You have GOT to be kidding me!” Alex stood and slammed her hands down on the desk that separated her from attorney Bob Ross.
Bob’s mouth turned up slightly at the corners and his eyes twinkled.
“YOU helped him do this, didn’t you?! You were part of this!” Alex grabbed her bag from the chair beside her and marched out the door in two strides, slamming it in her wake. It opened a second later when she blew back in.
“Unbelievable! You two…”
At this point, the attorney could contain himself no longer and he began to laugh. Alex grabbed the red envelope from the desk and shook her finger at him before flinging herself back out the door once again.
On the street, she plowed blindly into a tall blond gentleman, knocking a stack of photographs from his hand.
“Oh, God, I’m so sorry!” Alex stooped to help him collect the old black-and-white photos now scattered on the sidewalk.
“If you wanted my number, you just had to ask.”
“What?” She finally looked directly into the piercing blue eyes of her victim, who happened to have a huge smirk on his face at the moment.
“Kidding! Just kidding!” He stood up, put his hands in the air, and stepped back when he saw the scowl on her face.
Alex thought his face looked familiar, but couldn’t place him.
He continued to smile at her, waiting patiently for her to say something.
“I, um, I need to…” Alex handed him the photographs she had collected and walked quickly away.
Can you believe this?” Alex was still angry from the day’s events.
“Alex, stop. Just stop.” Her friend’s voice on the phone was calm and reassuring. “I don’t think you’re really that upset about this; I think what you’re really upset about is the fact that he’s gone.”
“Oh, Keira,” Alex’s voice broke, “I just…I wish…one…more…day.”
“I know, honey, I know.”
A few weeks prior, Alex’s beloved grandfather, Sam Montgomery, had suddenly died. He’d lived in Rehoboth his entire life and while he absolutely loved everything about the little beach town, his true passion was its history. As a child, Alex spent summers with him; then, when her parents were killed during her senior year of college, she decided to come live with the only family she had left. Over the years, he had tried to pass on to her his love of the town’s history, but she rebuffed him at every turn. Being in marketing, her interests ran more toward the latest trends, not the dusty ol’ past. Now he was gone. She gladly would have memorized every last document in the Rehoboth Beach Museum to have him back once again.
Three weeks after Sam’s passing, his good friend and attorney, Bob Ross, had asked her to come to his office in regard to the will. Since Poppa, as she had affectionately called him, had always been upfront about how he would distribute his wealth, the last thing she had expected was the red envelope.
Sam left her the bulk of his estate, just as she had anticipated. The remaining funds were to be given to his favorite cause, the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society. Alex was already financially well-off for someone just 29 years old. Thanks to Sam, the monies she’d received following her parents’ passing had been invested wisely. While not ungrateful for how her grandfather had provided for her in his will, Alex really only wanted one thing. What she truly desired and longed for the most was his home. Their home. Sam Montgomery’s wonderful and charming Rehoboth beach house.
It was the classic Sears bungalow, with a big front porch, sloped roof, dormer windows, and hardwood floors. Just two blocks to the beach, it had been one of the happiest parts of her life for as long as she could remember. But before she could inherit it as her own, she had to solve the puzzle inside the red envelope.
The attorney explained that the envelope contained a clue involving some element of Rehoboth’s history that would lead to another envelope with another clue, and so on. Once she’d followed the trail and solved the riddles, he was authorized to grant her the deed to the house. Not able to engage her in Rehoboth’s history in life, Poppa had found a way to teach it to her from the other side.
Alex rocked slowly in the big swing that hung on the front porch of the beach house. There was a lovely breeze coming from the east. She closed her eyes and felt a tear tiptoe its way down her tan cheek. She missed him so much it felt like her heart would break in two. She opened the screen door and expected him to call out, “There’s my favorite girl! Welcome home!” It was hard to wrap her head around the fact that she would never, ever, hear his voice again.
Alex leapt out of the swing so fast she knocked over her empty wine glass. The tall blond, somewhat familiar-looking man was standing on the stairs that led up to the porch.
