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December 9, 2009

Melissa Mayhue on The Nancy Drew Mysteries

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Melissa Mayhue, author of A HIGHLANDER'S DESTINY, revisits a particularly bleak holiday made memorable by a mother's big-hearted gift.

I’ve been an avid reader from the time I picked up my first book as a child. With no brothers or sisters to distract me, I spent untold hours of my childhood wandering the fantasy worlds books provided, living vicarious adventures through the eyes of any number of characters. Many of my best memories from childhood revolve around books, but one particular Christmas memory stands out from all the rest.

My parents couldn’t afford to buy me many books, but my mother took me to the library every Friday, regular as clockwork, and I delighted in reading my way through the children’s and young adults’ sections. I had a big bookcase in my room --- a monstrously ugly orange thing with four shelves. My all-time favorite Nancy Drew books (I had three that were my very own) occupied the top shelf, along with the current armload of books I’d brought home from the library. With all that empty space, my Barbie lived on three of those shelves, like some strange high-rise apartment affair.

My dad was a cement finisher and money was always a little tight in the winter, but this winter was worse than usual, following on the heels of a summer where there had been more bills than income. Everything was shaping up for a pretty bleak Christmas around my house. We’d gone out to the country and cut down a scraggly little Christmas tree that made the one the Peanuts gang decorated look pretty good.

Needless to say, my expectations for what would be under the tree for me that year were pretty low.

The morning of Christmas Eve, I rearranged my Barbie and her furniture, neatly placing every piece just so. I was hoping that my mom’s sewing machine sitting out on the kitchen table meant there would at the very least be a couple of new dresses to add to Barbie’s wardrobe under the tree for me tonight.

When it finally came time to unwrap gifts, I was amazed to find that, along with a couple of small packages, there was one big box with my name on it. To this day I can remember the feeling in the back of my throat as I ripped open that box and stared at its contents: books. Not just any books, but Nancy Drew Mysteries, the best books on the face of the planet. Twenty of them.

All that adventure, all that mystery, all that wonder. All mine.

Before bed that night, I evicted poor Barbie. Moved her to the bottom shelf, crowding her in with Ken and the off-brand dolls. That middle shelf, that prime eye-level space --- that belonged to Carolyn Keene’s masterpieces.

My mother had scoured every garage sale, every thrift store, every sale for months planning that gift for me. Of all the books I’ve ever been given, none will ever be as special as those.
All these years later, a neatly packed, well-sealed box of Nancy Drew Mysteries resides in my storage room, waiting for the possibility of granddaughters who will love Nancy as much as I did. I grew up to have sons, none of whom, to my great disappointment, liked Nancy Drew in the least! But that’s okay. I’ll never forget the hours spent with my favorite feisty sleuth --- just as I’ll never forget the Christmas I got a whole shelf-full of my favorite books for my very own.

-- Melissa Mayhue

Check back tomorrow, as Gesine Bullock-Prado discusses the magic touch her mother gave to all her childhood Christmases.