Here's a picture of the Graves Mansion that was circulated on the Internet not too long ago. I had no idea that it was now a stop on some sort of Adirondack ghost tour...but apparently it is.
house was big and drafty and magically old-fashioned; but I never thought of it as a scary place.
My favorite haunt (if you'll excuse the term, after I've sworn that there were not ghosts about!) was the attic. Grandma gave me permission to go up there whenever I pleased, both when we were living under her roof and afterwards, when we would make the 45-minute drive from Plattsburgh to visit with her. One amazing find was an ornately embellished antique silk and lace gown that would have been right at home on the Downton Abbey set. Grandma let us take it, and I ended up wearing it as a costume in a grade school play about Betsy Ross. I'm quite sure I had the most elaborate get-up of any of the actors in that production. I don't know what ever happened to that dress--and I sure do wish we'd held on to it. I think it was a museum quality piece (that is, before its trip to the stage located in the gymnasium of St. Peter's Catholic School, where it might not have been treated with the kid gloves it deserved).
Unfortunately, Grandma's house had a rather clean and uncluttered attic, and as much as I tried to find hidden treasures from the past, I came up empty-handed most of the time. But sometime around the year 1969, I did find one very intriguing hard-bound book, which was filled with sheet music (Greek to me), and inside of the front cover, the name of its owner was written in pencil. I remember the first name was Margaret, but the years have robbed me of the memory of the last name. The date was also inscribed, and it was either 1902 or 1904 (1902, I think--but again, my memory is going!). "Oh my!" I breathed, as I reverently leafed through that book, my mind racing with possibilities. "Who was this Margaret who lived so long ago?" But the best discovery of all was that pressed between two pages in the middle of that book was a dried-out, faded white rose!! I can't tell you how this fueled my imagination (I was your typical young romantic), and I could only conclude that the flower must have had great significance for Margaret--that it must have been given to her by her sweetheart! "And who could he have been?" I wondered.
Well, in the wake of finding that old book, here is the story that I started to "write" in my head, determined that I would one day make it into the Great American Novel: a young girl--from modern times--who likes to read and daydream in her grandmother's attic, goes there one day and is shocked to find a handsome boy has invaded her special space. But the funny thing about him is that he's dressed in an old-fashioned manner (knee britches and boots, I remember thinking he would be wearing those two items), and he uses archaic words and phrases that she's never heard anyone use, except in books. How mysterious! It turns out that he's traveled into the future from olden times, but the only place he can appear to this beautiful young heroine is in the attic of her grandmother's old mansion. So the two of them meet in secret up there and spend all kinds of time together getting to know one another and talking about everything under the sun (it's a very clean and chaste romance, I assure you!). And of course, they fall deeply in love. But alas, all those years separate them, and they can never be together because they come from different eras. They can only see each other when they're in the attic! It's so romantic--and so sad! Just exactly the sort of story that tugs at the heart of any red-blooded pre-teen girl! (Notice that I didn't imagine my hero as a vampire, either. He was just going to be a nice, sweet boy who'd been born about 100 years too soon.)
I remember vividly thinking about the storyline of this book that I was definitely going to write one day. I may have jotted down the beginnings of this future bestseller somewhere, in my careful Catholic school cursive in some marble or spiral notebook; but I don't have the written proof anymore (documents that would give credence to my claim that I was writing a time-travel love story YEARS AND YEARS before Christopher Reeve had to travel back in time to court Jane Seymour in the 1980 movie Somewhere in Time, and even more years before the huge success of the more recent book/movie The Time Traveler's Wife).
When my parents sold our family home in Plattsburgh, not long after I got married in 1980 and subsequently moved away, some large cardboard boxes filled with mementos, scrapbooks, notebooks, and what-not from my early childhood/high school and college years were stored away in a barn on my sister's property, unbeknownst to me. I thought they'd just been tossed during the move, but several years ago, the barn was cleaned out and my mother returned them to me. Margaret's turn-of-the-century book of sheet music was not anywhere to be found amongst my things, unfortunately. But I did find several notebooks filled with [really bad!] girlhood poetry and bits of novels I'd started. Reading through them, it seems that aside from my awesome time travel love story idea, most of my interest was in historical fiction/romance. And Grandma's Victorian mansion (with its wonderful attic) provided so much of the inspiration for a young dreamer who would spend the next forty or so years fantasizing about writing her first novel.
