06 November 2012

Thinking of Donna Parker on Election Day

It may be, you would think, a strange direction.

For those of you unacquainted with Donna, she was the heroine of a series of seven books published by Whitman Books in the late 1950s/early 1960s. She solved minor mysteries, like "who is the elderly man living in the woods?" or "who is using the school home ec rooms at night?" but mostly the Donna Parker series was about growing up. She had a dad, a stay-at-home mom, and a pesty younger brother, a best friend named "Ricky" (short for Fredericka), and a gaggle of school friends (including one poor girl named Karen who never got a last name). She was an ordinary kid, no budding sleuth like Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden. Her mom nagged her to eat a good breakfast every morning, her dad called her "Cookie," and her younger brother lived to annoy her. She existed in one of those series book whitebread small towns (about a two-hour train ride to New York City); if Donna ever encountered "Negroes," Jews and Catholics, it was probably in books—even the housekeeper was white.

In Donna Parker: Special Agent, Donna and Ricky are entering ninth grade. Since childhood they have always done things together. Now, when they have a chance to join after-school clubs, they come to their first parting of the ways: Ricky wants to take drama, Donna wants to join the school paper. And both follow their dreams.

Donna finds the school paper a mixed bag: the other kids she works with, save one, are great and the advisor, Miss Fischer, is a dream teacher. To her surprise, she finds herself elected assistant editor, but everyone knows she won't do much, since snooty Joyce Davenport, the daughter of the town newspaper editor, is in charge. And then, when she least expects it, Joyce breaks her leg and Donna is in charge.

The Summerfield Junior High School kids are looking for an interesting angle for their paper. They decide on covering the school election, with the school having a goal of 100 percent participation. When Donna talks about this while visiting Joyce, the girl convinces Donna how important participation in the voting process is, and her parents agree. So the kids expand their project: helping with the campaigning for city mayor. Not for specific candidates, but helping people vote. The students who could drive would drive people to the polls. Girls would babysit children so mothers could vote. And the kids would encourage everyone to vote: canvassing voters over the phone, tacking up posters, talking to people. Goal: 100 percent participation, just like at school.

Remember, this was the late 1950s: the Cold War, fear of spies, slapping "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance because of "those Godless commies." Children's series books like Donna Parker and Ginny Gordon and even Trixie Belden often emphasized public service: the Bob-Whites raise money for charity, the  "less fortunate" are helped via Christmas baskets and fundraisers, the kids support the Community Chest. But this was the one specific instance of elections and the right to vote and the need to vote were pointed out, and in words and ideas even a nine-year-old (me) would understand.

The town of Summerfield doesn't quite make the school record. Only 90 percent of the town votes, and Donna is so disappointed, so down, until everyone tells her what a terrific job she has done heading this project. Can you imagine if that happened today? 90 percent! What a feat accomplished that would be!

Go on. Go out there and vote. Do it for your town, your county, your state, and your country. Your vote matters. Everyone's vote matters.

If nothing else, do it for Donna.

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