NO ROMANCE, A Kanuk, Alaska story
by Voni Harris
I never had anything romantic like an attic, an unsolved mystery, or even an ability to create passable poetry.
I wasn’t a spunky orphan.
I didn’t even run through fields of daisies.
I wanted my life to be romantic.
It just wasn’t.
So when I acquired a house with an attic at the age of 32-11/12, I was surprised, to put it mildly. When that attic was discovered to contain an unsolved mystery, my life was actually mysterious for the two days when I was living my childhood Nancy Drew dream.
You’d think I’d move to Kanuk, Alaska to seek adventure, or at least to follow an adventurous boyfriend. Perhaps to throw off the shackles of my troubled past (I didn’t have one).
I moved here because the cold keeps down allergies, and I was, to put it mildly, a heavy allergy sufferer. (Of course, no one told me about the fireweed here but it’s still better than the miserable Ohio River Valley allergy crud in my home state of Indiana.)
You’d think I’d choose the house with an attic particularly because of its attic. Or its wild view of the Pacific in the back yard and the spruce trees with eagles nesting in the front yard.
I chose it because it was one of two houses available for purchase when I prepared for my move to Kanuk. Not one single rental in the village allows dogs. And I have three. Labs. One is my Hearing Ear dog, she’s named Elsie, and the other two are service dogs in training.
But, to be fair to myself, I did purchase the house sight-unseen before leaving comfortable, Midwestern Indiana and its allergies. That, at least, was adventurous, even if I was forced into it by the fact of another interested party ready to gobble up the only house in the village for sale that didn’t have a major roof problem. I had to admit, my Realtor had definitely earned his commission getting this house for me.
Fortunately, my parents left me a hefty inheritance that is funding all of this comfortably. I was assured by my financial advisor that, having waited 10 years, it would be okay to dip into the money. The market downturn left the inheritance still plenty hefty, and the advisor took special care to remind me I was only 32, after all.
So, there I was in Kanuk, Alaska, the brand new owner of a house with an attic.
I pulled up in the new Suburban I’d purchased for the trip to Alaska an hour before the movers were scheduled to get there. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to explore my new home, since I’d never seen it except in photos, so Elsie and I left the two dogs-in-training in the car, and ventured forth to the house.
I walked through an odd little entry room, wondering what it was there for. That was a mystery I would solve without meaning to, two days later, but for my first time in the house, I just admired the faux stone floor, which led to a plush shag carpet—tan—covering a relatively large great room with a vaulted ceiling and painstakingly detailed woodwork around the trim. I no longer felt guilty for the pretty penny I’d paid for this house.
The wood-burning stove was an issue. As romantic as it looked, I had no idea how to use it. Surely someone in the village could teach me. The hardwood floor was luxurious, and continued into the kitchen, which boasted a deep green countertop and stainless steel appliances. The hardwood led me on to two bedrooms with a bathroom between. I would, I decided, be taking the bedroom with the bathroom and the walk-in closet. The other would be a computer room, since it had such a beautiful window under which to put the computer. Across from the bathroom (with beautiful copper fixtures), the hardwood led up a flight of stairs. There were two more bedrooms, another bath, and another flight of stairs, leading up into an attic.
I opened the door into the attic at the top of the stairs, and it was both suitably dusty and suitably romantic. It was, of course, empty…except for a bookcase full of books with a worn but comfortable-looking burgundy and tan plaid lounge chair just ready for curling up in. I wasn’t wearing an “I Heart Books” t-shirt for no reason. With a solid, steady life instead of a romantic one, I had, early in life, turned to books.
Why would the entire attic be cleaned out, if not swept out, except for a set of books and a lounge chair? I walked up to the books, curious as to what had been left behind. Nancy Drew! All 34 books in the original classic set. Not one graphic novel in the bunch!
But just as I was about to slip one off the shelf, Elsie chose that moment to bound up the stairs and let me know the movers had arrived. That reminded me that the two dogs-in-training, Harley and Marley, were still in their kennels in the car, so I had a busy day, and thought no more of the books until bedtime. Elsie was asleep, but I woke her to come with me up to the unfamiliar attic. I knocked on walls and checked for loose floorboards, looking for clues to the presence of the books. I peered at the attic window, but it obviously hadn’t been opened in years. Thus I reached the end of my sleuthing skills. But I just had to read one of the Nancy Drews; she was the heroine and favorite pastime of my childhood. She had an independence and spunk I could only hope for as a deaf person. I slipped Secret in the Old Attic—of course—off the shelf.
