Nancy Drew, my idol
Nancy Drew, my idol
When I was ten, I wanted to be Nancy Drew.
I like to read. I’ll pretty much read anything to see if it’s worth reading. Just let me finish, then, I can tell you if it’s worth reading. Generally. If I was that way with everything, that’d be dumb.
When I was growing up, my church was quite cutting edge in many respects. Especially, when you consider this was the sixties and it was a Southern Baptist church. If you see a picture of a protestant church with red brick, arched windows, white trim, with massive steps and columns in front . . . that’s what my church looked like. Or it might be the Methodist church down the street. They tend to copy each other a lot. Except for dunking. Methodists sprinkle. Baptists go all the way.
My church had its own library. Ms. Trimble was the librarian. Not a Media Specialist. Not an Information Specialist. She was The Librarian. She spent countless hours buying and cataloging books and manning the fort between services while members milled about and checked out their choices.
For free. She was a gracious spinster who loved books and children and volunteered her time. She wanted everyone to read. I think. I was a little kid and she was old. I do know that. She was probably 49.
Each year, after school let out for the summer break, she held a contest. The Summer Reading Contest. She covered a large bulletin board in the hallway outside the library with a chart to show the progress of each reader in the contest. She’d pin a little pastel construction paper book shape printed with your name on this chart. During the summer your little paper book inched across the chart recording the number of books you’d read for the entire church to see. I don’t remember ever not crossing the finish line, but, now, I can’t remember what we got as a reward.
When I was fourteen, I went into Miss Trimble’s library and noticed the shelf marked Gothic Romance. Not Goths. Gothic. Like castles, specters, and governesses. And handsome, widowed counts tormented with mysterious secrets. Who loved children. And long walks on the beach. In the moonlight.
I decided to read that shelf from one end to the other. Every single book. And I did. Books by Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, and Phyllis Whitney. And I fell in love in every book. I was the poor, virginal governess hired by the wealthy, tortured marquis to care for his bereaved, motherless child. There was always the promise of sex. And for a fourteen year old, that was heady reading. By book’s end, we all lived happily ever after.
And I would never have to make my bed or do the dishes again.
But, years before this, when I was just a mere child of eight or ten, I wanted to be Nancy Drew. She was a blond, smart teenager— with boobs— who solved mysteries. I weighed about 60 pounds when I was ten. Boobs were a distant anticipation. They would ultimately become a distant fantasy.
Nancy Drew was beautiful, but not high maintenance. She was athletic, but feminine. She was smart, but not a nerd. She was everything a ten year old could imagine she wanted to be. She could drive. And, not just any old car, but a roadster. She had a boyfriend. She had friends. Nancy Drew was perky.
But, sadly, her life hadn’t been perfect. There was heartbreak in her past. She didn’t have a mother. It was just she and her dad.
Being ten is tough. You’re not a baby anymore, but you’re still kind of a little kid. You’re not a teenager, but it’s right around the corner. You’re in the double digits, but with none of the benefits. You’re aware of your body in ways you’ve never been before. These parts will have purposes beyond the immediate. Ten year olds often feel like they have no friends. They think they’ll never be cool. Or have their own money. Or a boyfriend. Or boobs. Ten year olds can feel inadequate on every front. Mostly, they’re scared as hell.
Nancy Drew made me feel like this: Okay, this is today, but it won’t last. One day, I could be like her.
The Nancy Drew series was written by Carolyn Keene. I read every book she wrote. Most I checked out of the library, a few I bought. I still have seven from the series. The one you see above, like the other six, has no bar code. There’s a tag inside that says I paid $1.25. It’s on Ebay for about $15. In excellent condition. Mine are probably just good.
There are two authors who have had a profound effect on my life. Caroline Keene was one. She made me believe I’d survive middle school.
And she was a ghost writer. Not even real. WT—?
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