Remembering the books that taught us more than we ever cared to learn.
The Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene
On a warm summer night in the backyard of my family’s house, I am in a tent reading with a flashlight. I can hear crickets chirping, smell my freshly washed hair on the pillow and feel the cool cotton sheets that are all I need to cover me tonight.
…Nancy has a midnight rendezvous planned with the creepy caretaker of whatever neat place she finds herself in this time. She slips into a fresh, crisp cotton blouse and some stretch pants, grabs a flashlight and heads out quietly with her best friends, George and Bess. There is a full moon, she can easily see the meeting place and can hear crickets, the air is heavy with the sweet smell of lilacs…
I feel like I am there with her! I am so engrossed that I don’t realize I have been wiggling a loose tooth until all of a sudden it comes out in my fingers. I don’t even feel pain. I just taste the blood in my mouth. That’s the kind of power Nancy has over me.
I first met Nancy Drew in the backseat of a 1970 Ford station wagon when I was nine years old. I was traveling with my large family by car from our home in Michigan to visit our relatives in California. The moment I met her, my obsession began. I loved everything about her. She was smart, independent, beautiful, and dripping with mystery. She had titian hair — I had never heard of that color before — and flashing sapphire eyes. The thing I found most fascinating about her, though, was that she was an only child. Being the youngest of six children, with two older sisters, I found that through Nancy I could have a glimpse at a life uncluttered by siblings. Strangely enough, my friendship with Nancy may never have started without my sisters’ introduction. I inherited my first Nancy Drew mystery from my sister Julie, who had gotten it from our eldest sister, Gloria.
Nancy also had the other thing that I most longed for: age. I was quite a bit younger than my sisters (Julie is 5 years older than me; Gloria, 16) and they always got to do so many more interesting things than I did. Nancy was a teenager who had her own car (a roadster with running boards!) and could come and go as she pleased. The Bobbsey Twins couldn’t do that!
Nancy also had power. Her friends, George and Bess, always seemed to follow her lead. She called the shots. It was always a battle between me and my friends as to where and what we would play that day, and I usually lost. And Nancy even had a boyfriend who was in college. How cool would that be?
Many a Saturday morning while I was stuck at home doing chores I envied Nancy for having Hannah, the housekeeper. She didn’t make Nancy stay in and scour the tub instead of going out and solving mysteries. And her father was always supportive, never telling her she was too young, or that she had to stay home and do her homework instead of going off on an adventure.
As time went on, and my reading skills got better, my relationship with Nancy deepened. We had some important things in common. We were both clever and, mostly, well behaved. We both adored animals and were polite to our elders. When my father died the winter that I was eleven, it comforted me to know that Nancy had lost her mother and managed to go on to great things. I always knew that I would grow up to be just like her, to use my razor sharp wit to solve mystery after mystery.
Now when I look back, I realize that Nancy Drew was the big sister that I always wanted. She never bossed me around, or left me out. She didn’t make me deal with the real life stuff that my family imposed on me. She was perfect in every way, and she was whatever I wanted her to be. Sometimes, I still think I will be her when I grow up. I can turn to her anytime and she is still a comfort to me when things get too adult and complicated in my life.
Do you think that’s why I dye my hair red?
—Mingo Reynolds has red hair and solves mysteries on a daily basis.