You may notice that Benny looks slightly older than usual here. And for once, it's not just the mercurial whims of the cover artist at fault. See, while most of these covers have Benny at a comfortable and consistent (ish) six years old, but throughout the series, Warner aged them. Not in real time, that would put Benny in his late fifties here (HILARIOUS), but at like a year every three or four books. So Henry's at college in this one, and Benny's getting a part time job. So the sudden, jarring appearance of Tween Benny is for a reason. What this job is, I am uncertain. Stockboy or bag boy at a department or grocery store, I think, but I really don't know more than that, and that's just from reading up on the publication history. Looks like a department store, I guess.
Not that it matters. In my mind, the store is just one big front for a crime organization, and Benny is a useful idiot, a stooge, a mule, the fall guy. They plan to sell him out as a distraction should they ever get caught, but they never do. Benny moves the merchandise, and the crooks skip town , their mission accomplished. And home Benny goes, ten dollars in his pocket, intent on buying some candy and then rejoining his brother and sisters to go look for diamond smugglers.
But they won't want to look for diamond smugglers. They have jobs of their own, and they can drive. Sleuthing is a child's game, and it is time for them to put away childish things. Time to leave behind pirate treasure and hidden maps and pink hotpants with white velcro shoes and black socks. Time to grow up, Boxcar Children, and become tiresome, dull, Grandfather's Mansion Adults. They won't be bad people, they'll still be kind and loving and caring. But today is the day it ends. Though he knew it not, today Benny was the diamond smuggler.
And it is on that melancholic note that we leave Gertrude Chandler Warner and prepare ourselves for the ghostwriters slamming their hands on that reset button and returning the kids to their sleuthing glory days. And I'm fine with that. I didn't mean to get so gloomy about it up there, but there is a part of me that gets sad that kid characters have to grow up. And the way I imagine the Boxcar Children getting on with their lives is certainly better for them than the way the Animorphs ended things, dead or insane or depressed. Or the Sweet Valley Twins, now canonically a pair of dreary adults. If Calvin did grow up to be Frazz, then he's happy, but he's not Calvin anymore. So goodbye, G.C.W. I leave you now with the words of A.A. Milne, from The House on Pooh Corner, after Christopher Robin and Pooh discuss the former's inevitable growing up:
But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.
And in California, shapeshifting teenagers will always be fighting aliens and cracking wise, and in Connecticut, spunky tweens will be watching precocious scamps, and in Idaville a tiresome child will be confounding criminals with trivia facts, and Junie B will always be malapropizing at wherever it is she does that.
And in a forest, some orphans will always be living in a boxcar until they are found by their grandfather, and then going off and solving mysteries. Which is a bit of a strange and awkwardly drawn-out thing to be always happening, but screw you, pal. This is my metaphor, and I can do what I want, because I'm A. A. Milne, and you're not.