I needed some hot cocoa to go with my mystery, so I went down to the kitchen, book in hand. I got out the cocoa, and while the water was heating, I reached for a dog biscuit as an apology to Elsie both for waking her just to come to the attic with me and for my disloyal wishes for independence. She had my back every day, and I knew it and loved her for it.
Harley and Marley heard the biscuit crunch, so they made an appearance in the kitchen, and I finally sent them off and went to bed, leaving Nancy to search for the will by herself as I fell asleep. In my own bed, at last.
I woke up in the morning, determined to take the dogs for a good 2-hour hike to make up for the days of car travel and yesterday’s festival of unpacking. We headed along Oceanview Way, and I let them play in the cold water as I walked.
I found myself thinking about Secret in the Old Attic as we walked, especially about all the wonderful items in Mr. March’s attic that Nancy discovers for him to sell. They were no Currier and Ives paintings or antique hatboxes, but that set of books was worth a mint. The original, 25-chapter books had been rewritten starting in 1959. It was only right I find the owner.
I’d play Nancy Drew for a short time!
Once we got home, my first job was to dig the closing documents out of the box marked “files.” Problem was, which box marked “files” was it? It only took me 20 minutes to find. Even the mysteries of my stolid life are not really mysteries.
I found them, and sure enough, there was the name of the previous owner, but no new phone number or address. I hooked Harley up to the leash and headed over to the neighbors’ to borrow a phone book.
“Hello?” the elderly lady asked.
Unfortunately, Harley was going nuts. As I said, he is a dog-in-training. I apologized profusely as I got Harley under control and into a sane, if not controlled, sit position. Harley was going to get some socialization training this week, if it killed me!
“Hello,” I finally said. “I’m deaf, but I read lips if you’ll just face me. My name is Karen.”
“Well, hello, Karen. I’m Bettie London. What can I do for you?”
“I just moved in next door, and I was wondering if I could borrow a phone book. I need to reach the previous owner, Mr. Jessup.”
“Oh, Honey. Mr. Jessup won’t be in the phone book…he moved, of course!”
OK, Nancy Drew I’m not! My face felt hot and red.
“But he gave me his email address in case of any mail problems. Would you like me to give it to you?”
“Thank you, ma’am. If you don’t think he would mind, that would be great.”
“Mind? No, he asked me to give it to the new owner, so…” she reached over to a table beside the door and handed me a slip of paper. “There you go! Welcome to Kanuk, neighbor.”
“Thanks, Ms. London. I’ll talk to you soon.”
After some extra sit and come practice with Harley, I emailed Mr. Jessup, explaining about the books I’d found and asking how to return them to him. By the time Marley got her training, and all three dogs got a second, shorter workout, I had the response from Mr. Jessup. And that’s when I got the first true mystery in my life.
Not only had Mr. Jessup not left the books in the attic, he had never heard of Nancy Drew, and did not own a bookcase anything like the one I’d described in my email, nor a burgundy and tan plush chair.
Hadn’t heard of Nancy Drew? I shook my head. What a cultural illiterate!
What would Nancy do next? I don’t suppose Nancy would pray, but that’s what I did, on and off, as I finished The Secret in the Old Attic. I decided the only thing was to talk to the Realtor about it when he came to bring me the paperwork on the house the next day. Following that same line of thinking, I grabbed Secret of the Clock from the attic bookshelf and spent some time reading rather than unpacking, hoping to finish it before the next day.
A couple of delicious hours later, I put the book down and looked around at my furnishings in their new surroundings. The burgundy and tan chair quite obviously had no place among my yellow and green furnishings, and I would need the storage space as I unpacked tomorrow, so I dragged it outside. I’d get the chair owner’s name from the Realtor, and it’d be sitting there tomorrow for them to pick up. Then I took the dogs—all three—outside for a romp and a walk.
My neighbor, Betty London, was outside, and this time, following Elsie’s example, Harley sat quietly instead of trying to knock her down. Progress. If only Marley had done the same. But Miss London has a sense of humor.
