WEST TISBURY — The mysterious package arrived on a blustery day in February from a man Cynthia Riggs had not seen in 62 years. He wrote his return address in latitude and longitude. The contents baffled her: pages of yellowed paper towels, covered in penciled code.
Then, she remembered. In 1950, when she was an 18-year-old college student, she had landed a summer job sorting plankton at a marine geology lab in California. She befriended one of her colleagues, Howard Attebery, a kind soul who stood out from the other young men more interested in teasing her or nailing shut her lab drawers.
In gratitude, Cynthia wrote notes in a simple code to Howie, who was 28, on the pile of paper towels that sat next to her microscope, breezy thoughts about life, research, co-workers. These were the notes he was now sending back to her. Inside the envelope that traveled from Howie’s house in San Diego to Cynthia’s post office box on Martha’s Vineyard, he added one new message, also in code.
“I have never stopped loving you,” he wrote.
Cynthia, the granddaughter of a whaling captain, fills the Vineyard house where her family has lived for eight generations with writers, artists, and other guests. In February 2012, when Howie’s note arrived, she was writing her 12th mystery novel, “Bloodroot,” whose protagonist is a 92-year-old detective.
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