A couple of summers ago, I reread all Beverly Cleary’s Ramona stories. My notebook from that summer would have listed all the later Ramona books I’d missed, along with some favourite quotes and scenes as I reread my favourites.
Oh, how I loved Ramona when I was eight years old. (Turns out she is nearly as appealing now.) The later volumes were published long after my initial membership in the Ramona fan club. I never realized that the series had continued.
Many times, I simply stopped reading series because the main character matured past the point of being interesting. Anne got married. Jo got married. Emily got married. If Ramona gets married, we haven’t read about it yet.
The heroines of some of Beverly Cleary’s other books were much closer to marriage, although still comfortably in the land of uncertainty.
They still had things to tell me about things which I needed to know. At least I thought they did, at the time.
And in my notebook, I have made some notes on these ideas, gleaned from a reread of Fifteen, which was originally published in 1956.
Here are some of the things which a girl needs as a prelude to living happily ever after: cashmere sweaters, rides in convertibles, bobby pins. Also, deep pore cleanser and Rosy Rapture lipstick and polish.
This will adequately prepare you to sip cokes at the counter of Nibley’s Confectionery and Soda Fountain. You may even meet a “perfectly nice boy”.
This boy will be “tall enough”, friendly, and he will have a driver’s license. Maybe he will also be tanned and be able to borrow his father’s car.
There are risks and dangers everywhere, however. “I don’t want you riding around in a car with some strange boy,” Jane’s mother declares.
Fifteen is just the sort of story in which mothers declare and exclaim. The sort of book in which fathers mention the banns when their daughter is invited to the movies.
The Teen Corner in the newspaper (likely a radical idea) advises girls to inquire after a boy’s interests. That’s easy enough for Jane, who always aims to be friendly and interested in other people.
But what is a mystery for 15-year-old Jane is the finer mystery: how can she be sophisticated enough to capture and maintain the interest of a “perfectly nice boy”?
She wants to be a sophisticated young woman with a dinner date. She knows what to do with a lipstick brush and she skips her lunch. And he s the nicest boy, “full of fun”.
But when Stan Crandall picks her up, he is driving the delivery truck that he uses for his part-time job and, even so, Jane is the less sophisticated of the two.
Stan has suggested a Chinese restaurant in the city and she doesn’t know what to order or how to eat it. Stan’s friend makes jokes about flied lice (which must have passed as humour for many of 1956’s Fifteen readers).
But it’s Jane who might not be sophisticated enough to keep the interest of a boy who “has a purpose” and who is capable of ordering something other than a hamburger.
Jane lives on Blossom Street and Stan lives on Poppy Lane. When I reread books like Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen, I find a part of my younger self there on Cleary Street.
It is no longer a landscape that I dream of inhabiting, but it is familiar territory all the same.