“I came to apologize for the other day,” he said, “I’m sorry to hear about your grandfather.”
Alex finally remembered who he was. His name was Michael, and his grandmother had founded the Rehoboth Beach Museum. If she wasn’t mistaken, her grandfather and his grandmother had been an item once upon a time.
“Thank you—it’s been a rough couple weeks,” she said, and then, remembering her manners, she asked, “Would you like a glass of wine?”
“Sounds great.” He eased himself into the rocker while she went inside for another glass.
“Michael, isn’t it?” She handed him a glass of her favorite Malbec and sat back on the swing.
“Yes!” he said with a laugh. “Wasn’t sure you recognized me the other day—then my grandmother told me what had happened.
I felt bad for teasing you, even though you ran me over.”
She smiled for the first time in days.
“Did you know my grandfather?” Alex unconsciously pulled the band from her thick chestnut hair, combing the strands with her fingers.
“I did, actually. Even though I’ve been in DC for the past several years, whenever I visited my grandmother at the museum, I’d run into him. I loved hearing his stories about growing up here; he seemed to know everything about this place.”
You have no idea, Alex thought. She remembered how her Poppa’s face would light up when someone asked about a piece of Rehoboth history. She so wished she had given him more opportunities to do just that.
Michael stood to go. “Thanks for the wine. I’m really sorry about your grandfather.”
“Michael, how well do you know Rehoboth’s history?” Alex’s hazel eyes lasered on him and he quickly sat back down.
“Are you kidding? My grandmother grills me every time she sees me! I tease her about it, but actually I think it’s pretty cool. I love that she wants all the stories she knows to live on and on.”
“How good are you at riddles?”
She told him about the red envelope, and afterwards they’d sat on the porch and talked for hours, chatting like two old friends.
Michael had the easy laugh and quick wit of his grandmother, and he was a terrific listener. For the first time in weeks, she felt some of her grief subside. When at last they said goodnight, they’d agreed to meet the very next day.
A9 a.m. sharp, Michael bounded up the stairs to the porch, just as Alex was coming through the front door. With the red envelope clutched in her hand, she sat down once again, in the middle of the swing. This time Michael didn’t take the rocker, but sat beside her, nudging his hip against hers.
“Scoot over,” he said with a laugh, “I gotta see this.”
The envelope was sealed with a blob of wax. Pressed into the wax was the outline of a starfish. Alex slipped her finger under the flap and managed to open the envelope without disturbing the seal, knowing somehow that she would save it forever.
Inside was a small piece of yellow parchment paper that said:
Starlight, star Bright…will you dance with me tonight?
“What the…” Anger flitted across Alex’s face as she stood up out of the swing.
Michael burst out laughing and followed suit.
“What’s so funny?” she demanded. “This isn’t a clue, it’s a joke.”
“Miss Montgomery, may I have the pleasure of offering you the first history lesson in our new adventure?” Michael turned to face her directly.
“Fine,” she said in a flat voice.
Already, he knew something that she didn’t. Alex was very competitive and wasn’t sure she was ready to eat humble pie this early in the game.
“Star BRIGHT probably refers to William Bright, one of the founders of Rehoboth Beach, and…”
Frustrated, Alex cut him off and said, “But dance? Is this a joke, because I’m not finding it very funny.”
“I’m sorry, but are you…is that…a pout?”
Michael was totally mocking her, and short of stomping her feet like a 5-year-old, she really was in a snit. When he burst out laughing, she turned away before he could see the corners of her mouth turn up. She crossed her arms defiantly.
He came up behind her and gently put his hands on her shoulders. “Alex…are you really upset?”
She turned around and, without thinking, buried her face in his chest. He held her close for a moment, until she stepped back and looked up at him.
“You know…I really, REALLY miss him. And I’m sorry that I didn’t get into his history lessons and I guess I feel really bad about that now, like I disappointed him.”
