(A novel by Susan Overturf)
[“I had always thought it was just a silly rumour and had no basis in fact.”]
I awoke the next morning feeling strong and positive. It seemed that I might be getting close to solving the puzzle, even though I still worried that Hattie would be hurt — and perhaps forever deeply wounded — by whatever information this letter contained. I had thought about this often and worried about whether or not I should continue. But each time I showed doubts, Hattie seemed to be convinced that she wanted to know the answers, no matter what they were. And so I persevered.
My task for the day was easy enough: find Liz Creighton! Since she was a cardiologist working at St. Paul's, I figured it would not be difficult. I fried up an egg and put two slices of bread in the toaster; while I ate, I looked at the Vancouver Sun's front page headlines. There was little that interested me.
I cleaned up my breakfast dishes and sat down at my computer. I quickly looked up St. Paul Hospital's website and found Dr. Creighton listed in the cardiology department. So, finding her was easy. The next thing I had to do was figure out how to contact her and ask my questions.
Pressing the numbers for St. Paul's Hospital on my phone, I listened quietly to the phone tree and punched 7 (as instructed) for the cardiology department.
After just a moment, a woman answered, saying, "St. Paul's Hospital, Cardiology department, how can I help you?"
"Hello. My name is Dorthea Parsons and I'm trying to reach Dr. Creighton. I understand she works in that department."
"Yes, she does. Are you hoping to get an appointment? Your doctor has to make a referral."
"Oh, no, I don't need an appointment. I know Dr. Creighton's second cousin, Miss Hattie Carlson, and I'm trying to find something out for Hattie. I need to have a personal conversation with Dr. Creighton. Is that possible?"
There was a pause on the other end of the line. I knew full well that this was not your usual phone call to a hospital cardiology department. My request was unusual and perhaps even extraordinary.
"Well," the voice on the phone said, "we don't usually give out personal information."
"Of course, I understand. This is a rather different situation. It's personal and family related. Would you be willing to just tell Dr. Creighton about me and ask her to call me? Then it would be strictly her choice."
I wasn't crazy about this offer, but I wasn't sure I was going to get any closer to talking to Liz unless I figured out a go-round.
The receptionist paused, "Well, maybe. She's very busy. But I suppose I could give her a message and ask her to call you."
"Thanks," I said, "that would be great. Could you indicate that it's "important and urgent"?"
"Yes, I can do that."
We said good-bye and I put down the phone and wondered how long I might have to wait to hear from Dr. Creighton. I made up my mind to spend the afternoon productively, hoping that Dr. Creighton would call me soon. It was 10:30 — the morning was only half-way over! — and I told myself to get involved in a project.
Time went by quickly as I filled it up with paying bills, reading a book, working on my afghan, and doing some more research on the internet. As the hours ticked by, I wondered many times if Dr. Creighton had received the message. Would she call me? If she did, what would she be like? Would she remember the letter? Will she still have it?
As the minutes ticked away, I sat down to read and dosed off. The phone rang loudly in my ear and woke me with a start. I reached for the phone instinctively.
"Hello?" I said.
"Is this — a — is this — let me see, I've got the name here somewhere — is this Dorthea Parsons?"
"Yes, it is. Who is this?"
"I'm Dr. Liz Creighton. I was given a message by my receptionist that you had called and wanted me to call you back. Something about my second cousin, Hattie Carlson?"
"Yes, Dr. Creighton, that's right. Hattie is a friend of mine and she lives just below me in the same building."
"Has something happened to her? Is she ill? Does she need my help?"
"Oh, no, thank you, Dr. Creighton. Hattie is doing very well."
"That's good to hear. As a I recall, she's not a young woman. How old is she now?
"91," I said. "But she's in perfect health. There is another reason why I'm calling."
"Oh, and what would that be?"
I took a deep breath and considered the best way to tell Dorothy the story. I kept it brief and succinct. I asked her if she still had the letter.
"Ah, yes, the letter. It was talked about even when I was a little girl. But no one knew what it was about. My parents told me to never ask and so I didn’t. Years later, when Margaret asked me to take the letter, I was astounded. I had always thought it was just a silly rumour and had no basis in fact."
"So Margaret did give you the letter!" I almost shouted those words. I was so excited that I was so close.
"Yes, she gave me the letter, but I didn't keep it for long."
My heart sank. Not again! What had happened next?
After a long sigh and a period of silence, I said,"I'm clearly disappointed. This has been a long struggle. I had hoped that you would have the letter and I could give it to Hattie today."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Parsons. I would love for Hattie to have it. I wish I had given it to her then, but I was told by seemingly everyone in the family that Hattie should not have it. Yet I believe the letter is written to her. This bothered me. I felt that Hattie had a right to know, but I wasn't sure I was the one who should give her the letter. So I guess I was a bit of a coward and I gave it to my mother. I thought perhaps it should be with people from the same generation as Hattie's."
It was a relief to know that Liz knew to whom she had given the letter, but my disappointment was palpable and I didn't want Liz to think I was upset with her. So I took a big deep breath before I responded.
"I'm glad you know who you gave it to, Liz. I am assuming that you know how I can contact your mother. Do you know if she still has the letter?"
