My last post was about my discovery of a book touchstone in my life, Betty K. Erwin’s “Go to the Room of the Eyes.” This post is about how it saved me. When I was a young teen I got trapped in a very bad relationship with an abusive boyfriend. I had read “Go to the Room of the Eyes” many times before that and right in the middle of this relationship I happened to read it again. It awoke in me something that had been asleep. A chance of a future, a real future with children, a loving husband, a happy home, and even a white picket fence if I so wanted. These things were not going to happen with my current predicament which had me playing second fiddle to another girl he had anyway. I finally got out of his narcissistic spell and left for good, holding this book as a light in my murky future.
I had a plan. One day I would have my old Victorian house and lots of children and a real man who loved me. I am happy to tell you that most of it has come true (except for the lots of children part- but I make up for that at school!). It took lots of prayer, walking with God, hard, hard work, and tears but I have been living my dream that saved me for quite some time. Even when only parts of the dream were present I recognized them and held them close.
One of the best things to happen was I met and married a wonderful man with the last name of Evans! That is the same name as the family in the book! We have been married for 20 years now and I see how wonderful my God is to do things like this, no matter how small, in my life.
In one essay (belonging now to the deGrummond Children’s collection at the University of Southern Mississippi) Betty K. Erwin writes about her real house and how large it is with seven bedrooms, three bathrooms, a room with a wood floor in the basement big enough to roller-skate in and a ballroom on the third floor. The house in filled with children and she writes about their toys and how she loves them. She writes of the cycle of her children growing up in the big, old house and how the toys are finally put away, but she doesn’t get rid of them because she knows there will be grandchildren one day. As she walks through her house in words I’m reminded why I fell in love with our house. It is definitely smaller than Erwin’s, but so very similar in many, many ways. I still can’t believe I got to have my dream I’ve clutched carefully for so long.
My own house was built just 3 years before Erwin’s in 1907. It is a late Queen Anne Victorian as opposed to Erwin’s home which is part Craftsman, part shingle style. Her home is much larger with more bedrooms and bathrooms, but ours seem to be laid out similarly with big central entrance halls, breakfast and dining rooms, libraries, bedrooms on a central hall axis and a back stair to the third floor. My favorite shared thing about our houses is the closets under the eaves on the third floors. We both have those, although in her book they seem to lead to secret rooms! Mine don’t, but that’s ok!
A few years ago, when I got copies from the deGrummond Children’s Lit. collection of some of Erwin’s papers (you can request, pay for the copies and they mail them to you!) I noticed that her address was on several pieces of correspondence. Now I’ve always wanted to know what house they lived in in Seattle, especially after finding out that one of my favorite books was based on a real location, so I looked. I’m not here to dox anyone or make any current homeowner crazy so I won’t post the address, but here are some screenshots and illustrations I did thanks to Google earth.
When Irene Burns did the illustrations for the book she did not use Erwin’s real house, whether for privacy or distance she chose another. I believe she used the Rochester house in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, California. It was in the public eye quite a bit at the time (see my articles here and here) and turned up in many artists’ works.
Also, the family hasn’t lived in the home for a very long time. Erwin passed away in 1989 of lung cancer and her husband, Grant, remarried later and then died in 2012 at the age of 94! Sadly, I also learned that the couple had had a child, named John, who had died making their grand total 7 children. Oddly the writer of the obituary asks for donations to planned parenthood in lieu of flowers…for a devoted father of 7 this seems strange!
The Erwin’s children are named in the obituary so I tried to match them up with the names in Go to the Room of the Eyes.
Oldest to youngest:
Alice- Susan in the book
Grant Jr.- Dave in the book
Alice- Katie in the, well you get it
I wish we could have had a big family, but that didn’t work out and it’s ok. I have plenty of fun with my kids. Today my own children benefit from my love of the treasure hunt in “Go to the Room of the Eyes” and all the practice of writing clues in my early years. We have treasure hunts often and they tell me to make the clues hard! They don’t want them to be easy! Of course I oblige, and what a fun house we have in which to carry out these games!
Next time I will write about my own book The Secret of Sterling House and the sequel to Go to the Room of the Eyes: The Happy Room and the Psychic Investigator.
With book dreams coming true for you from the Lord and love from Kansas Street,