“Alex. I met the man. Trust me when I say there wasn’t a single conversation we had without your name being mentioned so he could brag about you in some regard.”
That got a smile.
“OK. Fine. Tell me about Mr. Bright.”
“As you know, OK, maybe you don’t, but you will now…” He wagged his finger in her face like a schoolmarm and she laughed.
“When Rev. Robert Todd of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Wilmington visited Ocean Grove, N.J., he was impressed with the peaceful seaside religious community that Methodists had established there. He returned from his visit, determined to do the same on Delaware’s coast. In 1871, he and a group of like-minded Methodists formed the Rehoboth Association, and the following year they purchased 400 acres of land about five miles south of Lewes. In January of 1873, they formed the Rehoboth Beach Camp Meeting Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church.”
“Does Mr. Bright make an appearance anytime soon?” Alex asked sarcastically. She enjoyed giving it right back to Michael.
“I’m sorry, but did we not just establish that your grandpa’s goal was to teach you some history, young lady?”
“Yes.” Alex giggled behind her hand.
“Then in his sacred memory, pray, let me continue, will you?”
“Please, kind sir, please continue.”
“They decided to call their town Rehoboth Beach. They built a sanctuary that would seat about 500 people, and constructed several small cottages, which were referred to as ‘tents.’ There were also two hotels, the Surf and…drumroll please…the Bright House.”
“Mr. Bright, at last!” Alex’s eyes lit up and she clapped her hands together.
“Ahem.” Michael cleared his throat in playful exaggeration.
“Oh! So sorry. Please continue.”
“As I was saying, the Bright House was built by Mr. William Bright, one of the founders and president of the association.”
“But what…” Alex was about to ask where the dancing came in, but Michael immediately put a finger on her mouth and shushed her.
“Mr. Bright was a Wilmington real estate developer who helped the Methodists acquire the land. Despite being located in a religious community, the Bright House allowed card playing and dancing, and while the hotel didn’t actually sell liquor, patrons were encouraged to bring their own. This didn’t sit well with some of the other prominent members of the association. When the members discussed closing his hotel, Mr. Bright (who conveniently was president at the time) managed to steer them away from following through with their wishes.” Michael paused and looked at her expectantly.
“What? Why are you looking at me? What should we do?”
“Well, I’m thinking that the clue is referring to Mr. Bright’s hotel, the Bright House, but I’m not exactly sure where that was.” Michael pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed.
“Gran! We’re on the history trail and we need to know where the Bright House stood!”
He smiled when Alex mouthed, “The history trail?”
“Yes, I know they allowed dancing and that was considered scandalous! OK. Thanks!”
“On Maryland Avenue near the boardwalk!”
Alex took off at a run, and a moment later, she and Michael were racing down Stockley Street. At the boardwalk, Michael stopped abruptly and said, “Wait!” He reached his arm out and grabbed her shoulder.
“Wait? What? Michael—we need to go to Maryland Avenue!”
“She’s in on this. My Gran. Something about the tone of her voice—she’s IN ON THIS! Oh, man, this is too GOOD!”
“What?” Alex looked incredulous while Michael bent over laughing, his hands on his knees. When she thought about it, it did make sense. It didn’t take much imagination at all to think of her Poppa and Michael’s Gran as Rehoboth history co-conspirators.
“C’mon!” Michael had recovered and grabbed her hand as he took off again toward Maryland Avenue. When they got there, he relaxed his hand as if to let go, but Alex held on. It felt … nice.
The Atlantic Sands Hotel now stood at the south corner of Maryland and the boardwalk, and the Boardwalk Plaza was on the north corner. Alex slowly spun around, looking in every direction for a clue of any kind. Then, suddenly, she headed toward the lobby of the Boardwalk Plaza to see if her friend Jim was working the front desk.
