It's easy to identify the Nancy Drew and Dana Girls mysteries as my favorite children's adventure stories. When I read those little books, I wanted to be the one with the answer, the one to solve the crime, the one to show the grownups that this teen could do it. These girls were resourceful and clever. What's interesting to me now is that, for the life of me, I cannot recall a single episode and I couldn't name more than one title. I do not remember just exactly what these plucky heroines accomplished. What I do remember is my cousin Diane.
Diane was much older than me. She was a child of the 1940s whose father served in WWII. She spent countless hours with my grandparents and her aunt and uncle, laying a foundation of trust and love for all of the cousins to follow. We all knew that we were important and we knew that our family had something special, and a good bit of that came from the first cousin on the scene, Diane.
I came to know Nancy Drew because Diane collected the books. As far as I can remember, it was a complete set. I could borrow them, read them one at a time or a couple at a go, and return them to her collection. But it was never about the plot of the books, it was that Diane could read and when she did, she did it up in style. I could take books out of the town public library certainly, and I did that nearly every week I was in school. But Diane had a library and that was exciting to me.
Because my family did not have a budget line for book buying or the means to get to bookstores, and because I spent so much time at the library, I have only a dozen or so books from my childhood. I do not have all the great pirate books that I loved. I don't have the stories of Pompeii that I remember so clearly. And I don't have the Nancy Drew books. I vowed that when I had my own children, I would buy them books instead of just taking them to the library. I wanted them to know what Diane must have known, that there is tremendous comfort in being in a library, but there is something so much more powerful in owning a library.
Diane left us a few years ago. She had a heart ailment that would take her from us way too soon. In writing this, I am sad she doesn't know the lifelong impact her choice in teen fiction had on me. I want her to know that her collecting Nancy Drew and Dana Girl mysteries, and sharing them the way she did, instilled in me a love of libraries as well as a love of a great mystery story. My library has books about everything!
I'm reading The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey now with my book club and even though it does not feature a boyfriend with a slick convertible or helpful aunts and uncles, it does remind me of the debt I owe to my cousin Diane. It's great to have a library card, but it's even better to have a library.