Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Betsy Ross, you have entered the Twilight Zone...Redux 2009 story with 2016 twist!


In 1991, when my daughter was in 4th grade, her class took a field trip to the local library. Each student was to borrow a book about a Revolutionary War era character, read the book, and write up a book report. Meredith, seeing a book about a woman with the same name as her mother, chose a biography titled “Betsy Ross and the Flag.”

Not one to hop all over an assignment, Meredith didn’t look at the book for several days. When she finally decided to get busy on the book, she came crying and shrieking into the kitchen.

“Mom, this is a library book!”

“I know.”

“I’m going to be in horrible trouble at school! You’re not supposed to write in library books, Mom! Why did you write in the book?”

“I didn’t write in the book, Meredith.”

“Yes you did! See, it says it right here. And you wrote it in ink, so I can’t even try to erase it!”

“I didn’t write in the book,” I repeated as she handed me “Betsy Ross and the Flag,” opened to the flyleaf.

There, in ink, the book had been signed, “To Lissa Southwick from Betsy McMillan, Christmas 1959.”

“See!” Meredith insisted.

I stared at the book. The writing was indeed mine or an incredible facsimile! A chill came over me and every hair on my body stood on end.

“Meredith, I didn’t write this,” I said. “You see here, where it says Christmas 1959? I was younger in 1959 than you are right now. My last name wasn’t McMillan in 1959. I didn’t become a McMillan until I married your father.”

“Then who wrote in the book?” she asked, still teary-eyed.

“Evidently someone named Betsy McMillan, but many, many years ago. Don’t worry, Meredith. You won’t get into trouble for this.”

She headed back to her bedroom, somewhat placated. I kept the book in the kitchen until my husband got home. After he settled in, I said, “Take a look at this.”

He picked up the book, looked at it and said, “Why did you write in the book?”

“I didn’t!”

“It’s your writing,” he said.

“Exactly. But look at the date!”

He read it again. “1959? How did you sign this in 1959?”

“I didn’t! I never wrote in the book at all! How weird it that?”

After the book report was finished, I took Meredith and the book in question back to the library. I went to the desk and asked the librarian about the inscription.

“Many of the older books we have were donated from people’s personal collections,” she replied.

“Do you mind if I make copies of the flyleaf?” I asked.

“Not at all.”

I made a dozen photocopies, then went back to the desk. “May I ask a favor?”


“I know from past years that the library sells off the old books in an annual sale. If the time comes that this book is ready for the sale table, can you call me? I would really love to have this copy.”

I explained to her the bizarre coincidence of my name in my handwriting being in the book. She agreed. I gave her my name and phone number and we headed home.

For several months I sent inquiries to every Southwick and McMillan that I could find in the local phone books, but I received no replies. Eventually I put thoughts of “Betsy Ross and the Flag” behind me.

About ten years later, I got a call from the library. They had set “Betsy Ross and the Flag” aside for me. I raced up to the library and picked up the book. I opened it to the flyleaf and looked at the inscription. It still made my hair stand on end. I took it home and put it on a shelf where it remains to this day…another strange and unexplained occurrence in my lifetime of experiences!


Fast forward to 2016 and a story twist 25 years in the making. Let me start by saying that in my early career as a writer, I used the pen name Elizabeth Blackstone for my first two books, then, deciding it was too much trouble, began using M.E. Betsy McMillan (easier to remember when doing book signing events).

Yesterday morning, I turned on my computer, which is my normal practice, as I was getting ready to head off to work. Normally I click on the email and do a general delete, delete, delete, unless I recognize a sender or know it's something of importance. As I was doing my delete, delete, delete, I barely stopped myself from hitting the button when a subject line with the words "Betsy Ross" caught my eye. The email was as follows.

"Hello.  I just read the story of Betsy Ross and the Flag posted in 2009. This is the Lissa Southwick from the flyleaf.  Let me know if you still have the book. Are you in Ohio?"  Of course, it was signed with her married name and a phone number, so I decided to give the lady a call. 

After the requisite introductions, she asked what I wanted to know, and offered to tell me how the book had come into her possession.  It seems that her mother's best friend, Elizabeth Stone, married Charles McMillan.  They had a daughter, who they named Elizabeth Stone McMillan, but they called her Betsy. Lissa and Betsy were best friends, and Lissa gave her the book for Christmas.

You've got to admit, the whole 25-year saga is incredibly strange. My daughter brings home the book. My signature is in the book. The library gives me the book years later. I write a blog post about the book.  Then 25 years after first seeing the book, the woman who owned the book 60 years ago Googles her maiden name and somehow finds my blog post from 2009 and contacts me about it. And to make the story even more strange, her friend's name was Elizabeth (aka Betsy) Stone McMillan, and I'm Betsy McMillan aka Elizabeth Blackstone
You just can't make this stuff up!