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The mystery is solved! Well, not completely. Several years are unaccounted for. But a final chapter is finally being written.

The mystery began sometime during World War II, 1944 to be exact. It was a hot birthday in August when the first mystery arrived at the Evans residence. Your author can't remember who was responsible for the gift I received -- a mystery. And that is the cause of this latest mystery. It was late one afternoon a few days ago when the phone rang. I almost didn't answer it -- robocalls, you know? But something seemed to guide my hand to the phone and my lips to form the word "hello."

The response was a pleasant surprise. Make that a great surprise as a woman's voice began a conversation. It took a moment or two to recognize it was Evelyn Lock, whom I've known for many years. As she began talking, I thought she was "spinning a tale" when she said she had discovered a book for sale at The Chicken Coop in Gentry.

A book? I still thought she was kidding, but here's what had really happened. She explained a couple of words on the book title. "Sugar Creek" had caught her attention. She wondered, was it a book about the Sugar Creek that is well known in this area? She also said the cover pictured a bunch of men and boys around a tree.

"Do you remember such a book?" she asked. I wondered, "Why did she ask that?" She continued. Did you guess it? Inside the book cover were the words, "Dodie Evans. Sulphur Springs, Ark."

It took a few more minutes until I began to piece it together, or at least some of it. I sort of recalled I had received such a book on my ninth birthday. All I could remember were the words, "Sugar Creek Gang." The rest remained somewhere out there with the last of my childhood memories. Honestly, memories become harder and harder to bring up on the screen. I finally stuttered, "Yeah ... but I haven't thought of that book in years." Honestly, it was actually decades.

Evelyn asked if I would like to have the book. A nod was accompanied by a "really ... I would appreciate it." I was trying to remember what the book was all about.

Fast Forward. A few days later, after Evelyn had returned to the Coop and made a purchase, she arrived in Gravette and handed me a little hardback book, "Mystery at Sugar Creek." The title was highlighted with a group of men and boys and dogs and, up a tree, curled up in fright, was a coon. With a muddled memory, that evening I turned pages of the story which honestly seemed completely new to me. But as I perused through the pages, the tale began to unfold until the climax ... the mystery which ended the story.

So now I remember the book. Confession? I hadn't thought about it for several decades ... but, after reading, the story came flooding back. It was about a "gang" of boys who, with a couple of volunteers, were trailing a couple of howling hounds on the trail of a coon. If you wish, make that a raccoon.

Let's clear up the word gang. Not today's gang. In those 20th century days, a gang was a sort of club or a group of boys who played together, learned together and who, with the guidance of parents, moved steadily toward adulthood.

It was a book written by Paul Hutchens, an Indiana native, who wrote many Sugar Creek Gang books. He was a creative writer who painted word pictures about a gang of boys who appeared to be in their early teens. In this book, his words drew easily-imagined pictures of boys tramping through the woods on a dark night. They slogged through a bog and tripped over logs. And they were guided by howling hounds and a couple of coal oil lanterns -- make that kerosene -- carried by a couple of fathers. It was a fun story.

But this story is about that story ... a story I probably read a couple of times and then laid aside or loaned it to some of my buddies to read. So ... the real mystery is: where has the Sugar Creek book been for the past 70-plus years? It had just disappeared into oblivion along with so many other youth experiences ... to finally be discovered in a Chicken Coop.

In the small volume, 88 pages to be exact, the gang learned life lessons about the evils of alcohol, how the pelt from a coon helped put food on a family's table and ... the boys learned how to be fair to others, the importance of being honest, about sharing and caring ... and especially a lesson in patience ... patience such as wading through a bog, picking themselves up after tripping over a log, how to endure a cold late autumn night and, of course, how long it took two hounds to tree a coon. You can probably think of lots of things such an outing might involve: How to be patient when things were not going just right, a lesson for the rest of their lives.

Isn't it still that way? or it should be .... to experience life lessons through family, through school and church and through interaction with others? This little book stressed many good and important lessons on its printed pages as many books provided youth in so many positive ways in that era. And today? Hopefully, those lessons are being demonstrated through the same type experiences supplemented with new outlets such as the computer and television.

But you ask, "What was the 'real mystery' in the book?"

It was revealed at the end. During the hunt, the boys talked about a man they all knew who had done some wrongs and was being hunted by the sheriff. And as the group was about to call it a night someone hollered, "There's a man's head out here ... " It was followed with cries of "Help! Help!" It was a man in quicksand up to his head. You can imagine the commotion and action as the men and boys were finally able to free the man from the sand. It was the man being hunted by the sheriff. The book lesson outlined how the man confessed to the gang and vowed his life changed and he was going to surrender to the authorities. Involved were lots of tears and prayers and promises until the sheriff arrived. The scene described the sincerity and the patience that would indicate a happy ending for the man and his family. End of story.

As I reread the book, I relearned the lessons that no doubt I had learned years ago which had become part of my life. I also learned this lesson which I will share: With my name inside the book cover were these words: "Please read and return promptly to ..." It reminded me that I had borrowed a book some time ago and had not returned it to its owner. I also relearned that old saying ... "You can teach an old dog new tricks." I wonder: has the story of this little mystery sparked any memories?

Epilogue: Since this was written, we have experienced the caring, helping, aiding, courage, prayers, etc., etc., etc., during the cave rescue of twelve brave, frightened and somehow patient boys and their coach ... lessons that have been inspirational to an unsettled world. Such a life story is even better than a book; it will be remembered by all who have experienced it.

Dodie Evans is the former owner and longtime editor of the Gravette News Herald. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 07/18/2018

Print Headline: Life's many mysteries

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