“Hey, Alex!” Jim’s familiar face broke into a smile. Like her, he was one of several generations of Rehoboth residents. Her Poppa had been friends with both of Jim’s grandparents. Alex introduced him to Michael and wasn’t surprised to know that they knew “of” each other; Rehoboth was, after all, a small town.
continues on page 2…
Alex quickly brought Jim up to date on everything, beginning with her receipt of the red envelope in the attorney’s office. He, too, expressed sympathy for the death of her grandfather, and seemed bemused by her current dilemma.
“Can’t help you with that one, but, um, have you tried the Sands?” Jim said, rather cryptically.
Alex’s mouth dropped open. “Can’t help me with this one? Wait, you mean there is one you might help me with? How many people are in on this?” She glared at Jim, then at Michael, and then stormed out the door.
By the time Michael caught up with her, she was inside the lobby of the Sands. She whirled on Michael, who had a big grin plastered on his face.
“Are you in on this, too? How long had he planned this? Did he know he was going to die?” Alex frowned, trying to sort it out in her mind. “And what are you grinning at?”
“I could tell Jim wanted to offer his assistance, but he can’t because he DOES know about it, and NO, I am not ‘in on this,’ as you put it.” Michael seemed extraordinarily pleased that Jim couldn’t join them on the hunt.
“Alex!” a familiar voice rang out in the lobby of the Sands. It was Mrs. Barrows, who managed the front desk. Alex turned toward her and saw a red envelope in her hand.
“Seriously? Is the whole town in on this?” Alex demanded, near tears.
“No darling, just a number of people who care about you. You’ll have more than a history lesson by the time you’re done. Be patient, dear.” She gave Alex a quick hug and went back into her office.
Without missing a beat, Michael said, “We did it! We are close to the site of the Bright House and here’s our next clue! Open it, Alex!”
For a moment, Alex wanted to stop and feel sorry for herself, but Michael’s unabashed enthusiasm was contagious and she tore into the envelope.
Again, there was a small piece of parchment, on which was written:
The world’s your oyster, name it right.
“Huh, I don’t have a clue…” But before Michael could finish, Alex was heading south on the boardwalk at a fast clip. When he caught up to her, she had a big smile on her face.
“I know this one! In the early 1890s, Rehoboth Beach applied for a charter. At that time, the name of the town was changed to Cape Henlopen City, but the new name never caught on. In the ’30s, it officially became the City of Rehoboth Beach.”
“So where are you going?”
“Henlopen City Oyster House! My Poppa loved it there, and one day while we were sitting at the bar, he told me about the name.”
Alex strode into the popular restaurant on Wilmington Avenue, where she spotted Amy, her Poppa’s favorite bartender.
As soon as Amy spied Alex, she smiled and dipped down behind the bar. When she popped back up, she was waving a red envelope in her hand.
Alex stopped short.
“How did you know?” she asked, sitting on a bar stool while taking the red envelope from Amy.
“It’s all over your face, you silly girl! He was so excited when he planned this. Originally, it was for your 30th birthday, but when he passed so surprisingly …” Amy paused as her eyes teared and she patted Alex’s hand. “I’m so sorry—we all miss him so much.” Alex felt her eyes well up, too.
“Anyway,” Amy continued, “Bob called us after the funeral and said that the plans had changed. Your grandfather had said to him if anything happened before he could pull off the history hunt, he wanted you to experience it anyway. So he and Bob made contingency plans, and here you are. I know you want the beach house, and I know he wanted you to have it. He just wanted to have some fun with you HIS way, first! Does that really surprise you? And what better way to have HIS fun, than HIS-story!” Amy laughed at her own pun, and said, “I’m sorry—had to go there.”
Suddenly, Alex felt someone beside her and looked up into Michael’s amazing blue eyes. He put his arm around her like that was the natural thing to do, and she leaned into him while she opened the envelope.
A tent is a HAZZARD in stormy weather.
Michael threw back his head and laughed heartily. “Your Poppa was having way too much fun when he set this up. C’mon, I know where to go.”
They headed over to one of the few remaining tent houses, on Christian Street in front of the Bellmoor Inn. It was known as the Anna Hazzard house. When they got there, Alex grabbed Michael’s hand and stopped him from trying the door.
