The kids at SES are busy working on projects for Heritage Day. Some deal with the history of Stoneybrook and settlement, but some deal with personal and/or family history. This gets Mary Anne thinking; she really doesn't know much about her own history, and would like to. She considers asking her dad, but decides against it. Asking about the past has always made Richard sad, and since he's been so happy with Sharon lately, she doesn't want to screw that up by dredging up potentially painful memories. After a sitting job, Mary Anne decides to go looking for information on her own by looking through boxes of old stuff in the attic. She finds an old photo album with pictures of her parents' wedding, followed by her own baby pictures. That's when she gets confused; the first few pages are what she'd expect to see (being held by her dad, etc), but the following pages are a mystery. Mary Anne sees herself with an old couple that she doesn't recognize, and it appears that she spent quite a bit of time with them. Richard and Sharon get home before she can do any further investigating, and Mary Anne is left with more questions than answers.
Next, Mary Anne decides to visit her mother's grave. When she gets to the cemetary, she realizes that she has no idea where exactly her mother is buried. She wanders around for awhile, and eventually stumbles upon Mimi's grave. She has a good cry, mostly about the knowledge that she could have asked Mimi for information, if she were still alive. When she gets home, Mary Anne heads right back up into the attic to search for more information. She's pretty shocked by what she finds: a bunch of letters from Verna Baker, HER GRANDMOTHER, to Richard. Apparently, he'd sent her to live with her mother's parents in Iowa (whom she didn't even know were living) after her mother died. He did eventually insist on her return, but only one fact really sticks in Mary Anne's head: her father hadn't wanted her.
Over the next few days, Mary Anne finds it hard to act normally around her friends and family. They all assume she's had a fight with Logan or something, except Logan himself (she's basically been avoiding him). She decides call Logan and tell him what's been going on, but he isn't home. Mary Anne waits by the phone for him to call back, and when it rings a few minutes later, she picks up, assuming it's him. Before she can say anything, she hears her dad on the extension, and the caller is definitely NOT Logan; it's Verna Baker. She's calling to let Richard know that her husband, Bill, died not long ago. She's pretty upset that he never had a chance to see Mary Anne again, and she wants to make sure that the same thing doesn't happen to her. Verna wants Mary Anne to come to Iowa, and she's not going to take no for an answer. Mary Anne is terrified; she thinks she's going to be sent away again. When Dawn gets home from her sitting job that night, Mary Anne finally lets her in on everything that she's discovered. Dawn tells her that she should be able to go to her dad for answers, but Mary Anne is still hesitant to do so. Now, though, her fears aren't so much about making her dad sad; they're about hearing even more things that she'd really rather not know. Mary Anne does decide to call Kristy and Claudia, though. Since their families were friends with hers back in those days, they might be able to shed some light on things. Not so much: Kristy and Claudia had no idea that Mary Anne had been sent away.
Not long after that, the club gets together at the Schafer-Spier house to work on their own Heritage Day contribution. There's going to be a fair to raise money for the Stoneybrook Historical Society, and the BSC is running a photo booth. They're going to be making cardboard cutouts of people from Stoneybrook's past (Old Hickory, Sophie from the painting in Stacey's house, George and Martha Washington) so people can get their pictures taken with "celebrities." In the middle of everything, the doorbell rings. When Mary Anne answers it, she finds a very official looking woman on the porch, who says she has some questions. Mary Anne panics; she's sure the woman is a social worker, checking up on her father's parenting abilities, and her timing couldn't be worse. The house is noisy and chaotic, everyone is covered in paint, and Logan is running around without a shirt on. Mary Anne babbles on and on about how her father doesn't usually let things get out of hand, and how they're actually working on an education project. The poor "social worker" is very confused, and says she'll call to make an appointment with Richard. Mary Anne starts to cry as soon as she leaves, and the whole story eventually comes out. Just like Dawn, the rest of the club thinks that Mary Anne should talk to her dad.
After the Heritage Day picnic, Mary Anne finally decides to take everyone's advice. She tells Richard everything she's found out about her past and her grandparents, and even admits to listening in on his phone conversation with Verna. Mary Anne also shares her fears that Verna will be given custody, especially after the disasterous visit from the social worker. Richard puts those fears to rest; Verna only wants Mary Anne to come for a visit, and the social worker was actually a census taker. He also tells her the whole story of why she was sent to her grandparents in the first place: Richard was so devastated after his wife died that he couldn't take proper care of her, so he sent her to the Bakers for awhile. They wanted it to be permanent, however, and Richard had a bit of a fight to get her back. When he did, he and the Bakers decided that it would be too painful for them to stay in contact with Mary Anne, so they cut off all contact. A few days later, Richard gives Mary Anne a letter that her mother wrote to her before she died. He was supposed to give it to her when she turned 16, but decided that now might be a better time after all. Mary Anne reads it and cries, of course, but I don't blame her this time. Then, she decides that she'd like to go to Iowa and meet her grandmother.
Thoughts and Things
- This is far and away my favorite mystery!
- It's a little odd that they don't ever mention what Alma died of in this book; Mary Anne says she doesn't even know. I think I remember reading in another book that it was cancer, which would make sense. It sounds like she'd been sick for at least a little while, and her death (though sudden) wasn't totally unexpected. After all, Alma had time to write that letter, and she definitely knew when she was writing it that she wasn't going to make it.
- It used to seem weird to me that no one ever thought to mention this big secret in front of Mary Anne, but it doesn't anymore. I actually uncovered a family secret of my own a few years ago, but I didn't find it in an attic; I found it on the internet. :) It was something that was fairly well known by one side of my family, but it was never discussed.
- I can't believe that the BSC actually encouraged one of their own to talk things over with a parent. Wow!
- I always picture Mary Anne the way she looks on this cover. At least, until she gets her hair cut.