Tag Archives: Childhood

Mandie and the Secret Tunnel by Lois Gladys Leppard

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Almost 20 years separates me from the first time I read Mandie and the Secret Tunnel. I loved this series growing up. I read every book and deeply mourned when Lois Gladys Leppard died before finishing the Mandie College Days series. I still remember the day my Mom took me up to the kids section of our local library and suggested I try the first book. I remember finding it slow at first, and then fascinating. I remember staying up till 9 pm reading Mandie books in the living room and feeling quite spooked when it came time to go to bed. I remember my joy when, after I thought I read them all, my library got Mandie and the Quilt Mystery (2002). I remember impatiently waiting for Mandie and the Missing Schoolmarm (2004) to get published. (Incidentally, I still own that one.) I remember reading New Horizons in 2010 and feeling such delight at being reunited with my old friends. For me, the Mandie series remains a dear, integral part of my literary childhood.

Heady with feelings of nostalgia, I picked up Mandie and the Secret Tunnel for a quick trip down memory lane. Unfortunately…or fortunately…well…see my reaction for yourself: (Spoilers to follow.) 

The story centers around Mandie Shaw, a 12 year old girl whose father dies and whose step-mother decides to quickly remarry. She then send Mandie to work as a nursemaid which prevents her from going to school. Finding this intolerable, Mandie decides to run away to the house of her uncle (whose existence she previously had no knowledge of) with the help of Uncle Ned – an old Cherokee Indian who befriended her father and vowed to watch over her. 

As a kid, this set up a fabulous adventure. Of course she should run away. What an evil family! However, as an adult, I sympathize with the step-mother. What do you do with a rambunctious 12 year old when you do not have food to go around? You send her to a place where she will get food and shelter and be useful. Maybe not kind by modern standards, but perfectly acceptable for the era!

Meanwhile, Mandie travels to her uncle’s home where she learns he is away traveling in Europe. The servants accept her with no questions asked (even though we later learn her uncle only recently learned of her existence, so how they know who she is I-don’t-know) and begin to spoil her. This includes making her fancy new gowns from a special sewing room in the house filled with silks and lace and buttons. (We never do learn why an old bachelor maintains such a glorious sewing room.) Unfortunately, a messenger then arrives to say Uncle John died in Europe and the lawyer cannot find his will. This leads to the crux of the plot, the search for Uncle John’s will. Meanwhile, various people show up claiming to be nieces and nephews of the deceased. Everyone knows they are phonies, but no one can apparently do anything about it. 

In fact, at one point, an old family friend blatantly informs one of the phonies that he knew the family for over 27 years and John never had a sister. Instead of kicking out the phony, the servants go, ‘eh, we knew it was smoky! Pity we can’t do anything about it.’ 

Exactly what these phonies hope to accomplish, especially if a will does turn up, never becomes clear. They really play almost no role in the plot. No one doubts Mandie’s claim as niece, so they don’t even serve to make her role more uncertain. 

Anyway, turns out Uncle John is not dead, but only pretending. Apparently he wanted to find out who was trustworthy to take care of his newly fatherless niece should anything happen to him. The niece, I might add, he completely ignored after her father’s death and left to become a drudge. As he could not know Mandie planned to run away to his house before enacting this scheme, and as the only people who appear affected by his death are his servants, I have no idea what he hoped to accomplish by his plan. Literally, it is the most convoluted, useless scheme possible. But it does create the necessary tension to keep the story going. 

This book did not age well. Uncle Ned speaks awkward, broken English that 90% of the time consists of the words “papoose” or “happy hunting grounds.” If I remember correctly, this does not change throughout the series. Joe – Mandie’s neighborhood friend who reached heights of romance in my eyes as a child with his repeated statements about marrying Mandie someday – informs her she can’t go to school for too many more years because he “does not want a wife who is smarter than him.” Also, let’s talk about the fact that he is 14 when he says this. What 14 year old thinks that far into the future? You say, ‘ah! They grew up faster then!’ I say, you can’t pick and choose when you want to be historically correct. The characters definitely use the word “boyfriend” – a phrase that would hold no meaning at the time. Finally, I’m not saying he is a gold digger, but I am saying he went from saying “I’ll take care of you” to “I’ll marry you” only after she learned she was an heiress…

Throw in several other slightly sketchy plot elements (like the way Mandie’s real mother kind of get strong armed into marrying Mandie’s uncle) or really off the wall statements (like Mandie’s mother telling her mother she could move away since she knew her mother “had the servants to take care of her”) and you get one weird book. 