“Michael, I’m sure we’ll find another red envelope, but would you mind taking a minute to tell me everything you know about this house and Anna Hazzard? I feel like my Poppa is with us, right here, right now, and I want to savor every single second of this moment.” And with that, she put her arms around Michael’s neck and gave him a very sweet kiss, to which he responded quite nicely.
“Well, um,” Michael cleared his throat, clearly enjoying the moment. “The Anna Hazzard Museum, as this tent house is now called, was originally located on Baltimore Avenue. In 1895, it was acquired by William White of Lewes, who gave it to his niece, Miss Anna Hazzard. As a teenager, she had worked in her uncle’s real estate business in Rehoboth Beach, and from there she went on to become the town’s first female real estate broker.”
Alex clapped her hands with delight.
“Your grandmother taught you well! Thank you for being part of my historical treasure hunt!”
Alex tried the door, but it was locked. Before she could say anything, Michael was already on the phone with his grandmother.
“She says it’s around the back, near the window.”
By now, Alex had warmed to the idea that her Poppa had many co-conspirators and thought that living in a small town was sometimes a very nice thing.
They easily found the envelope and the small piece of parchment inside. It read:
Silver Ice is Very Nice
They both knew this directed them to the Old Ice House, currently the home of the Rehoboth Beach Museum.
As they headed west toward the museum, they sauntered slowly, hand in hand, as though they had all the time in the world.
“Why did he say ‘silver’ ice, do you know?”
“If I didn’t, my grandmother would never let me hear the end of it! In the late 1800s, businesses and homeowners began using ice to cool drinks and keep food from spoiling. Ice was cut from Silver Lake during winter months—hence, silver ice—and stored in small wooden buildings insulated with sawdust. John Lingo constructed the first ice house in 1912 where the museum is now located. In 1925, that building was replaced by the two-story brick structure that serves as the museum today.”
As they reached the steps of the museum, Michael’s grandmother greeted them at the door. She smiled and gave them a tour of the museum’s current exhibit before handing them the next clue. She was more than a little pleased to see the warmth between her grandson and the granddaughter of the man she truly loved. But she decided she would save that story for another time, and sent them on their way.
When they were back outside, Alex said, “Let’s have lunch.”
“What? No way, we can’t stop now!” Michael was like a little kid, totally caught up in the moment.
“I don’t want this day to end … ever!” Alex said to him, her eyes sparkling. “Let’s just grab a burrito at Modern Mixture and we’ll eat while we ponder the next puzzle.”
They got their food to go and walked the half block to the ocean so they could sit on a bench on the boardwalk. It was an absolutely picture-perfect day, with the sun sparkling on the water, a nice breeze and seagulls laughing and trying to steal tourists’ french fries. Instead of opening the envelope they’d picked up at the museum, Alex begged Michael to tell her more about the history of their little town. He was happy to oblige.
At first, he talked about the Homestead, the oldest home in Rehoboth (built in 1743) that was now part of the grounds of the Rehoboth Art League. From there, he spoke about how Rehoboth was a popular destination almost from the start, but somewhat hard to get to. You could take a train to Lewes, but from there, you’d need a horse and buggy. In 1884, when the Junction and Breakwater Railroad finally did bring tracks all the way into Rehoboth, the city grew by leaps and bounds. He told her that the boardwalk, originally built in 1873, was once a raised platform, and that strolling on it used to be a social event. People wore their very best clothes, particularly on Saturday nights. And he marveled that the Village Improvement Association, which was formed by a group of women in 1909, still exists. Because of them, Rehoboth gained a public library in 1912. This got a big smile from Alex. She liked that Michael knew all this stuff and that it was important to him in much the same way it had been important to her Poppa.
She stood at last and handed him the red envelope.
“Your turn,” she said, “you open this one.” It read:
Belly up to the Pink Pony.
They both burst out laughing.
Alex said, “Let’s go back to the Boardwalk Plaza and talk to Jimmy—I think he can help us here.”
