When I was a young, my parents bought me The Hardy Boys.
Not the new editions: the classics from the ‘60s and ‘70s, with the matte-blue hardcover spines and blue-tinted pages. I’m not sure how the collection started, but I knew we were set to collect every one in matte-blue, 58 volumes in total. It’s a wonderful memory of mine, a time before eBay when the only way to complete a vintage book collection was to go to every used book store and flea market.
My parents divorced when I was 6, but they remained civil, friends even. My dad picked me up every Friday after work for the weekend, and my mom picked me up on Sundays. They would communicate about which issues they’d found with me, respectively, so as not to buy any duplicates. Separately, but together, we completed my set.
It’s a great memory from my childhood, and I think remains my standard of how two adults should communicate post break-up.
I shared this story with my boyfriend J recently, and that day (while shopping at Strand) I found a volume of Nancy Drew, bound in the same matte-yellow finish that matched my Hardy Boys set.
“What if we did the same thing?” I asked J, holding up the book. “Collect the entire original Nancy Drew set?”
“I like that idea,” he said, “but not this one: It’s falling apart.”
With his birthday a few weeks away, my search began: The Mystery of the Birthday Present. (There are 56 in total in the matte-yellow edition.) I thought it would be easy to find one: In Iowa, you can find old Nancy Drew books in just about any book store that has used books.
I went back to Strand the next day, checking the discounted books outside and the top floor rare books. Nothing. I went to a few of the small indie bookstores in Greenwich Village. Nothing. I couldn’t find them anywhere.
I didn’t want to buy any online—that felt like cheating. The fun in collecting them is the search: I decided that we could only get the books in person. Giving up at last, I decided to bend the rules—just for this first one—and call my mom.
My mom got far too into it, calling me: “I didn’t find the first issue, but I found 23 other issues that are in perfect condition. Should I get them?” I tried to explain that it took the whole point away if she just bought them all for us. “Well, they can be presents from me to J,” she replied, still not understanding.
After I’d finally convinced her to put down the books, she went to Omaha for the weekend, continuing the search on the way, and found the first one for me. I created a small scavenger hunt in our room, the final clue leading to Nancy Drew and “The Secret of the Old Clock,” carefully hidden amongst the other books on our bookshelf.
It felt good, starting a new tradition, setting up new memories. Something special between me and J. Something we would have to complete together… and probably with the unsolicited help of my dear mother.