This is my first post of the new year on the Wicked Cozies. How did it get to be 2017? Last year was a roller coaster ride. Let’s hope this year is a bit calmer (but I’m not counting on it).
When I bought my cottage in Ireland last summer, the estate agent (that is, real estate agent) told me the place hadn’t been lived in for (he guessed) ten years. It was not derelict, so someone had been taking care of it, but I’m not sure when it was offered for sale. Of course I was curious about why anyone would walk away from a perfectly fine little cottage, but there were a lot of other things I needed to deal with, like opening a local bank account and getting home insurance and scouting out where to get appliances and furniture.
The first “clue” I found was that one of the two chimneys (the one that had never been used) was stuffed with a newspaper to stop warm air from heading straight up the flue. The paper was dated 2006, so it kind of fit the timeline.
Just as I was leaving in June, I took a brief peek in the attic, just to see what it looked like, and to check out the water heater for the heating. I didn’t have a ladder, so my handyman loaned me one. It was a wee bit too short, but it was enough to see that there was a large suitcase sitting on the attic joists. My spidey, er, mystery sense went into overdrive, but I carefully closed the attic hatch and promised myself that I’d come back to it later (after my handyman had cleared out the mice—but I told him not to throw the suitcase away).
Fast forward to November. The mice were gone from attic. The ladder was still too short, but handyman handed down a smaller box of what looked like toys belonging to a young girl, plus a few items from the now-open suitcase. He also muttered something about “Nigeria” which made no sense at the time. Still no time or opportunity to put the puzzle pieces together.
I had only one name to work with, that of the woman who signed the sale documents. I had the estate agent’s vague idea that maybe she’d had family in the area. And I had a couple of butterfly decals on the window in the back bedroom.
As a mystery writer, what do you do with these bits and pieces? You weave a story, of course. So I did. Oh, all right, I used my genealogy skills to search on the only name I had to try to find out who the family was, where they’d been. But that was enough.
The husband was born in 1929. He was a banker/accountant. His wife was born in 1930, and appears to have been a nurse in England, although there’s a chance she was born in Skibbereen in West Cork. They had one daughter, in 1956. They lived for a time in Ghana, but they and their suitcase had to travel by way of Nigeria for a home visit in 1960, which explains the label. I didn’t find any other ship’s passage listed for them in online sources, but after 1960 they were probably traveling by air, and passenger lists aren’t available. He passed on in 2005, but his wife is still living in England.
I’m not sure about the identity of their daughter, but there are several possibilities. One charming item in the suitcase appears to be a typed list of items that appear to be required for a boarding school or summer camp, which fits with the girl’s age—they might have sent her back to England for schooling.
The rest of the suitcase? From what I’ve seen it seems to be filled with the kind of books that summer visitors would read, plus a guidebook or two for Ireland. Definitely 1960s or 1970s vintage. They’re still waiting in the attic. The box of children’s toys? I still haven’t dug into it, but there’s a Hello Kitty (created in 1974, says Wikipedia) on top. Again, it fits.
I may never know why the family stopped using the place, or why they put so much time and money into modernizing it with electricity and indoor plumbing (although I’m grateful!) without getting to enjoy it. The wife is well into her eighties—and maybe she held on to it because she had happy memories of the place, or it was too much to deal with after her husband died. Or maybe the daughter is a practical sort and realized the investment was worth it.
But finding the story, based on a few scattered clues, has made the place seem more “human” to me. That’s why we write mysteries—to discover the story.
Readers: Have you ever discovered bits from the past you just had to make up a story about? Or research the real story of?