But not a bad book. You see, I went in excepting a mystery novel. The plot elements baffled me because no mystery really existed, and the motives of the characters made no sense. I do not think this book ever intended to stand solely as a mystery novel, though. It resembles much more the genre of ‘adventure books for girls.’ 

From a writing perspective, it screams plot inconsistencies. From an adventure book for grade and middle school girls? Oh, it rocks. An orphan heroine, strong friendships, secret tunnels, missing wills, ghosts, wealthy relatives, fabulous dresses, a Cherokee spy network, long-lost relatives…this book contains it all! When you focus on the adventure, plot consistency matters less. What does matter is an exciting story with crazy twists and scary turns. And this book contains those elements in abundance. 

While this book lost some of its nostalgic glow (poor Uncle Ned), overall I am pleased with it. It remains a romping adventure for young girls. It made me wince occasionally, but it also reintroduced me to some of my favorite characters and awoke a bunch of dormant memories. I consider this re-read a success. 




And finally, to the person who told me it did not matter that Lois Gladys Leppard would write no more Mandie College Days because fans could write fan-made sequels, I’ve thought about what you said for 8 years and I disagree. It is not the same. 

It Takes Two

“We’re watching It Takes Two,” said my housemates, all 8 crowded in the living room together. 

It sounded vaguely familiar – maybe a popular chick flick? – so I flopped down to join them. And then the movie began and my childhood came rushing back. 

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The movie was one long déjà vu. It also reminded me of a favorite series of mine growing up: 

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Their dog made the most lasting impression on me. Good times. 

Happy Birthday, Anna!

I know a girl/Whose full of grace/she’s got red hair/and a happy face

Her name is Anna/she loves bananas/someday we know/she’ll be in a drama!

She’s our lima bean/but as you can see/she is Anna Keen! Dunt dunt duh! 

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Y’all, I officially have the coolest 21-year-old sister on the planet. I can’t imagine life without her.

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Anna, I hope you have a spectacular day and a wonderful year. Let’s drink responsibility when I get home! 

Parental Programming

My siblings and I have long been firm believers in the theory that if a parent walks in the room, whatever you are watching on the TV will suddenly take a turn for the worse. As children watching PBS programming, we would enjoy a show for weeks without the slightest qualms, but the moment our Mom watched the show with us, there would be an episode full of dark magic and death. She would then ban us from watching the show, and we would feel justifiably wronged. 

As we have gotten older, this problem has persisted. Perfectly clean movies will suddenly get sketchy when Mom comes home. It doesn’t matter if we are watching DramaFever, Netflix, or a movie from the library. Something gets inappropriate the minute she walks in. 

Last night my sisters and I started a new Korean drama while my Mom was out. Bethany insisted that we watch only until Mom got home, because the minute she entered the house it would get weird. I laughed at her superstition. She grew more frantic. The drama was upbeat, bubbly, and extremely funny. I told her there was no reason to worry. Our Mom came home and walked in the room…and out of NOWHERE a creepy, evil guy kidnaps a girl and chains her to a bed in his basement. I kid you not. 

Murphy’s Law isn’t quite the phrase for this, but there must be one like it. Something like, The Parental Programming Law: no matter what you are watching, it will get inappropriate the minute your parent walks in the room. 

A sort of road trip

Today Anna and I drove up to Oshkosh to celebrate the grand opening of the new AFP Fox Valley Field Office! It was a lot of fun, the building is adorable. Alicia did a terrific job decorating! 

We swung by the American Girl outlet mall on our way home. Alas! Yet another place that turned out to be not nearly as exciting as I remembered.

