Cynthia Riggs….the Story

youngYesterday I promised you the whole story.

Cynthia Riggs is a 13th generation Martha’s Vineyard resident, the eighth generation to live on her family homestead, where, at 82, she still runs a bed and breakfast catering to creative types. After her mother died, at 99, she cast about, wondering what she was going to do. “You should take a creative writing class,” her guests said. And so she did, and wrote a mystery, a “cozy”, set on Martha’s Vineyard featuring a 92-year-old sleuth.

The first one was published when she was 70, and she’s written one a year since then, eleven so far. But her best story, also a mystery, is one she told to Moth—“true stories, told live, without notes”—last summer.

“The Case of the Curious Codes,” brightened a dark day enormously, as it will yours. You should listen to her tell the story, but since I know you might not, here’s what happens….

Last summer Cynthia Riggs received a mysterious package of old brown paper towels in the mail. They came in an archival envelope, the only return address was a longitude and a latitude.

She was surprised, shocked even, but knew right away what they were. When she was 18, over 60 years before, she had worked in a lab for a summer at Scripps Oceanographic Institute in San Diego. The other guys enjoyed playing practical jokes on her, like nailing shut her lab drawers. Except for the older fellow, nine years older, who distracted her with coded notes written on paper towels.

It was those very paper towels, saved for over 60 years, that were in the envelope. What to do? She’s a mystery writer, so hopped to. She got out the maps for the latitude and longitude, and then hit the Google search bar. Southern California. A cruise ship? Retired on a yacht? She finally remembered he’d gone to dental school, so she checked the registry of dentists in California. And so began a correspondence.

The coincidences continued. Each had recently suffered the death of an adult child. “What can you do in letters? You can do a lot!” Learning that she liked to garden, her beau, Dr. Howard Attebery, forwarded packets of seeds that spelled out L-O-V-E. What to do?

“You HAVE to go and visit him!” said her writers group. And as the story ends she has the plane ticket in her hand.

He proposed within an hour of her arrival.

When you are 90, there is not a moment to waste.

The CBS Evening News reported on their May wedding.


About Karen Ray

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