"To be perfectly honest, I don't know. I gave Mother that letter and then we never talked about it again. I just don't know what she did with it. I'm afraid I just put it out of my mind — and now I'm sorry that I did that."
I was not particularly sympathetic to Liz's remorse over the letter, simply because I knew that Hattie would have loved to have had that letter many years ago. At the same time, I am aware that the busier our lives are, the less likely will be able to take the time for such things. I saw no reason to chastise Dr. Creighton.
"I understand, Dr. Creighton. You were busy and you had your own life to live. But now, for Hattie's sake, I must carry on with this treasure hunt. How can I reach your mother?"
I learned that both Dr. Creighton's mother and father — Maurice Walter Creighton and Muriel Mahoney Creighton — were both alive and well, living in Surrey. I was warned, however, to try to see Muriel alone, without Maurice nearby.
I had spent the day at home, mostly waiting to hear from Dr. Creighton, and there was certainly no time left today to try to see Muriel Creighton. Since her daughter had warned me to try to see her mother alone, I decided I would phone and ask her out for a cup of coffee and a doughnut. I called and, once I had explained who I was and why I wanted to meet with me, Muriel agreed almost immediately. I was not familiar with Surrey, but Muriel suggested a Starbucks which was close to the Skytrain Station. She told me what station to go to and how to get to the coffee shop.
I arose early the next morning, not wanting to be late for my appointment with Muriel. I boarded the Skytrain and got off at the station Muriel told me to use. As she had said, it was easy to get to the Starbucks: one merely had to cross the street from the station.
I entered Starbucks fifteen minutes early, bought myself a coffee and a doughnut, and chose a table near a window where I could look out on the street. I told Muriel that I would be wearing a dark blue jacket with a red scarf in the pocket.
I had not been sitting there long when I saw a woman enter who I thought was probably Muriel. She came through the door and stopped, glancing around the room, stopping for a moment at each table. When her eyes landed on me, I waved and mouthed "Hi". She came over immediately.
"Yes. And you must be Muriel."
"I'll just leave my hat and jacket here and I'll go get some coffee."
Muriel left and I stared out the window. In a few minutes, she was back.
As she sat down, she said, "Thanks for waiting for me. Sorry I was late."
"Oh, goodness," I said. "You're not late. Don't give it another thought."
"So you are a friend of Hattie's?"
"Yes,"I said. "I live in the same building with her in the West End and we enjoy a weekly visit and cup of tea."
For a few minutes, we shared general information about our lives — spouses, children, occupations. Muriel and I did not have a lot in common. She had been a secretary for some of her life, but her focus had mainly been her children: a son, Michael, and her daughter, Bett, whom I had already met. She was small, not even quite five feet, and less than 100 pounds. Approaching 65, she looked her age partly because of heavy lines in her face.
Finally, I got to the topic at hand: The Letter.
"Muriel, have you talked to your daughter about me? Do you know why I'm wanting to talk to you?"
"Yes," she said matter-of-factly. "The letter."
She smiled, paused, and then said, "I don't have it."
She must have seen the look on my face because she immediately said, "But I know who has it. At least, I know who I gave it to."
"And?" I said.
"My mother-in-law, Christine."
There it was: Christine. Hattie had said often enough that she thought Christine might have it, but she had the wrong Christine. She thought it was her great-aunt Christine, her mother's younger sister. But it was not that Christine. Instead, if was her Aunt Christine, wife of her uncle, one of her mother's younger brothers. The one good thing that went through my mind was: Thank God I didn't try to find Great-Aunt Christine!
I knew disappointment showed on my face. Muriel could obviously see it. "Don't feel too badly. I'm pretty sure Mother Creighton will still have it."
"I hope so. This has been quite a journey I've been on, and I know that Hattie hopes for an answer soon."
"There is no doubt," Muriel said, "that there is a very big secret in that family. The men have all wanted to cover it up. The women have been wary — many of us are not blood-related — but I think we've all had an instinctive feeling that we should protect Hattie. After all, she had nothing to do with the choices adults made before she was even born."
Muriel paused and looked out the window.
"I want to see the end to the secret, but I never felt I had a right to open that envelope. I don't think any of us who have kept the letter knew for sure what to do with it. We just thought it shouldn't be thrown away."
"Do you have any inkling about what is inside it? Has there been gossip?"
"Well, obviously, most of us think it has to do with her parentage. Most people in the family seem to think that Martha and William weren't Hattie's natural parents."
"Who was?" I asked.
"Well, as Shakespeare would say, there's the rub. No one knows. Not for sure."
Muriel and I continued our conversation for another hour, but she was not able to tell me more than I had already learned from other family members. We said our good-byes and departed, and I thought it unlikely that I would ever meet her again. (For one thing, I rarely go to Surrey.)
I rode home on the Skytrain, feeling somewhat euphoric and somewhat disappointed. Maybe I was coming to the end of my search. I walked home from the Skytrain station, worked on several home chores, and went to bed early as I was dog tired. Tomorrow. Another day. Maybe the day that I finally find the letter.
- Continue to Chapter 15.
- Refer to Family Tree to keep relationship of characters in mind.
- Return to Table of Contents of Chapters in Secrets.
Disclaimer: Let it be said that these characters are fictional and created from my own imagination. Similarity to persons living or dead is unintentional and coincidental.