The sky was GORGEOUS on our drive back, so I snapped a few pictures.  What a fun day!  

A Girl’s Best Friend

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Once upon a time it occurred to seven-year-old Amy that a purge was coming. These happened at regular intervals, when Amy’s wise mother went through the tiny house and got rid of the toys that weren’t being played with, so there would be room for new toys. Amy, however, was something of a packrat. She hated getting rid of things.

Now, Amy had realized that if the toy resided in her bed, Mom would not get rid of it. (Simple logic here is that this kind woman had no interest in getting rid of toys her children really treasured, and dolls you sleep with are the most treasured of them all. However, this sort of sense did not interfere with young Amy’s logic.) Casting her eyes about she realized that maybe she hadn’t played with her D.W. doll enough lately. D.W. had been a present for her fifth birthday from Mom and Dad. What if D.W. was given away?! This called for an emergency response.

Not wanting to risk anything, she brought D.W. to bed that night and D.W. has never left since.

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Growing up, I had many treasured dolls and each one developed their own personality in my mind. My American Girl doll Felicity was bookish, and Addy was a tomboy. Ruth and Rachel had survived since babyhood and rested in wise old age. Pinkie was… well, Pinkie.

D.W. however was particularly special. She was very different from her TV personality on Arthur. If you had asked me what she liked, I would have told you ballet and sandwiches. Ballet because her gray shoes were obviously made for dancing (though I did often wish they were pink instead of gray). Sandwiches because her triangular hands just looked like they could hold dainty, tea-time sandwiches. (I know you don’t see it, but believe me, I did!)

When I fell asleep at night, I secretly believed that if I squeezed her tight, D.W.released a glitter-like sleeping potion that would help me fall asleep faster. It felt like magic, and I loved it.

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The Lord only knows how many times D.W. made the trip under the bathroom sink. As a kid, I liked to think she had her own little D.W.-sized restroom under there. I would open the cupboard door and fling her in, retrieving her later when I remembered. Unfortunately I did not always remember. One particularly memorable day I was headed to my cousin’s house for a sleepover. We turned my house upside down to find D.W. and send her along with me, but D.W. was nowhere to be found! I was finally shipped off, sad and alarmed at not having my trusted friend by my side. Mom called me the next morning after she went to clean the bathroom. Why was my doll with the cleaning supplies….?

Moments like those are very difficult to explain, even if you are a kid.

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After 16 years, it is easy to forget what a favorite doll looked like “new.” Discovering the almost untouched twin of D.W. at the library came as a shock to me. Had D.W. really been that fluffy and pink once upon a time? By now even the hair colors were different shades! As I began taking pictures of them side by side, the differences became that much more evident. The one is squashed and worn, the other bright and new. I almost felt sad for my D.W. When I looked into their eyes, though, I saw the real difference.

MY D.W.’s eyes are chipped. They’ve practically developed their own pupils. The new D.W.’s eyes were perfectly round…and covered in dust.

When I looked at those two faces side by side, I saw the face of a friend and that of a stranger. Chipped, pilled, and cracked as she is, my D.W. has been a constant companion for 16 years. She joined me on all my adventures as a kid and suffered all sorts of random abuses (like the bathroom cupboard.) She provided the magic sleeping dust to make me fall asleep faster and helped guard me from monsters in the closet. She came with me to Tennessee and remained a tangible link with home when I was homesick. My D.W. is well cherished and shows it.

The library’s D.W., the “new” one, has presumably sat untouched a shelf for 16 years. Although she remains as beautiful as her first day from the factory, she is unknown to any child. Few people even see her as she sits in her swing over the children’s books. I think the librarians forgot about her.

Seeing those two D.W. dolls, I’m reminded of how much my dolls meant to me growing up. Dolls are a girl’s first playmates. They stay constant and true, no matter how many years pass. Signs of wear and tear mark them as yours. My D.W. is mine. “New” D.W. … well, she’s anyone’s. And no one’s. Her eyes may be perfectly round, but they are blind and covered in dust. Those eyes have never helped a little girl look into herself as she grows up. And that is a tragedy for a doll.

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