a footprint. Or a brain print, perhaps. 🙂 I definitely would like that.

      • treadlemusic July 24, 2013 at 9:29 am #

        And you are leaving one beautiful print (of whatever kind you choose….LOL!)! Hugs……..

  2. Beth Ann July 23, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

    What a great find!!! I am so happy for you! I have to write titles down now—I could never be able to tell you my favorite book even if I could describe it so I totally get the “it is something about staircases” idea!!! I am so happy your found THE book!!! Great story, Gretchen!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell July 23, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

      Thanks! I am still glowing about it. Yes, I have many lists…the trick is to follow them/find them/use them/remember them. 🙂

  3. Hotly Spiced July 23, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

    How fabulous to have that book back in your collection. I wouldn’t worry about it being a bit politically incorrect – I think the world was a better place before we had to worry about all that nonsense. I’ll look forward to seeing your book in print! xx

    • Gretchen O'Donnell July 23, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

      Thank you, Charlie! And I agree, in many ways things were easier/better “way back then”…though I suppose there are better things in some ways now! But yes, sometimes political correctness gets out of control, doesn’t it?

  4. Kate July 23, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

    How great to have found it again! There is something so meaningful about those books that changed your life when you were a kid. I have a box of a few and I haven’t pulled them out, but I can’t wait to be sucked back into that world again. (Anne of Green Gables does that for me –more the movie than the book, but impacted me in such a big way. I actually just blogged about that today, lol).

    Great post!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell July 23, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

      OH, I will totally check out your post, then! Yes, my listing Prince Edward Island definitely meant that Anne was a huge part of my literary life. And I agree, I love the movies, too – at least the first two original ones. I’m not so crazy about the third, more recent one, since it’s totally NOT from the book. My daughter tried to read the first one and didn’t like the old fashioned style of writing. I hope she’ll try it again… Thanks so much for stopping by!

  5. Barbara Bamber | justasmidgen July 23, 2013 at 11:55 pm #

    You’ve definitely piqued my curiosity about that book, it wasn’t one I read as a child, so I’ll watch for it in used book stores. My turning point was the Nurse Barton series. I loved to read and write from about Grade 4 when I started writing little mysteries in my school scribbler. Thanks for bringing up great memories, Gretchen! xx

    • Gretchen O'Donnell July 24, 2013 at 10:31 am #

      It was 4th grade for me, too, when I KNEW that I wanted to write when I grew up! That must be the age when kids begin to understand themselves better, perhaps? There are several other books listed by the same author – and yes, you might be more likely to find them there in Canada than we could here in the US, though I guess I don’t know for sure if she was Canadian or not. So glad that you enjoyed the post!

  6. Minnesota Prairie Roots July 24, 2013 at 7:07 am #

    Gretchen, what a score on this trip, to find that coveted book from your childhood.

    I know, just know, that someday soon your book will imprint upon many young hearts. You, my dear, are one gifted writer.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell July 24, 2013 at 10:32 am #

      You are always so encouraging! Thank you, Audrey. Yes, it was wonderful to find the book – and today I THINK that I found my inspiration for another one to write…we’ll see…

  7. francisguenette July 24, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    What a wonderful story, Gretchen. You had me right along with you, heart pounding and hoping you’d find that book (even though I knew you would!) You’ve captured so well what most us writers must yearn for – to have something we’ve written stay with a reader and actually haunt them over the years with a desire to rediscover.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell July 24, 2013 at 8:40 am #

      Yes! You get it. I suppose that’s a selfish desire. Or arrogant – to think that something I wrote is worth remembering for a lifetime…. But still…there it is. The desire.

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