The next morning, the dogs were still pent up from their days of car travel, so we went on another long walk. Unfortunately, it started to rain about 30 minutes from the house, turning the dirt roads into mud. We all four were soaked and muddy as we came through the odd little entry room and stepped onto the plush carpet of the great room. The dogs ran wild, tracking mud all over the carpet as I stood in dismay at the entry to the great room.
A sturdy-looking man in his stocking feet suddenly stepped out from the kitchen, looking at the mess the dogs were making, and the boot tracks leading up to my feet. He was one about whom there was no doubt: he was all man.
“That’s what the mud room is for,” he said laconically, pointing to the odd little entry room. A mud room. Of course. I stepped hurriedly back into the room, calling the dogs to me. That’s when I noticed the boots I apparently hadn’t seen on my way in.
“Who are you?” I finally remembered to ask. This was my house, after all.
“Ed Simpkins.” Who did this guy think he was?
“And Ed Simpkins is…?”
“The Realtor.” Oh. That Ed Simpkins.
“I brought the extra keys from Mr. Jessup,” he said.
That’s when I noticed the muddy paw prints on his yellow shirt. “Sorry about my dogs,” I said belatedly. “They’re Service Dogs, but they’re still in training. Except Elsie here. She just got carried away by the others. She’s my Hearing Ear dog. I’m deaf, but I can read lips if you look at me.”
Ed smiled and nodded. But my mouth wouldn’t quit moving. “By the way, I wanted to ask you…I found a bunch of Nancy Drew books up in the attic. The previous owner says they weren’t his, and I was hoping you would have an idea to whom I may return them. The lounge chair is already out by the curb…” The rain…
Ed frowned. “The chair is out by the curb? Being ruined by the rain?” He jogged over to the entryway window. “No it’s not.”
"Well, that’s where I left it. Whose is it?"
Ed clapped his hand to his head and sighed. “Can we sit down and talk?”
“Uh, yes.” I managed, looking dumbly at my boots. What an idiot! I thought before thinking to remove them. Unfortunately, I’d slipped on my holey old socks with holes in them, since I hadn’t unearthed the others yet. What an idiot I, I thought again as I led the way to the couches in the great room. I closed the door of the mud room to keep the dogs belatedly off the carpet.
Ed sat down in the couch opposite me, then immediately stood up and walked over, hand outstretched. “Hi. I’m Ed Simpkins, the Realtor. We met on the phone.”
“Hi, Ed. Nice to meet you in person. I’m Karen,” I responded with a laugh.
“The books are still up in the attic,” he asked, settling back down on his couch.
“Yes. Except for the one I’m reading,” I said guiltily. “It’s on my bedside table. I’m somewhat of a Nancy Drew fan.” Why does this man cause me to babble on like this?
“I know,” he smiled. He knows? That’s a little creepy.
“That’s a little creepy.” I told him outright.
He laughed. “Sorry about that. Here’s the deal. I really enjoyed getting to know you over the phone. I mean, I really enjoyed it."
He had spent hours on the phone with me, getting to know me and helping me get to know my new community.
"Then one day," he continued, "I needed to verify some paperwork, so I called your accountant…I believe he’s your uncle?”
I nodded. “Uncle Albert.”
Ed looked a little sheepish. “Anyway, I called him, and we got to talking, and he told me that you’re a Christian and a Nancy Drew fan, and how you’ve always wanted a little mystery and romance in your life, and so I came across this set at the used book store, and I had an old chair, so I thought you’d like discovering them and trying to solve the mystery. I hope I didn’t overstep…”
“Besides the fact that I’m going to kill Uncle Albert, I appreciate the gesture,” I said. “I now realize I’m a mystery reader, not a mystery solver, but I did do a little sleuthing around to find out, and my next step was to talk to you.”
“So, you did solve the mystery,” he said. I gave him the thumbs-up before I realized…He’d used American Sign Language. He grinned at the look on my face. “ASL was a lot more fun than Spanish in college.”
I grinned back at him. “I wonder what happened to the chair?”
“I dunno,” he signed with a shrug, gazing into my eyes.
That’s when I realized Ed Simpkins wasn’t worried in the slightest about the chair.
Tune in next week for another Kanuk story!