Once in a lifetime it happens: You receive a gift you've been waiting for almost all your life and, holding it in your hands, reality outstrips the dream.

My waiting started 50 years ago at the Pottsville Free Public Library, downstairs in the Children's Reading Room, a perfect place for dreams to take seed. Back in those days, Mrs. Hass was the children's librarian (I may be spelling her name wrong. Was it "Haas"? Perhaps some readers would remember). When we arrived, she was usually seated at her desk, child-sized, in that we did not have to stand on tiptoe or raise our heads to talk to her across its surface. She, however, had to lean forward as she kindly welcomed us to that underground treasure trove.

Mrs. Hass was always well-dressed. She wore belted suits, soft in color, feminine in cut, and her light brown hair was swept back from her face and twisted into a loose bun. Details like that were important to me when I was a child. Without being able to express it, I somehow counted on her elegance, her charm, and her voice - I detected a slight accent suggesting she was born on another continent, to transport me far away from my daily life to new places, places I would not know how to imagine without the magic of books.

Naturally, I loved mysteries because mystery was what the library was all about and, very systematically, I carried those mysteries home. I must have read hundreds, but today, more than titles, I remember the experience. Having removed those books from their underground lair, I felt it only appropriate I read them underground as well. That's why I carried them down into our basement and read by the electric light of a Christmas candle (no playing with matches!), thrilled as much by the darkness pressing in on me as by the words on the page.

One title, however, stuck - "The Mystery of the Golden Horn." The story took place in Istanbul and, after reading it, that is where I wanted to go. If my memory serves me well (since then, I have never reread the book although this mystery by Phyllis Whitney, first published in 1962, is still in print), the Golden Horn was both a place and a sparkling brooch studded with precious stones. In my mind, the place and the jewels melded into one.

In the book, the brooch disappeared. The mystery was all about finding it. And the scene of the crime was the teeming banks of the Golden Horn, an estuary at the heart of Istanbul and an inlet of the Bosporus, the narrow strait joining the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, the Dardanelles and the Mediterranean.

The title stuck. So did the place. I had to get there. How and when became my own personal mystery, a problem to solve and an enigma because, as an adult, despite the intensity of my desire, I just couldn't find my way to Istanbul.

For my 50th birthday, 40 years after having read the book, with my childhood dream still intact, I finally made it to the city and crossed the bridge joining the two banks of the Golden Horn. I was not disappointed and my heart throbbed to the beat of the city, vibrating to the beat of a disco hit playing everywhere. Like the city of Istanbul itself, part European, part Asian, the song joined East and West, creating the perfect bridge between two continents.

For one week, I crisscrossed Istanbul, a city of 14 million inhabitants, in search of that sparkling image born of childhood. I discovered wonders: Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, the Spice Bazaar, so much more! But something was missing. I had not found what I had come looking for, the lost jewel which alone had the power to make my childhood dream come true.

I left the city, not disappointed but resigned to being an adult (finally, at 50!), free of the burden of dreams never meant to come true.

Ten years later, the miracle happened. I found it, the jewel. I did not hold it in my hand - it was too big, but I did touch it, smell it and drink it in with my eyes.

What happened? In October, I received the gift of a lifetime, a cruise on the Black Sea that provided me with the key to the mystery.

It all began with a train ride from Paris to London, then a flight to Istanbul. There we boarded our ship and "set sail," joining a line of tankers headed east on the Bosporus, one of the busiest and narrowest commercial waterways in the world. There was a storm. Everyone, including me, was seasick. It was not an auspicious start.

That first night in our cabin was more a nightmare than a dream as waves crashed against the portals and the ship rocked back and forth, turning our berths into lurching cradles and us into helpless babes. The ancient Greeks called the Black Sea "the inhospitable sea," the Arabs, "the severe sea" and the Persians, "the dark sea." So far, it was living up to its name.

The next morning, the ship's cafeteria was almost empty as most passengers never made it out of bed. Those of us who did were witness to the miracle: the swell of an emerald-green sea, its lacy foam like silver filigree, while high-rising waves, shot through with sunlight, sparkled sapphire-blue as their crests arched and fell.

Eureka! I had found it! The missing jewel, the missing link between dream and reality: the Black Sea. Like a peacock's tail, sparkling, jewel-studded, it fans out from Istanbul, inseparable from the city's heart, the Golden Horn, irrigated by its waters, which carry the city's splendors north and east to the Black Sea's most distant shores.

As we circled the Black Sea, I threaded together the signs: in Yalta, houses with enclosed wooden balconies like those of old Istanbul; in Sevastopol, a mosque in the Turkish style; in the mountains above Sochi, villages with Turkish names, and in every market, just like in Istanbul, the same stands selling fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice and honey made from acacia blossoms, the tree and fragrance that unite all Black Sea ports.

So, in the end my waiting paid off. I guess we shouldn't give up on dreams after all, and, to all my readers, I would like to wish a new year where childhood dreams come true. I would also like to thank all of you who have followed Mademoiselle Remix. Tomorrow, in the novel's last episode, Constance says good-bye.

As for me, I'll be back next year.

(Honicker can be reached at honicker.republican herald@gmail.com)