Back when I was nine, we lived in the middle of nowhere. I had only my classmates and my little brother for friends. My class consisted of twelve students, grades 2 through 8. Only one other student my grade and he was a boy. My little brother had a triple-whammy of a friend strike in that he was not only a boy, but younger. And my brother. So the characters in my books became my friends.
Nancy Drew was my first book friend. Although she was older, richer and ran in a difference crowd than I did, I came to adore Nancy, Bess and George. Although George once caused a family argument. After my second or third Nancy Drew book, I realized that I had no idea how to pronounce G-E-O-R-G-E. I asked and an argument started when they didn’t believe me that George was a girl. It was my first taste of not being believed, even though I was so sure.
I was with Nancy on all her adventures. I read as often as possible. Sometimes even more often than possible. My parents would tell me to stop reading and go outside to play. I’d go, but sneak my book with me. I got tired of the wasted time biking somewhere so I rigged a book holder to my handlebars. Then I could read while biking our dirt roads. Our house had no electricity and thus a flashlight was brought to bed each night. My parents would wonder why my batteries died faster than my brother’s. It was because I often was up into the wee hours reading under the covers… only to rise early to get through the next chapter.
In school, my book reports were all Nancy Drew books. We made a book as a school project and I made mine Nancy Drew related. The public library was two hours away and we visited only twice a month. I would check out the maximum number of books (five) and they’d all be Nancy Drew. One trip, I stayed home and gave my parents strict instructions to get five Nancy Drew books and a chart of which ones I had not yet read. They came home with one Nancy Drew book and The Yearling, requesting that I broaden my reading knowledge. I still can’t even talk about that dreadful day and I still have not read The Yearling, nor can I speak its title without making a face.
Once I went through the whole Nancy Drew series, I ventured to another section of the library series shelves and noticed books that looked like Nancy Drew. Cherry Ames. Cherry was a nurse. In every book, she was a different kind of nurse. Student Nurse, Army Nurse, Cruise Nurse. I of course read two and then wanted to be a nurse. My freshman year of high school I even was in a club for future medical professionals. That’s when I found out nurses give shots and clean up poop. And that was the end of my Cherry Ames nursing career. The Cherry Ames books were hard to find, though, so I read only four or five of the series.
For my eleventh birthday, I received a $20 check from my grandfather. Mom took me to K-Mart in Milpitas, California to pick something out and I chose the first four Trixie Belden books. I remember Mom questioning me. “Are you sure you want books? Not toys or a game or clothes? Books? Really?” and I really did. I read those first four books, Secret of the Mansion, Red Trailer Mystery, Gatehouse Mystery and Mysterious Visitor, over and over again.
Trixie and Honey and Jim and Brian and Mart and Bobby and all the others traveled with me on the move to Minnesota. And the move back a few months later. I had only four books, but I made good use of them, over and over again. Our libraries didn’t have Trixie Belden books, so after moving back to California, I started earning money babysitting. I’d take that money to Stacey’s bookstore at Stanford Shopping Center and spend it collecting the series. I even re-purchased Secret of the Mansion, as I’d loaned it out never to be seen again.
Every bit of the Trixie Belden series is imbedded in my mind. I can close my eyes right now, over 30 years later, and picture Trixie’s home, Honey’s mansion, and the trailer they had a number of adventures in. I can picture Nancy Drew’s house, her father’s briefcase, her car. I can close my eyes and see Lex admiring Cherry’s nurse uniform and the hopeful faces of her injured and sick patients watching her approach.
The feeling I get though when I close my eyes and imagine the time I spent with all these friends makes me glow. Real friends are great. But real friends who you can share books with? Priceless.
P.S. Earlier this year, I got tired of my ten-year-old daughter only reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. I assigned her the first Trixie book, Secret of the Mansion, to read for school. Now she can’t say Trixie Belden without making a face and I do believe that she will never pick another up again. Or any of my other suggestions. Sorry about The Yearling, Mom. Now I know how you felt.