Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Nancy Drew - Memories, Fantasies and Libraries

by Janis Patterson
I’ll admit it – I loved Nancy Drew. Didn’t like Trixie Belden, couldn’t stand the other one whose name I can’t remember right now, was never allowed to read Cherry Ames (she was a nurse, and my mother hated that) but I simply loved Nancy Drew. Our own Kathleen Kaska recently blogged on Nancy Drew, which brought up a plethora of memories I thought amusing enough to share with you.

I learned to read early – around three, we think, but no one knows for sure – and by five was gleefully working my way through my parents’ library before they really knew what I was reading, not that in those antique days there was anything ‘risque’ in there. I had gotten about half-way through their small collection of Ellery Queens, which I pretty much understood, and some history books which I pretty much didn’t. I remember especially remember Boswell’s London Journal, mainly for how much it horrified my parents to find me reading it.

Anyway, in their search to find more age-appropriate reading matter for me, Mother took me to the local library where a kindly librarian took us to the children’s department. I was allowed to pick out six books, and I remember being very distressed at how thin they were. Mother was very distressed that I had them all read before we could drive home. After several equally unproductive visits, we went over to the grown-up section (‘adult’ has such an unfortunate connotation these days) and I found several books I would like to read. The kindly librarian suddenly turned into a martinet; children, she said in pointy tones, could not check out books from the adult section because they would only tear them up and they couldn’t really read them anyway. When I realized I was being insulted I reacted with a spirited rebuttal, which resulted in the librarian regarding me much as she would a talking dog or other freak of nature. I was summarily ejected from the library and banished for a week. Although I now do speaking engagements at libraries I have looked at them askance ever since.

Then salvation came in the unlikely form of Sears and Roebuck. In my youth that was our main shopping outlet. On Thursday nights, when they stayed open until the dizzying hour of 9 pm, we would go after supper just for the fun of riding the new escalators. Those were indeed simpler times. Anyway, one night we walked past a sale display of Nancy Drew books. They looked fascinating and while Mother’s and Daddy's attention was occupied elsewhere, I inspected them and lost my heart. At 99 cents each they were still a fair amount, for our family at least, but the memory of my humiliation in the library was still fresh, so somehow my parents scraped up the required amount and I was the proud possessor of my first Nancy Drew. I don’t remember which one it was, but I do know I still own it – I still have every one I ever owned. Whichever one it was, I must have read it fifteen or twenty times in the next week. After that, even though we were very far from well-to-do, once a month I got a new Nancy Drew, even after the price went back to the regular $1.99 – a goodly sum in those days.

I would have gone back to the library and even apologized to the librarian for being so abnormal as to be able to read adult books if I could have checked out Nancy Drews. Unfortunately in those days libraries did not find Nancy and her friends ‘worthwhile’ reading and refused to stock them. More fool them.

Anyway, I was ecstatically happy no matter where the books came from. A mystery I could actually understand! A girl sleuth I could identify with! Of course, to my young mind there was no difference between a fictional, perfect teenager and my own much younger and rather lumpy self, but that made no difference. When I was reading, I was Nancy. Nancy drove a car (though I had to look up what a roadster was), she had seemingly unlimited funds, she was allowed to go where and when she wanted, all the while delicious mysteries seemed to leap into her path.

Now from the vantage point of my unfortunately advanced years, I realize no one could possibly be as perfect in mind, body, family, and life in general as Nancy Drew. Also that Carson Drew was the most lax of parents, perhaps even to the criminal point, but to my young self, as the product of two ridiculously overprotective parents, that was a situation to be envied.

As I grew a little older (though still in lower elementary school) I entered a very analytical phase and decided that just with a little application I could be just the same as Nancy. Of course, I had no money, no car, and two very hover-prone parents, but if I could just find a mystery to solve I was certain I could overcome those hurdles. I thought if I re-read every Nancy Drew I had and made a chart of how she got involved with each mystery, I could do the same thing and have a mystery of my own – only thing was, I found the mysteries all seemed to come to Nancy with no effort on her part. Drat!

The years have passed and my tastes have (hopefully!) become much more sophisticated. It’s been a couple of decades since I read a Nancy Drew, and perhaps that’s good. The province of our memory is often kinder than present perception, and I treasure my memories of Nancy Drew too much to put them at risk.



Jacqueline Seewald said...

I started reading adult books early as well. I decided to read the literary classics starting back in 5th grade. Of course, I had to reread a lot of those books like The Three Musketeers years later to realize how much I had not understood as a child reader. I didn't get into mystery fiction as early. But I addicted now.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I read aault books from about 9 years old on, especially thos of my mother's Book of the Month Club books that she told me I wasn't to read. Fun post.

Radine Trees Nehring said...

Amen, Janis. One of my Saturday chores when I was in grade school was to dust our "What-not" shelf, a corner piece of furniture with shelves for a few display items (china--whatever) and our family's one book of fiction: GONE WITH THE WIND! Mother never asked why it took me so long, sitting on the step to our living room, to dust that shelf. It did take me a year to read the book, but I sure liked it--even what, to me, were the "adult" parts. (Having a baby while fleeing the Union Army...Oh, my.) Then, while still in grade school, and, once a month, my mother and I took the bus downtown to shop, I usually came home with a treasured Nancy Drew. The fact I usually had it read before we reached our bus stop sure bothered my mother, though.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I remember carrying home a stack of books from the library every Saturday when I was eleven, a two-mile walk. I had four brothers and was the only girl in the neighborhood, so reading occupied most of my time.

Denise Rodgers said...

Wow. Thanks for a great post! You brought back a lot of memories. I wasn't as precocious. I liked Nancy, Trixie, and the Bobbsey Twins, and read all indiscriminately. I inherited my older sister's collection. Wish I still had all the books; don't know when I let them go...

Patsy Kingsley said...

I was very lucky as a child in the '60's. I loved to read, our town library AND/OR my church library had Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, Boxcar Children, the Black Stallion series, Marguerite Henry's, and so many more. Then one of my grandparents gave me a set of "Reader's Digest Best Loved Books for Young Readers" which introduced me to many other classics. I didn't know what a charmed life I had as a young reader. Now, my e-reader is stuffed with books I will read at some point. I thank each and every one of those people in the past who made those books possible for me to devour as a young girl and as a teen.

Morgan Mandel said...

Yes, Nancy Drew was one of my early favorites as well. Also loved the Hardy Boys.

The first books I liked were David and Ann, and that series got replaced in grammar schools by Dick and Jane.