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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Spies and intrigue

Posted by Dawn-Ann on January 8, 2013

Dusting my bookshelves this morning I came across a book I have been packing around with me since I was 8 years old. Untold decades, in other words.

It was given to me by my grandmother, but that’s not the reason I’ve been keeping it. Grandma gave me a lot of things I have managed to let go over the years.

For some reason, though, this book has always carried an aura of importance. I had a vague recollection of her impressing this upon me, but I could not recall what its import was, aside from the fact that the author herself had autographed it.

Handwritten text, including the author's autograph, inside my First Edition book, "Upside Down in the Magnolia Tree." (Click to see larger image.)

Today, I decided to find out. If it was nothing special I was going to recycle it and haul it around no more. Gramma, I love you dearly but sometimes you just have to guard against hoarding!

I carefully read the inside cover. The author, Mary Bancroft, had signed it, “To Mrs. Helen Biggar [not sure of this name], with kindest regards, Mary Bancroft. Zurich, December 1952.”

Under that was noted, “To dear Milly from Auntie Alice, Xmas 1961.”

Under that was noted, “To Dawn from Grandma Milly, July 1966.” (If you are paying attention, you now can calculate my age, but that’s beside the point.)

So, who was this Mary Bancroft? Who was Helen Biggar? Who was Aunt Alice? I had no record in my genealogical database of an Aunt Alice in Grandma’s family.

The first thing I did was Google Mary Bancroft and I clicked on the very first link that came up. The words I read at the top of the page were, “Author and intelligence analyst Mary Bancroft (1903–1997) had a colorful career as a journalist and spy for the United States in Switzerland during World War II.”

Whoa! Seriously?

Now I was REALLY interested! The signature in the book did say Zurich – could this be the same Mary? I scrolled through the article and found that yes, she did indeed write an autobiographical novel called Upside Down in the Magnolia Tree, which is the title of my book. Now I was really intrigued. I cracked it open and started reading immediately.

Unfortunately, the book was quaint but boring. It was the life of the little girl growing up but there were no real “grabbers” in there to keep you hooked. I got halfway through, then skimmed to the back and cheated my way across the finish line. I think it would have been more interesting if she had used real names and written it as non-fiction. But I’m keeping the book for interest’s sake, anyway. You just never know what will become valuable someday.

I did find out who Aunt Alice is, though. She was my Great Grand-Aunt by marriage. Here is where she fits into my tree:

Edward D. “Irish” Mellon married Elizabeth M. Flitten McGraff (he was born in Co. Antrim, Ireland, and she was born in Hong Kong!).

Irish and Elizabeth had 9 children, one of whom was my great-grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Mellon and one of whom was the man who married “Aunt Alice,” Edward Mellon. I know nothing more about Edward and Alice, except for Edward’s birth and death dates.

Great-grandma Sarah married Anthony George Charlton and they had six children, one of whom was my grandma, Mildred Bertha “Milly” Charlton.

Grandma Milly married Jozef Reichert (aka Joe Richards) and they had two daughters, one of whom was my recently-departed mama, Sheila Rose Richards.

Mom married my daddy and they had four girls – me and my sisters!

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