Jim laughed when he saw them.
“I have a feeling you know something about the Pink Pony, am I right?” Alex asked.
“The Pink Pony was a popular nightclub that opened in 1954 on this very spot. It was well-known for two of its bartenders and did very well until it closed in 1971.” Jim looked smug after his recitation and handed Alex another red envelope. When she went to take it, he held onto it for just a moment before finally releasing it to her.
“If you ever want to talk, you know where to find me,” he said, leaning across the counter toward her.
“Thanks, Jimbo!” Michael scooped her to his side and said, “We’ll keep that in mind” as he swept her out the door.
They stood with heads together on the sidewalk and opened the envelope. It read:
Go home and get your Dolle.
Without even a discussion, they both headed toward Dolle’s, probably one of Rehoboth’s most iconic landmarks. When they arrived, Alex didn’t recognize anyone behind the counter.
“Michael, do you know the owner? I’m afraid I don’t.” No sooner had the words left her mouth than an elderly gentleman who had been standing nearby, stepped forward.
“May I help you? Say, aren’t you Sam’s granddaughter? I was really sorry to hear about his passing.”
“Yes, and thank you for your condolences. Did he by any chance leave an envelope for you to give to me? A red envelope?” Alex was practically dancing with anticipation.
The elderly man’s face look puzzled and he slowly shook his head. “No, no, I’m sorry.”
In a flash, Alex’s face went from hope to surprise to disappointment. She thanked him anyway and walked away feeling rather foolish.
“Hey, kiddo,” Michael tucked his finger under her chin. “We’ll figure it out. Can I give you a little Dolle history while we ponder our next move?”
“Yes, yes, of course.” Alex tried to look happier than she actually felt.
“In the early 1900s, Rudolph Dolle was a carousel builder in New York. He and his wife visited Ocean City, Md., and liked it so much that they eventually moved there and opened an amusement business. Next door was a saltwater-taffy shop that wasn’t doing so well, so he took it over and made it successful. One of the young men who worked summers at the Ocean City shop was Thomas Pachides. When Pachides settled with his family in Rehoboth Beach in 1927, he convinced his former boss to partner with him and open a Dolle’s in Rehoboth Beach. The rest is history.”
“Interesting that he built carousels.” Alex paused in thought. “I feel a little like we’re going in circles too. Do you think we misinterpreted the last clue?”
“The clue did start with, ‘Go Home,’ and I sort of skipped right over that.” Michael looked thoughtful for a moment. “Let’s go to your house, since that really was the first instruction.”
They walked to the house, the wonderful, welcoming beach bungalow, and went inside. On the walls were dozens of black-and-white pictures of old Rehoboth. One of those pictures was an early shot of Dolle’s. Michael saw it first.
“Alex—look here—it’s a photograph of Dolle’s. By the looks of the cars, it was taken sometime in the ’40s.”
She lifted it off the wall and a folded set of papers fell to the floor. She straightened them out and when she saw what they were, she inhaled sharply. It was the deed to the house, already in her name.
“Oh Michael, it’s mine, really mine,” was all she could say, and in a minute he was at her side, wrapping her in his arms. The beach house was hers, now and forever.
Deb Griffin, Realtor by day, writer by night, has been producing “The Local Buzz,” an email newsletter, for the past six years. She has taken numerous classes through the Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild and is working on her first novel. Her website is sand-sun-fun.com.
“The History Lesson” is one of 23 stories in “The Beach House,” a book that resulted from the 2013 Rehoboth Beach Reads Short Story Contest. The contest, run by Cat & Mouse Press and sponsored by Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, challenged area writers to create stories linked to Rehoboth that fit the theme “the beach house.”
The theme for this year’s contest (which just ended) is “the boardwalk.” The book containing the winning entries, “The Boardwalk,” will be available by the end of this year. Books can be purchased from Browseabout Books (133 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-2665)—they will ship—or through amazon.com. To learn more, go tocatandmousepress.com.