A Hap-Hap-Happy Valentine’s Day

Because Valentine’s Day arrives on February 14, a day after my father died, I tend to have low expectations for a day that women, Christian women in particular, seem to assign enormous importance to. Jeff’s always been good to me on Valentine’s Day, a real romantic in denim and flannel, but the day still feels kind of ruined to me, and this year was no exception.

Let’s segue back to my mid-elementary school years, when I was about 9 or 10 and reading everything I could find, including cereal boxes, product warranties, and, in what I think was probably not the most appropriate choice, Eldredge Cleaver’s “Soul On Ice.” But I caught wind of perhaps a better offering for fourth-graders, the Happy Hollisters Mystery Book Club, and begged my parents to let me join. Eager, I think, to keep me both out of their hair and out of The Revolution, they signed me up, and every three weeks or so, the nice people at Doubleday & Company sent me the latest of the 19-volume series. I was devoted to the gripping adventures of the Happy Hollisters and the Shoreham Detective Club, run by Pete, a crewcut 12-year-old, and his pretty, fair-haired 10-year-old sister, Pam. Their younger siblings, the mischievous red-haired Ricky, 7, and his pigtailed, curious, six-year-old sister Holly, helped solved mysteries, while the family cat and her frozen-in-time brood of kittens were tended by the impish Sue, a four-year-old with a shiny black bob.

As a studious, less-than-mischievous fourth-grader with stringy brown hair, it never occurred to me that the Happy Hollisters — including dad Russ, with his thick, wavy brown hair, and mom Elaine, a pert blonde — were more than a little fixated on their tonsorial blessings. I just envied their Happiness, their independence — the kids, like Nancy Drew, zipped all over the county apprehending criminals and solving mysteries with stunningly laid-back parents, while I had to ask permission to walk down the driveway — and their myriad adventures. The Hollisters were Happy, and it had to have been because their wholesome and lovable personalities were formed through constant involvement with Lucky Coins, Haunted Houses, Swiss Echoes, Ice Carnivals, Totem Poles, Lizard Coves, Secret Forts, and Skyscraper Cities.

I, on the other hand, lived a life full of Desert Cul-de-Sacs, Grape Boycotts, Anti-War Picketing, Avoiding Cactus, and Being Afraid Of The School Lunchroom. I was the anti-Hollister, living vicariously through Pam, an idol through whom I could be groomed for a life modeled after Nancy Drew. (Pete, even with his golden crewcut, was, sadly, not man enough to forestall my eventual life’s goal of becoming the Happy Wife of David Cassidy). I devoured the Happy Hollister mysteries and consider my time as a Happy Hollister devotee probably the most wonderful time in a not-always-wonderful childhood.

So when the entire series showed up at a local coffee shop, offered by the bookstore my son works at, I was both delighted and chagrined. Delighted because a singularly joyful slice of my childhood was shelved just a couple of feet above me, chagrined because the series was priced at $50, and I don’t generally feel good about fifty-dollar purchases that aren’t absolutely necessary. It was tantalizing, and, unlike the perennially Happy Pam Hollister, I did a bit of sulking, especially when my husband reminded me that our budget was a bit tighter these days than before.

But if Russ Hollister was an athletic, kind, and hard-working father and husband, Jeff Mix is even better. Because when I woke up on Valentine’s Day, there was a lumpy pillow case on which was scattered chocolates and old-fashioned valentines and a single red rose. I swept them off and peered into the pillow case, where the brightly-illustrated dust covers of all 19 Happy Hollister Mystery Club adventures lay strewn together, with every damned Happy One looking back at me with all the love, joy, and anticipation I’ve ever felt.

I cried Happy tears, buckets of ‘em, and I’m going to read every one of them. So far I’ve delved into The Haunted House Mystery and The Secret of the Lucky Coins, and I’m halfway through the fascinating Swiss Echo Mystery, which features the five children running all around Switzerland in pursuit of the dark-haired, husky jewel thief taunting their new friend, Inspector Meyer. Gripping, they are. Simple, they are. Silly, contrived, and echoing early-60s social stereotypes and mores, they are.

And they’re probably the best gift I’ve ever gotten, from the best guy I know.

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