Saturday, August 20, 2011


1965 Nancy Drew
Every summer since 1981, I've pulled out my hardbound copy of The Clue of the Broken Locket.  My Nancy Drew obsession began that June when I was 11 and although for mystery content Carolyn Keene was soon supplanted by Agatha Christie, I still get a nostalgic thrill when I return to River Heights.  The Clue of the Broken Locket is the only book remaining from my childhood collection.  In the last decade, however, I've gotten into the original Nancy Drew volumes, which began in 1930.  (They were given an update starting in 1959, so the original stories have a much different feel, with a ballsier Nancy and, unfortunately, sometimes appalling racial stereotypes.)  Applewood Books put out reprints of some of the original titles and other well worn antique copies have been procured for me as Christmas presents.  While I like the original volumes and enjoy reading them, they don't have the ability to transport me back to my preteen years as the updates do.

1934 Nancy Drew
I occasionally feel dippy at 41 years old curled up with my teenage sleuth.  Then again, my sister (beloved Uncle Chester) also pulls out her childhood mysteries, in her case the Trixie Belden series.  She had tried Nancy Drew and couldn't stomach her.  Nancy was too prissy, too feminine, too well coiffed.  I, on the other hand, had tried unsuccessfully to find satisfaction in Trixie Belden.  She was too tom-boyish, the locales too rural and ordinary.  It became abundantly clear to me one day, probably as I was harping on Chester's tarnished silver earrings, why my sister and I sometimes mix like oil and water.  She is a Trixie.  I am a Nancy.

While one would hardly look at me and think "fashion plate," compared to Chester's Rosie O'Donnell style I look like Anna Wintour.  Chester, like Trixie, dresses for comfort.  If she's not leaving the house you generally find her in a sloppy oversized t-shirt and ragged shorts (and sometimes braless, leading to a mad dash for an undergarment if the doorbell rings).  I, on the other hand, have to be dealing with a nasty bout of illness not to put in earrings.  And when I have my full load of silver jewelry on, Chester frequently frets that if I fall in a body of water I'll sink like an anchor.

Depression-era Nancy in her roadster.
Chester wants a car that gets her from place to place.  If it's a pretty color and has nice interior, that's a bonus.  I, on the other hand, would be thrilled to have a roadster like the Depression-era Nancy or, even better, a snazzy convertible like 1960s Nancy.  When my mother and step-father owned a couple acres in rural Ohio, my sister loved to pick berries in the weedy area in back of the garden.  She naturally gravitates to sheep barns and Amish communities with their neat farms.  I'm more comfortable with room service and carefully manicured parks. 

Dog-eared originals.
When I first started reading Nancy Drew, we lived in the Cincinnati suburb of Oakley.  The houses on our street were from the 1920s or earlier and sat squeezed together on small lots.  My father was employed by the Cincinnati Water Works and since my parents were divorced, my interaction with him was sporadic at best.  Perhaps it's the fact that Nancy Drew's life was so unlike mine that she became such a a role model.  While I was chunky and unsophisticated and totally lacked confidence, Nancy was lovely and stylish and sure of herself. And her father was a wealthy lawyer. 

I suppose sometimes we read to feel a connection with someone who is like us.  I read Erma Bombeck and Shirley Jackson for this reason.  They aren't the mothers with all the answers, residing in perfectly clean homes and raising impeccably behaved children.  Their lives are like mine.  Their husbands are sometimes schmucks and their kids are sometimes mouthy and they often wanna go hide somewhere, preferably with a stiff drink.  I can relate to them.

Applewood reprints.
Then, sometimes, we have the need to read about people who aren't just like us.  They are smarter or prettier or more accomplished.  They have the money or status we lack  They have grander ideas and the drive to bring them to fruition.  They have the answers, while we're only full of questions.  Maybe the fact that a big ole clunk like me can find a role model in an 18 year old fictional character is a little pathetic.  Then again, some days she's just what I need.

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Kathie said...

I loved Nancy Drew books!

Anonymous said...

I can't stand Nancy Drew, but I LOVE to read.

Anonymous said...

Although Nancy Drew was from my era (1930s), I never read her books. I went for John R. Tunis and his baseball stories.