Now without further ado, here is part of the first chapter of a book I started, written in pen on the lined pages of a spiral notebook. Skimming through the rest of the 50-plus pages that I had written before I put this one aside, I was surprised to see that there are very few cross-outs. And from the looks of the handwriting, and "the gang" mentioned in the dedication, I would guess that I was somewhere between 7th and 9th grade when I wrote this...so please forgive the overuse of commas and any other glaring writing no-no's you'll no doubt see. (I have marked one grammatical error in red, being the frustrated copy editor that I am.)
The Graves mansion was the most beautiful home in all of Au Sable, and twice as stately and big as any for miles around. The house, built in 1870, was brick, with a long, wide porch, and a circular drive passing underneath the porte que chere. It's five stories, including attic and basement, made it so high, that, standing on top, one could see to the other side of town. This was proven once when Mr. Graves climbed the little stairway from attic to roof with his two children, much to their delight.
There were marble walks leading to both the front and side entrances, and above each heavy wooden door a small balcony. The grounds stretched for acres around all sides of the house, and were enclosed by a wrought iron fence. Behind the house was a huge garden, encircled by a high stone wall.
Caroline ran lightly up the marble walk, and hopped up the stairs two at a time.
"Caroline! Don't run so. You must carry yourself like a young lady."
She stopped short and sailed gracefully in the door, behind which she went into a fit of stifled giggling, lest her mother hear her and reprimand her again.
Poor Mother, thought the young girl. She had probably never had a good romp in her life, and resented the fact that she was no longer young enough to see what she had missed.
Her guess was not far from the truth; Anna Marshall had been very rich all her life and couldn't remember a time when she hadn't been lectured on the importance of acting like a young lady, dressing finely, and practicing good manners, and she was puzzled by the actions of her daughter, who cared for none of these.
Caroline Graves was six years old, and a beauty, with straight flaxen hair and clear blue eyes, that sparkled with enthusiasm and delight, and crinkled up when she laughed.
She was an odd child, her mother thought, for she didn't care for any of the luxuries about the house, or for dressing up, or playing with dolls, as most young girls. She longed to be poor and run barefoot, and worshipped the sun, which accounted for a pair of rosy cheeks and two very tanned hands.
She was much brighter than her older brother, Thomas, who had no more ambition than to follow in his [father's] footsteps and become rich. Thomas's demands were always great; indeed he asked for something new each week. But Caroline asked for nothing more than the permission to run freely about the grounds, to explore the attic, or to take off her shoes, occasionally.
A bell was ringing in the dining room, and Caroline ran onto the porch.
"Dinner, Mother," she said, and slipped her dark little hand into her mother's pale one, which was wonderfully whitened by staying indoors and doing nothing.
As the chapter progresses, spunky little Caroline--who is quite precocious and the apple of her father's eye--says something funny at the dinner table.
When he heard this, Mr. Graves laughed outright.
"Caroline, what is it that makes you say such things?"
"Why," she replied, quite matter-of-factly, "I believe it is my mouth."
Hardee-har-har, right? Okay, I think I've subjected you to enough of my adolescent scribblings. Flipping ahead, Caroline's parents throw a ball for her, as a sort of coming-out or sweet sixteen party; there, she meets the aristocratic Charles Huntington and uses the word "shan't" a bit too often. She has lost none of her childhood spunk, and the two would-be lovebirds banter back and forth. But the story suddenly stops (at least in this particular notebook), so I'm not really sure what was going to happen.
On the last page of that "book," Caroline is lying in bed with a smile on her face, thinking about this intriguing boy she's just met; then on the next page--in cursive that is not nearly as neatly-rounded (with lots more cross-outs)--a whole new story, with a new cast of characters, begins thus:
I'm not really sure where I was going with that one (I hadn't even decided on the Iowa town I was going to use as a setting), but it's pretty obvious that when I started it, I was in high school (the sloppier cursive gives it away) and had met my future husband (Aunt Pearl?). And judging from the date, I have a feeling that young Mr. Burton was going to be separated from his sweetheart when got sent to fight during WWII.
All of that girlhood zeal for telling stories ended when I went off to college and had to channel my writing efforts into producing papers for my English and history classes. Then in the decades I spent raising my five boys, I didn't write at all. I didn't pick the pen (make that the computer) back up until the summer of 2007, when my youngest son was about to start high school. I kind of hope that in the years that have intervened since I started writing the story of the little girl named Caroline who lives in a grand house exactly like my grandmother's, I've become a better writer--but maybe you can be the judge. If you're interested in reading a copy of my novel Finding Grace (published in 2012 by Bezalel Books), just leave me a comment before midnight on March 24. I'm giving away 7 copies.
Phew, this was a long one, I know. But we have a houseguest coming tonight, so I'm probably going to take a few days off now. Have a great weekend, readers!