Skip to main content


May 1, 2020

A Long-Ago Gift from My Mother

Dete Meserve is the award-winning, bestselling author of a series of mystery novels featuring investigative news reporter Kate Bradley: GOOD SAM, PERFECTLY GOOD CRIME and THE GOOD STRANGER, the latter of which will release on May 19th. When Dete was 10 years old, her mother read THE SECRET GARDEN to her and her brother; not long after that, it was THE HOBBIT’s turn to capture her imagination and inspire her to explore the world around her. This sense of curiosity and adventure would not have been possible without her mother and the long-ago gift she gave her, which Dete lovingly describes in her blog post.


“If you look the right way, you can see the whole world is a garden,” my mother said, reading from THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I snuggled on her bed with her, my childhood body lanky and lean. My brother, his face smudged with dirt from all the bike riding we’d done earlier, lay on her other side. She smelled of clean --- Jergens moisturizer --- while we were earthy and sweaty, our limbs achy from a long summer day of play. Although Mary in THE SECRET GARDEN was 10 years old like me, it was Dickon, the boy who rescued orphaned foxes and communicated with the crows, who fascinated me most.

My mother would read to us for an hour before her voice would grow hoarse, but the time flew by. She always read from hardback books --- ones with glossy paper covers that smelled like vanilla and possibility. I tried following the words in the book, but as the stories unfolded, my attention would inevitably drift from the page and my imagination would take over.

By winter that year, we were well into THE HOBBIT, snuggled beneath layers of cotton blankets as Bilbo Baggins took his first adventure. I never thought these books were simply stories that someone imagined. I was certain they could happen. Maybe they did happen. On trips into the woods with my parents, my eyes always scanned for a secret garden. Perhaps it wouldn’t be hidden behind a wall, like in the book, but maybe I could find a secret place beneath a leafy bower of evergreens or in a sun-filled clearing in the woods. I was sure that any discovery --- a strange marking on a tree or a sighting of a deer --- could spark a journey on the scale of Bilbo’s.

One wintry day when the snow had fallen throughout the night and it was too cold to venture outside, my mother made us cream of tomato soup and put a record on the phonograph in the living room. She told me its name --- The Pines of Rome --- but left the rest to my imagination. Without any words in the music, I pictured marching through centuries-old trees, surrounded by visions of the past and the future, a mysterious and endless journey.

It seemed to me then that everything my mother shared with me --- books, nature and music --- an idea was being expressed over and over: The world is filled with mystery, adventure and the wonderous unknown.

It’s years later now, and I’m reading THE SECRET GARDEN to my little girl. I recall in vivid detail the story as I imagined it when I was 10. Surprisingly, my memory of the story is not always the way Burnett described it in words. Instead, I remember it the way I first envisioned it when my mother read the book aloud to me.

I wonder what my daughter will remember of these hours together. For now, she is snuggled close, her breathing slow. As we turn the page, the smell of Jergens floats in the air and I am 10 again too. The words on the page evoke the beautiful tapestry of life with nature swirling all around us --- a long-ago gift from my mother.